What’s Wrong With Today’s Definitions of “The Cloud”

My colleague Glenn Gibson has just written these excellent thoughts around "the cloud" and I wanted to share with the GovLoop community!

What’s Wrong With Today’s Definitions of “The Cloud”

The Cloud. The iCloud. Cloud Computing. Cloud Power. Global Cloud. Local Cloud. Elastic Clouds. Public Cloud. Community Cloud. Hybrid Cloud. The Intercloud. Things can be “In the cloud” and according to Microsoft, you can go “To the cloud.”

Yup, just when we thought the word “cloud” was overused, it became even more overused. It might feel embarrassing, but I think it’s about time somebody asked: What exactly is “The Cloud”?

When encouraging me to ask questions, my dad used to say “it’s better to look stupid for a minute than remain stupid for the rest of your life.” This is usually excellent advice. However, I have found that asking “what is The Cloud?” doesn’t usually result in enlightenment.

This is best illustrated by the first thing you find on this topic in Wikipedia:

Considering this is the hottest trend in IT at the moment, this is amazing. So why is it do darn confusing? In efforts to explain the cloud I have noticed the Goldilocks syndrome. Some explanations are too hot (overly technical) and some are too cold (not technical enough). Finding the one that’s “just right” is easier said than done.

Why are both of these approaches not useful to the average person?

Too Hot: Over-Technical Explanations

Don’t get me wrong. Cloud computing is a technical concept, but here’s the thing. I understand the underlying technology, I have certifications in VMware and Citrix, I use it and I teach it. But even I find many of the explanations of the cloud to be jargon-riddled techno-babble. The Wikipedia article begins: “Cloud computing refers to the logical computational resources (data, software) accessible via a computer network.” Oh, now I get it.

Now, if you already understand cloud computing you enjoy regaling others with your wealth of technical knowledge on the subject, may be thinking that I am talking nonsense. People have to understand the technology because that’s what the cloud is, right?

Not necessarily. To illustrate, think about electricity. We use it every day. We know that we need it to power our devices. We know we will get a shock if we put a fork in a plug. But do how much do we actually understand about it? There are concepts of subatomic particles, and electromagnetic interactions and electrical potential. Do you need to understand all of this to use it every day? No.

Most of the articles attempting to explain the cloud are not written to a cloud consumer – they are written as though everyone learning about cloud is studying to be a cloud engineer. So, if you find some explanations of the cloud overwhelming, don’t worry. It’s not you; it’s just that you aren’t getting the explanation that you need…which brings me to the other end of the spectrum.

Too Cold: Overly Simple Explanations

Realizing that the technical approach is not appropriate for the common consumer, the other trend is this: Don’t attempt to explain it at all. Just throw the word “cloud” into marketing slogans and hope that people will figure it out. Examples of this are Microsoft’s “To the Cloud” or Apple’s “This is the Cloud the way it should be.”

I asked my wife, a very smart business professional, what she thinks the cloud is. “It’s a place on the internet where you can store all your files so you can access them from any device,” she responded.

Yes, Apple did a good job explaining its “iCloud” to Mrs. Gibson. It proves the bigger point: That consumers don’t need to understand the technology, they only need to understand how it benefits them.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that “The Cloud” is not just online storage as defined by Apple. It is not just the ability to collaborate on documents over the internet as defined by Microsoft. It is much, much more than all of that, and that’s what ends up being confusing.

What’s the “Just Right” explanation? What is the actual definition of “The Cloud”? Look for my next blog post in this series where I will answer just that and explore the path to cloud enlightenment.

I will leave you with one last thought. Maybe this quest for enlightenment is coming to an end. Now that Apple have put the letter “i” in front of the word “Cloud,” we might find that people no longer need to understand what it is, they will just use it anyway.

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