whurley called yesterday, letting me know about his new InfoWorld blog on cloud computing. He’s my friend, so I felt comfortable chiding him a bit. “Aren’t you the one who told me last year that cloud computing was bull&!@*?”, I asked him. Of course he was. But, he explained he is taking a contrarian approach. That makes sense to me.
Our team was kicking around all the definitions of cloud computing that are out there at the moment. Forrester, Gartner, and O’Reilly all have intriguing takes on it. But, they are all too complicated.
We’re aggressively trying to find some simple way to describe it — preferably in one sentence. So, how’s this?
~ Cloud Computing: Internet-based access to highly scalable pay-per-use IT capabilities.
Is there something simpler out there?
It’s no wonder cloud computing has some people a bit foggy. If you do a small amount of research, you’ll find a plethora of definitions for it.
- James Staten at Forrester – "A cloud is a pool of highly scalable, abstracted infrastructure that hosts your application, and is billed by consumption."
- Gartner – A style of computing in which massively scalable
IT-related capabilities are provided "as a service" using Internet
technologies to multiple external customers.
- Wikipedia – Cloud computing is Internet-based ("cloud") development and use of computer technology ("computing").
- Stallman – "It’s stupidity. It’s worse than stupidity."
- Ellison – "It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane."
Forrester’s definition is the most elegant to me, though it might be limiting for the future. Gartner’s definition might prevent the presupposition of private clouds (which I’ll talk about in later entries).
Ellison had very interesting timing with his statements, having announced in the same month cloud computing initiatives with both Intel and Amazon. One point on which we both agree? There is a certain amount of "cloud-washing" (credit Forrester) going on right now, with companies taking their already packaged apps and remarketing them to include "cloud" in the name. I think this is what he might have been trying to say, though James Staten’s explanation was much more articulate.
Stallman’s comments, if taken out of context, put him at risk to go down in history with that guy who said that no one would ever use a computer in their home. Who was that guy? Not memorable, but his quote surely was. I have to Google it. (Pause.) Here’s the quote:
“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” ~ Ken Olson, President, Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977.
People in visible positions talking about cloud computing in uneducated ways reminds me of Senator Ted Stevens trying to explain how the Internet works (back in 2006).
"I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10
o’clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why ?
Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet
commercially… They want to deliver vast amounts of information over
the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump
something on. It’s not a truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you
don’t understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when
you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by
anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous
amounts of material."
Unlike that quote, I believe the value proposition of the cloud is clear. It is the ability to automatically scale up and scale down on someone else’s IT infrastructure. The promise is in the utility – pay only by consumption. Cloud computing is breaking down the digital divide by ensuring every company, no matter how tiny, can grow quickly and scale massively without having to pay one cent for their own IT infrastructure.
Stallman’s arguments include insisting that we all keep our information in our own hands, rather than hand it over to a third party. That’s like telling me that I should put my money in my mattress.
Actually, that might have been good advice for the last six months…
However, in general, I’ve been outsourcing my information for years. I use the Internet and Web based applications for free (ex: Google, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter). In return, I share information about myself.
A better example is my one-to-one relationship with service providers. I share information with every utility and every outsource provider who provides me a service for a fee – whether it’s the electric company, the phone company, my cell phone company, the lawn guys, my bank or my dry cleaner. Maybe I was paranoid at one time about beginning a relationship with one or all of these companies. I don’t remember. I only know that I’ve evolved.
What’s the ROI of paranoia anyway? Zero for me. It’s simply not valuable enough for me to reduce the quality of my life. And, I don’t think it’s worth reducing a promising startup’s potential to utilize cloud computing in its intelligent no-infrastructure business model.
A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to my good friend whurley about cloud computing. He told me he just didn’t believe in it. He is a true contrarian mind, so I instantly found myself curious about a general audience’s view of cloud computing. Does anyone even know what it is? In order to get some quick data, I reached out with my social network at LinkedIn and asked the questions: Do you believe in Cloud Computing? What is Cloud Computing to you? What SHOULD it be? And, what problems do you see it solving in the future? I’m sharing these answers with you because they were given in a public forum (LinkedIn’s Q&A).
I received some very interesting responses, of which some are edited for clarity and content:
- Niclas Westling: Cloud computing to me is to be able to work anywhere, independently of
the type of hardware and operating system etc which happens to be to
hand at the moment. Not having to maintain and upgrade software
applications is also a big plus to me, as well as not having to worry
Too a large extent this exists today already, although what it
lacks is the variety of applications I can use locally. To be ideal I
would also need all my personal data available, which also is
technically feasible but a little scary from a security and integrity
perspective – it also costs a fair amount having it hosted if you have
a lot of data.
