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Computing on "Cloud Nine"

March 18th, 2008 by - 41,410 views

353558249_5b33a0281d_oEveryone seems to be either talking about cloud computing, launching their product “within the cloud” or developing a “cloud” infrastructure. I would like to take a step back and really think about why the word “cloud” is being used in the first place.

First, a quick side note: as I tried to track down the origins of the term “cloud computing” I did come across a very insightful post by Paul Wallis that does a fantastic job stepping through the evolution from “supercomputing” through “the cluster” into “the grid” and eventually up into the “clouds.” The concept of having “data clouds speaking to supercomputer clouds” is becoming a reality, according to Wallis, however, I echo his concern that in order for this magical marriage to take place, there needs to be a new level of Quality of Service connecting the two, among other things.

Even with the foundation being laid by some heavy players, cloud computing is still in its infancy. But this is not the subject of this article. I still circle back to the marketing “genus” that coined the term “cloud” to describe this new computing paradigm. For that, I move away from the technical and more to the linguistic.

The term “cloud” can be used in many forms of speech:

  • Noun – The clouds of smoke filled the room
  • Verb – The smoke clouded the room
  • Adjective – The cloudy smoke filled the room
  • Adverb – The smoke cloudily filled the room

So, cloud is a good word choice from a grammatical perspective since it can be used with a variety of ways. But is it a good term to use to describe a product or technology? I’m not so sure. As an exercise, I started writing down words that came to mind when I thought about “cloud”. In no particular order:

Intangible Blown by the wind
Bad weather Dark
Gloomy Obscure
Vapor Nebulous
Not solid Evaporate
Storm Seeding
Rain Up in the sky
Fragile Impossible to measure
Weightless Ethereal
Ephemeral Gray
Unclear Airy

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Any patterns here? From my read, most of the terms seem to have negative connotations. I get visions of letting a balloon loose into the air and watching it disappear into the clouds. (Bursting bubble anyone?) To take things a bit further:

  • Companies have used terms like “vaporware” to describe software or code in advance of its release which then fails to materialize.
  • “Pie in the sky” is a phrase used to describe a promise heaven but continuing to suffer on earth.
  • To “have your head in the clouds” comes from the Latin proverb “Caput inter nubila condit,” a line from Virgil’s Aneid which, loosely defined, means to have unrealistic, impractical ideas.
  • Fragile, weightless, intangible, nebulous, unclear, impossible to measure – all these connote something that is vacuous and non-solid.

So I ask you this, does this make you comfortable 07-4-23-1392putting your mission-critical data or applications within a cloud? Earlier terms like cluster, super, utility and grid computing, in my mind, make much more “tangible” sense. While I’m sure this term is here to stay and there is not much that I can do to change that, I do question the terms legitimacy within technology and the development of solid business practices. Would you rather work in the cloud or work on a server? Even though the term “virtualization” tends to imply something that is not real, it is closer to the ground and significantly more absolute than something “in the clouds.”

Computing in the cloud, or dare I say, on “cloud nine”…I’m just waiting for reality to hit and the rain to begin.

[Cloud images used by permission.]

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Michael Sheehan

Michael Sheehan, formerly the Technology Evangelist for GoGrid, is a recognized technology, social media, and cloud computing pundit and blogger who writes regularly about technology news and trends.

6 Responses to “Computing on "Cloud Nine"”

  1. verycloudy says:

    Dude – you are fighting the wrong battle – You are building a cloud your are providing the elasticity (or on demand) capabilities, you are providing a pay as you go model – you are providing an infrastructure that facilitates deployments and common patterns – you are providing a service – and yet you pick a name for your company that only represents one of the use cases (grid is just one use case of many for cloud computing, and it is a bit of the past) and you choose to isolate yourself from the big guns like Amazon, Google, IBM, and HP – jump on the bandwagon and then differentiate yourself -

  2. Michael Sheehan says:

    @verycloudy,

    Good comments. I appreciate them. You are right though in many aspects. The name of the product (GoGrid) was decided on over a year ago (given that a computing grid, so to speak, powers the service). And yes, our product does fall under the “cloud computing” umbrella in many areas (like you mention).
    When I wrote this post (even if just a month ago), the term “cloud computing” was just starting to buzz. Now it is almost mainstream. The product is different though from that of Amazon, better in many aspects. Think of it as “hosting in the cloud” with the differentiator being that we are a hosting provider and know the business.
    I’m sure our marketing position will change over time. I wish we had that crystal ball to help guide us. We are not isolating…we are in the “sweet spot” between the cloud and traditional hosting (at least that is how I define it now).
    Thanks again for your comments.

  3. t says:

    well, i guess what comes to mind when one does word associations often depends on personality and mood.

    some words that come to my mind:

    fluffy
    white
    blue
    clean
    high
    refreshing
    strong
    eternal
    mysterious
    beautiful
    heaven

  4. Michael Sheehan says:

    @t

    Haha! Yes, you are right. Since this post, we have slightly redefined our message to “control in the cloud” so still working with the adjectives (both positive and negative) but putting more of a tangibility on it through the control aspect.

  5. [...] Computing on “Cloud Nine” | GoGrid Blog [...]

  6. Kelso says:

    Cloud computing gets me quite excited :) I wonder where hosting will be 10 years from now?

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