Thinning Out The Clouds

So, someone eventually was going to have to say this, so we might as well say it ourselves: enough with “The Cloud”.

Yes, “The Cloud” is touted in all the tech ads you see and it is making its way into the consumer lexicon as well (see some of the latest TV commercials from Progressive & Best Buy). And as these ads present it, “The Cloud” seems like a fix-all solution. Want a file hosting solution for multiple offices? The Cloud.  Trendy new method for software licensing? The Cloud! Easy off-site backup solution? The Cloud!! Best way to condense ambient humidity for later dispersal in a phenomenon commonly known as “weather”? You guessed it…

For every problem, it seems, there is a solution available in “The Cloud”, and taking nothing away from those various services and solutions offered under this banner, this claim is bunk. Not that there is not any value in these services — there likely is — but “Cloud” has been stretched to mean so much that the term is now virtually meaningless. For example, let’s take a look at some common technology solutions. Vendor A’s product has you buy the hardware and software and host it on your network; Vendor B’s product has you buy the hardware and software but hosts it for you so you can access it remotely; Vendor C’s product resides on a massive server farm that is vendor owned and your organization’s specific hardware and software needs are rented and virtualized within that server farm; and Vendor D’s product is a software package hosted online and you access it through a login page.

Historically, Vendor A’s product was considered a “hosted server”. Vendor B’s product was known as a “remotely hosted server”. Vendor C’s was considered “remote computing services”, and Vendor D’s was sold as “Software as a Service” or SaaS. Today, all of these vastly different packages are sold as “The Cloud”. Depending on which definition of “The Cloud” you use, these are all wrongly categorized, or these are all correctly sorted. So what exactly is “The Cloud” or, rather, what was it originally?

The concept actually dates back to the 1950s, when ridiculously large and expensive academic mainframes/Don Knott’s movie plot devices were shared through multiple thin/dummy terminals to maximize efficient usage of the machines, and “cloud” came to mean some remotely accessible, shared digital resource. With that definition holding true for the next 45 years, when the Internet started to get rolling in the mid-90s most tech diagrams made the natural connection and used a cloud icon to reference the Internet itself. Sticking to the traditional definition of “cloud” computing, anything ever done on the Internet and the World Wide Web can be considered “cloud” computing as the very nature of the beast requires sharing data from a remote resource.

So, given that everything on the Internet can be considered “in the cloud”, what exactly are marketers trying to distinguish by advertising that their products are in “The Cloud”? In each of the next several editions of this newsletter, an example of something marketed in “The Cloud” will be presented, discussed, and analyzed for what it really is. Until then, enjoy this random cloud fact: “cumulus” is Latin for “a heap or pile”.

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