The future problems it would solve is pretty much already covered above but in more detail;
– problem free computing. No upgrades, virus cleaning, backups
– Having access to an "unlimited" number of applications allowing me to resolve whatever task is at hand
– it would also work equally good for business and personal tasks
– For people travelling or being away from home (at hospital e.g.) having full access to their data
As you probably realised by now, I like the concept and look forward to continued development and improvements.
- Mayur Udernani: Cloud computing to me is to be able to setup my PC anywhere and access
all settings and files from wherever without actually connecting to or
carrying my laptop. Though it is not quite there, it seems to be fast
evolving. …one problem that cloud computing will definitely solve is the
constraint to personalize the settings of every device(laptop, desktop
etc) you work with. It will also do away with the idea of having to carry heaploads of data in hard disks.
Whether it will actually do away with the hard disk storage entirely is a bit speculative as of now.
I will also add another part on my own, what are the potential hiccups?
- Security, Security, Security!
- Data privacy protection
- Connection Speeds and Internet Protocols
- Consumption for the internet has gone hungrier with rich media
being supported by browsers in Web 2.0. It will be a challenge for
protocols to be updated to cope up with the data explosion.
- Also connection speeds in many parts of the world will be a
bottleneck for further development and a maturity stage being reached
in cloud computing.
- Sustainble Revenue sources for service providers.
- Stuart Charlton: I believe in Cloud Computing, but I also believe in Santa.
The cloud has emerged as a response to a simple questions:
"Why are my online consumer services so easy to use and inexpensive to
provision, but my enterprise IT services are so hard to use and
expensive to deliver?"
The cloud claims that…
– You should be able to provision and change your IT infrastructure on demand, with low lead times.
– You should be able to have flexibility in how you invest in
infrastructure; instead of a multi-month RFP and huge capital outlay,
one can adopt an "on demand" pricing and payments model, supplemented
by capital-intensive pre-payments when appropriate.
– Changes to your IT infrastructure should be considered the norm,
not the exception. This includes adjusting to demand without requiring
So, put another way, Cloud computing is about enabling a more
visible, frictionless relationship between the producers and consumers
of IT infrastructure. It’s about enabling an "on demand" provisioning,
management, and recovery experience both inside one’s own data center
and across global independent data centers.
The primary work being done now in industry is to build the technical
foundations of clouds and figure out how the ecosystem should shape up:
the relationships and interoperability between hardware providers,
hosting providers, software vendors, IT architects, developers, and
users. Some want to promote one stakeholder over all of the others,
some are more about playing a niche, and some are "market makers".
A simplistic view of clouds is that it’s all about outsourcing. I think
that’s a shell game; the real change is a mix of technical and
- Tom Welke: I am not a believer in Cloud computing for a few reasons. However, here are a few points that may be of interest.
A great many firms in both large and small geographical markets have
attempted to become something of a hardware service / infrastructure
service provider in a JIT format. Very very very few have been
successful at this due to a very simple point. Often times
infrastructure / break fix needs are immediate, and require immediate
attention. And, guess what, if you have many customers, needs will come
up not with just one customer – but many of them, again on an urgent
response time. Now, you must staff up for these needs. However, just as
their are times when a firm has its resources fully utilized, there are
times when utilization is not high at all and then, essentially, you
are spending a great deal of money as a consulting firm paying people
to sit on chairs and not bill. This, in the long run, is a recipe for
trouble…and lots of it.
Now, Cloud computing – in my opinion – can work if you have enough
resources to handle critical needs, and can manage your resources and
their utilization to minimize non-billable time…if you can do that,
you have an awesome business model indeed.
- Tarry Singh: Cloud Computing is a
platform which will be the playground of new trends such as
CrowdSourcing where a lot of problems will be solved by Global Crowds
in the Cloud.
To me it is the next step towards the commoditization of some core
technology areas where we have been under utilizing our potential
(people, I mean), that will free our resources to do much larger and
- Dave Stratford: Cloud Computing is the
latest catch phrase for what used to be called application service
providers. It is basically using the internet to offer applications as
a service. Google Apps is a good example. I think it would be really
cool if someone were to marry this to virtualization. Then you could
logon to your own virtual machine from where ever.
- Anthony Plack: Cloud computing is less
about how you serve the application (as middle-ware component or web
application), than how you keep it running and grow the resources. It also differs from new people sourcing options like Crowd Sourcing. This is more about a flexible workforce.
Cloud computing makes sense if you have an application which has the following characteristics:
- A middle-ware or web based application
- An uncertainty or (alternatively) rapid growth usability.
- A need to always be available
Desktop applications or fat clients do not work well on cloud computers.
Cloud computing ramps up to Globally large systems very well.
Cloud computing is the next step in clustered computing for availability and performance. I personally have only one application which makes sense for cloud
computing, but because of the nature of the internet, I do not have a
need for it (yet?). There are many services that cloud computing makes
sense, but not all.
