Everyone 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|
|Rain||Up in the sky|
|Fragile||Impossible to measure|
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 putting 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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