The first rule of cloud: Don't talk about cloud

The first rule of cloud: Don't talk about cloud

Summary: Clouds may look soft and woolly, but they can be cold, dank places to find yourself lost in. Does the name 'cloud computing' help or hinder understanding of the underlying technology?

TOPICS: Cloud, Collaboration

As well as developing technologies, the IT industry is very good at coming up with new buzzwords. But not all of them are hugely helpful, and some might be better avoided, including the phrase "the cloud".

Or at least, that is the unexpected conclusion of some recent research from the analyst Ovum.

"The first thing to be clear about is that there is no such thing as 'the cloud'. This fluffy notion has no place in government ICT policy thinking," said a recent report from the firm.

Another way of looking at it, the first rule of cloud is: You do not talk about cloud.

"Policy should refer to a 'cloud service' – a tangible service delivered on a professional basis by a trustworthy external service provider," said the report by Ovum research director Steve Hodgkinson. "Cloud services are just shared services that work."

While the report is written for the public sector, its main conclusions could equally apply to the private sector.

"The logic of government cloud computing policy usually starts with the implicit assumption that cloud services are risky, ill-defined and unproven," Hodgkinson said. "Cloud services adoption in government faces resistance caused by procedural, organisational and cultural inertia."

As well as disputing the use of the term cloud computing on the grounds that it is too "woolly", Hodgkinson says that cloud computing and cloud services are two very different things.

Cloud computing, he says, "is the suite of technology innovations, including scalable infrastructure, virtualisation, automation, self-service provisioning portals and multi-tenant architectures used by a service provider to build and deliver a cloud service".

Whereas a cloud service is an "established bundle of processes, people, organisation and technology which has been assembled and refined to deliver a well-defined and trustworthy shared service to many customers", Hodgkinson says.

Above all, Hodgkinson emphasises the practical, arguing that a cloud service can and should be judged by what it is today and what it can offer now.

He warns that many organisations are too fond of talking about cloud services that may exist at some point in the future when money and resources allow. In the meantime, they are the modern equivalent of what some software companies used to call "vapourware".

A new language for cloud?

The amorphous nature of the cloud is an issue, according to Gartner's Gregor Petri, research director for cloud computing. "As somebody pointed out, the cloud is like an elephant. You can use words to describe it, like big and grey, but they don't really explain what it is and how do you explain the trunk?"

You need a different language, Petri says.

An IT department's view of the cloud cannot be explained in terms of what they do today, he says. Petri believes that when thinking about cloud computing companies have to rethink they way they do business. He uses the shoe maker Nike as an example.

"Nike is a manufacturer and retailer of shoes, or at least that is what it considers itself to be," Petri says. "But when Nike really examined where its core expertise lies, it is in the design and marketing of shoes. Now it gets other companies to build shoes that it designs."

IBM's cloud leader, Doug Clark, also believes that having a clear strategy is a crucial element in properly exploiting cloud computing, but he also believes that it is a forgiving form of IT implementation.

"I have clients in many areas and the language does not matter," he says. "They may think of it as utility computing or whatever, but it is still the cloud."

Ovum's senior analyst, Laurent Lachal, is an enthusiast for cloud computing and also sees it still growing, but he believes one of the big issues around the area is the continuing level of ignorance about it.

Lachal says that the cloud is everywhere but knowing that does not help in understanding, especially with the seemingly endless variations in cloud. "Public versus private cloud, public with private, hybrid clouds, hybrid on hybrid," and so it goes on, he says.

And he warns that the name "cloud computing" may not have a long sell-by date. "Fashions change and so do names," he says. He believes that the underlying concept will remain while the name may well vanish "along with computer bureaus and such like".

Topics: Cloud, Collaboration


Colin Barker is based in London and is Senior Reporter for ZDNet. He has been writing about the IT business for some 30-plus years. He still enjoys it.

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  • Cloud Definiton

    The term "cloud" often implies an off-site service that one often pays a subscription to use. It is the off-site and subscription parts that many are concerned about. Once data leaves my direct control I have do not have full control over what happens. I am dependent on a vendor to protect it. In some cases this is a serious risk because of the nature of the data. Ongoing subscriptions changes wiho is ultimately responsible for managing the service: Finance or IT. Also, how much does one really save by using a cloud service and is the net effect to move money from one budget to another.
  • No such thing as the cloud

    Internet servers was the term used over the past two decades and there is no need (other than for marketing people) to call them "cloud". Server clusters, server hosting, remote desktops, this has all been around before people started saying "The Cloud" ... my guess is some marketing person saw a tech diagram of a network layout where a symbol of a cloud is commonly used to present "a bunch of networking and servers" instead of detailing each and every device... and had a light bulb appear above his/her head.
  • Wrong!

    The first rule of cloud computing is: Don't.

    I will not enumerate upon the dangers and disadvantages of the "cloud;" enough has been pointed out already, and still the majority of users are going along with the current fashion and proclaiming the "cloud" to be the future of computing.

    Does sort of remind me of the sudden change from the name "Metro." Well, not too surprising since both are stupid ideas.

    • WRONG is RIGHT!


      Amen! The cloud is nothing more than a slick marketing campaign by big service providers to sucker the public into relinquishing to the service provider the last little bit of control the users have over their data and their computing experience. The so called cloud experience is the digital equivalent of removing all food& water from your house and trust that the local grocery chain will always deliver what you need on time and without any risks. In other words, a very dumb thing to do.
  • I've said that since day one.

    ZDNet thinks I'm using spam words, I'll post my full reply when I figure out the bad word....

    "As well as developing technologies, the IT industry is very good at coming up with new buzzwords. But not all of them are hugely helpful, and some might be better avoided, including the phrase 'the cloud'."
    • word test 1

      Yeah - I've been saying that since day one: I've never thought of "the cloud" as a term that was particularly useful to anybody but marketing. I never thought of it as good enough for actual technical use. Yet ZDNet and other tech publications continue to push its use.
      • huh, it worked . . .

        Huh, splitting the message into two parts worked . . . what the ...?

        C'mon ZDNet, don't mark it as spam just because I replied to a quote X(.

        Who is writing the censors here, a drunk??
  • Back to the Future

    At one time data resided on big mainframes because there was no CHOICE (at least for fast access to the latest version). Now we have cheap storage that can be carried around while taking a walk through the park! The only problem we have now is sync and backup (the man with one clock thinks he knows the correct time; the man with two clocks is not sure). There should always be backups on our OWN property under OUR control, in order to synchronize our copies (if we have more than one). So-called "cloud" should only be used to back up the backup, and uploading and downloading should use end-to-end encryption that the "cloud" server CANNOT decrypt. Otherwise, why give up our autonomy to compute when the connection is broken? And why waste bandwidth constantly refreshing displays from a remote server when we can store the data locally?

    In other words, why go back to the 1970's but without the security we had then?
  • Euphemism cycle in progress

    The Cloud has gone from being the great good place bound to free us all from the responsibility of managing our own data (whether we like it or not); and to end the personal computer revolution once and for all; to being a perjorative?

    This can't possibly be a good thing for cloud boosters.
    John L. Ries
  • the Vanishing Point

    " . . .the underlying concept will remain while the name may well vanish "along with computer bureaus and such like"."

    Too true.

    Didn't we use to call this stuff "client-server" connectivity?

    At some point, the marketing geniuses relabeled things to "up sell"; after all, the same service(s) by different names means more money. So, have we reached market saturation yet, and is it now time to "vanish" "old" technology?