Russell Wagner: Cloud computing has been around, in on form or another, since my bad,
old mainframe daze.
- Rick Jones: Cloud Computing to me is a new term to encapsulate Application Service
Providers (ASPs), Software as a Server (SaaS) and other related
activities on the Internet.
What it SHOULD BE is a vast number of online services, each
conforming to agreed interoperability standards that allows virtually
any IT service to be consumed by an organisation. It isn’t there yet,
and this is still a way off, but applications are getting there and the
pieces are in place.
As a framework it has the potential to solve many IT problems, most
specifically the high cost of establishing robust IT infrastructure
within the Enterprise. Cloud Computing will ultimately allow an
organisation to choose the best solutions from around the world without
having to worry about how these solutions are actually hosted, and
without the high entry-level costs involved in large scale IT.
These benefits will apply to everyone, but the biggest winners will
be the SMEs who cannot afford robust IT, but still have an operational
and often legislative need for it. For example, new legislation
requires specialist systems in areas such as corporate governance. SMEs
cannot afford a new IT system, but can use a turnkey system provided by
an external provider.
As interoperability standards further evolve, these remote systems will
be able to be integrated into existing LOB applications with very
There are no IT services that could not be delivered via Cloud
Computing once security and interoperability are fully addressed. With
the increases in network performance and availability, even physical
services such as storage networking will become viable.
Of course, we are still a long way off….
- Benjamin Smith: As a traveler, I tend to use a lot of the "cloud" services to limit the
amount of time I spend syncing between my work laptop and personal
netbook and desktop.
- Rajat Mehta: Cloud computing in near future will appeal a lot to organization who
have spikes as far as computing resources are concern. Typically these
customer do regression testing, CAE analysis, Monty Carlo Simulation,
etc. These organization need spike performance <infrastructure> and not sustained compute
In the mid-term, you will have office productivity tools moving to
Cloud computing and finally if all goes well you could have business
critical function moving on Cloud. (Long way to go).
The problem currently is mainly around security and also uptime.
Even Likes of Google have had black outs in recent time and hence
corporations will not have confidence to host critical apps out of cloud.
In the current generation, spike computing is at best addressed by Cloud.
- Ari Herzog: Cloud computing is another name for Web 2.0, and that’s straight out of
Tim O’Reilly’s mouth. Tim is the credit for bringing Web 2.0 into
- Jeffrey Young: Cloud computing is what you make of it. It can be a great option for IT
departments to offload areas of their current infrastructure (email,
collaboration tools, etc.) and allow for more focused IT projects. What
it should be is a solution that should be able to freely integrate with
current core infrastructures. Cloud computing is still in it’s early
stages but I believe the future is very bright for this space. I
believe we will see some great advances in this arena in the next 3
yrs. In regards to problems the major problem that I can forsee would
be Security. The "cloud" will be a big target for hackers in the
Weeding out those quoting others rather than giving their own opinions, it seems like the understanding of the definition of cloud computing is varied and muddy. Definitions of what it is range the gamut. Cloud computing, to these folks, is:
- "Web 2.0" (or at least that’s what that other guy said)
- what you make of it
- really for computing activity spikes
- something that limits the time I spend syncing my devices
- or it SHOULD be a vast amount of online services (each conforming to interoperability standards) that allow any IT service to be consumed by an organization
- the ability to work anywhere independently of hardware or OS
- less about the application than about running it
- a response to the problem of IT services being so expensive and difficult to deliver
Concerns about the technology include scalability, performance, dependability, uptime, standards and protocols, and adoption. The doubt about adoption and how far off we are with cloud computing gaining traction conflicted a bit with the notion that cloud computing has been around for a long time.
Cloud computing is much more pervasive than most people think. In fact, many of today’s social applications and Webware are delivered very successfully by cloud service providers, who are in turn powered by cloud infrastructure service providers. Consumer demand is driving this explosive growth, creating innovation at that level which is now trickling down into business layers.
Peter Laird put together a Visual Industry Map (September 2008), which is a brain map of sorts for the cloud computing industry. Likewise, Forrester has some great explanations and insight in their August 2008 paper called Future View: The New Tech Ecosystems of Cloud, Cloud Services, and Cloud Computing. The cloud is not one large market, they say, but a group of service offerings – virtual infrastructure, software platform, and application components. (I’ve taken out the tired as-a-service endings. Ugh.) These are the emerging markets in cloud, compartmentalized by physical infrastructure on one end and Web-based and SaaS on the other.
This blog entry is long enough for now. I’ll continue exploring cloud computing definitions, myths, and the confluence of it with social networks / people in future entries.
Ynema Mangum, cloud computing product manager