Four reasons why I hate the term “cloud”

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I think most readers of this blog probably know there is no single “cloud.”  Saying something is “on the cloud” is about as specific as saying something is “on the Internet.”  This term isn’t going away – but that’s okay, because I really like hopeless causes.

They might be giants, but they’re probably accountants out to get me for this blog entry.  

So, here are some reasons why you might want to be a little more specific in your communications than “the cloud,” especially if you’re a service provider:

  1. There isn’t a single cloud.As mentioned above, many people think in terms of the cloud, not a cloud.  A friend of mine recently got on Apple’s iCloud and told me that he was on “my cloud.”  Well, not really.  It’s better to say “IBM SmartCloud Enterprise” or “Amazon EC2 Cloud” or “Apple iCloud” than “the cloud.”  Even within an organization, it is certainly possible that there would be different private clouds for different purposes.  IT professionals and leaders might not even be talking in terms of “cloud” in a few years because it will simply be the way computing is done!
  2. There are many types of cloud.This is similar to the previous reason – but I already said there were four reasons, so tough luck.  In addition to cloud services being offered by different vendors, IBM internally offers a private development/test compute cloud, a private storage cloud, a private desktop cloud, an analytic cloud, and many others.  These all meet the NIST definition of clouds, but they are for significantly different purposes and have significantly different architectures.  Although they could possibly be integrated at a high level to appear to be one cloud (by having all services through the same portal), underneath they would still be separate infrastructures, and the use cases for them are so different that such integration might not help much.  To stretch the definition of “integrated” a little, they’re already “integrated” in that they’re all available through the same web browser using corporate credentials.
  3. Many people think that “the cloud” is magic.Admittedly, many people think computers are magic, but even some people who are very familiar with computers are blinded by “the cloud.”  One friend of mine (who is brilliant) nonetheless thought that “the cloud” could automatically take any existing application and magically spread out the workload so that it could scale out.  Not true; the application would have to be written as a “cloud-aware” agent capable of requesting more resources, and would probably need a cap on it to ensure that it did not incur too many charges without approval.  He was rather disappointed to find out the truth – that cloud computing is simply a different model with the same old mundane computers beneath it.  I enjoy crushing dreams and expectations, though.  Which leads us to my last reason:
  4. Talking about “the cloud” implies that it’s a thing rather than a service model.As I mentioned, per the NIST definition, cloud computing is a model for computing services.  To me, the most important piece is on demand self-service, meaning that you can use services in an automated fashion without waiting for another human to help you unless something goes wrong.  Practically anything that meets these requirements can be used or sold in a cloud model, even some things that have been around for years!  What’s different here is that the number of these services is growing so quickly, the interfaces between them are standardizing somewhat so that different services can be swapped in and out for different purposes, and that these services are able to make use of other cloud services in an automated fashion.  The biggest impact of cloud computing might not be in humans requesting services, but in cloud agents requesting services on behalf of humans!

I don’t want to sell short the promise of cloud in any way; after all, the difference between a diamond and a lump of coal is simply one of arrangement, and the cloud computing model is leading to some amazing new business models and strategies.  But you should think in terms of what you can do with the cloud model, not what “the cloud” does.  Using “the cloud” is waiting around for someone to create a service you can use, like Gmail or iCloud backups.  Embracing the cloud model means that as a cloud service consumer, you can build cloud-aware applications that allocate and use cloud resources on your behalf.  As a provider of service, embracing the cloud model means thinking of innovative ways to provide services to your clients in a self-service, metered, elastic manner.

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