What is the correct definition of “The Cloud”?

My colleague, Glenn Gibson wrote this interesting post on “the cloud”…..

In my last blog post, “What’s Wrong With Today’s Definitions of The Cloud,” I discussed why I believe the term “Cloud” is so confusing to the average person. And it’s not getting any easier. Not only are we hearing about the Cloud around the office and in TV commercials – it’s also begun its infiltration into our pop-culture, too.

The July 2011 edition of the well-known technical and scientific journal, Entertainment Weekly, had an article called “Who’s Winning the Cloud Race?” that caught my eye. In the article, this glossy entertainment magazine takes a foray into the Cloud discussion, specifically delving into the major players now offering music in the Cloud, comparing Best Buy’s Music Cloud with Apple’s iCloud and Amazon’s Cloud Drive.

But that’s just the beginning of the confusion. The article then goes on to say “the biggest threat to the iCloud isn’t a cloud service at all. It’s beloved Pandora radio.” Okay, so now you’re saying that music in the Cloud doesn’t include online radio?! How then are we supposed to understand the article on Forbes.com which describes Pandora as “Cloud Radio”?

This brings me back to my point. To the average consumer all this talk about Cloud is confusing at best. So then, let’s ask the question and get it over with: What is the correct definition of “The Cloud”?

Whether this is the definitive definition will be subject to debate, but here is what I believe is certainly a correct definition: “The Cloud” is a term used to describe a wide range of technologies, which are accessible through high-speed connections to the internet and private networks.

Now, before the technically-minded folks among us start gnashing their teeth and tearing their hair out in frustration that this simple definition does not do justice to the amazing technology which makes the Cloud possible or begin to cover the different types of Cloud available, please bear with me. As I stated in my last post, much akin to electricity, the average consumer does not require a detailed scientific explanation of “how it works” in order to be able to use it or what it can do for them.

At the same time, I also believe that intelligent, curious and savvy consumers deserve a better explanation than simply “The Cloud is the Internet” if for no other reason than the fact that “private clouds” can function without any connection to the internet whatsoever!

But is the above definition all we need? No! We need to understand the “wide range of technologies” which are available thanks to the Cloud, and what this means for our lives. If you are prepared to spend a little time understanding each one, I believe that a reasonable understanding and comfort level with the term is well within everyone’s reach.

So, what are these aforementioned “wide range of technologies”? Well, although the internet has been around for many, many years, it’s just been in the very recent future that the ability to access it (and private networks) across incredible high speeds from almost anywhere in the world and from so many affordable devices has exploded. With this availability has come an amazing growth of things we can do with such reliable, fast connectivity. Some of these things are (and are not limited to):

  • Access software applications (Cloud Applications)
  • Store our personal files, photos, music, etc. (Cloud Storage)
  • Get more computing power (Cloud Computing)
  • Use computer network and infrastructures (Cloud Infrastructure)

If you’re thinking that you’ve been able to do some of these things for many years, you would be correct. The term “Cloud-Washing” describes that the word “Cloud” is being slapped on a lot of existing technologies, for right or for wrong.Now if butterflies of enlightenment are not flying around your head yet, stay tuned. I’m working on a whole series of Cloud-focused posts discussing each of the technologies listed above, including examples of why and how you would use them – and what you should consider before you do.

Once we get a good understanding of these, I’ll also tackle some of the technologies that make all this possible, hopefully helping you to distinguish between the different types of clouds out there (public, private, hybrid, etc.).

So while a really clear definition of “Cloud” is still being baked out in these posts, my current favorite was found in the most obvious of places: the dictionary. “Cloud: A dim or obscure area in something otherwise clear or transparent.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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