Poll: IN the Cloud or On the Cloud, That Is The Question (Or is it?)

September 1st, 2011 by - 45,801 views

I’m splitting hairs here but for some reason, every time that I hear someone say “It’s ON the Cloud“, I cringe and want to immediately correct them. But I hear that phrase everywhere, on the radio, on podcasts to even occasionally in the hallways of GoGrid. I’m not quite sure why it bothers me, technically it is somewhat correct, but it just simply doesn’t make sense. So, I’m hoping to change it – standardize it – with this blog post, but that will require you, the reader, to correct people and educate them.



Let’s start with the basics, some definitions:

in |in| preposition

1 expressing the situation of something that is or appears to be enclosed or surrounded by something else: living in Deep River | dressed in their Sunday best| soak it in warm soapy water | she saw it in the rearview mirror.

• expressing motion with the result that something ends up within or surrounded by something else: don’t put dye in the bathtub | he got in his car and drove off.

on |än, ôn| preposition

1 physically in contact with and supported by (a surface): on the table was a water jug | she was lying on the floor | a sign on the front gate.

• located somewhere in the general surface area of (a place): an internment camp on the island | the house on the corner.
• as a result of accidental physical contact with: one of the children had cut a foot on some glass | he banged his head on a beam.
• supported by (a part of the body): he was lying on his back.
• so as to be supported or held by: put it on the table.

(source: New Oxford American Dictionary)

By definition, IN makes the most sense here – your infrastructure or code or data is “enclosed or surrounded” by the cloud. And, to that effect, you put those items (“expressing motion”) IN the cloud.

ON just doesn’t quite work in this context. You can’t have “physical contact” with “the cloud” (or clouds in nature for that matter), so you can’t really put your data or architecture “on” it. Clouds have only visual surfaces (e.g water vapor) and there is practically no physicality to them. Wikipedia defines “clouds” as “a visible mass of water droplets or frozen ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of a planetary body.” Water droplets or ice crystals are IN the atmosphere, not ON the atmosphere.

See where I’m going here?

Easy Examples

Let’s take a look at a couple of easy examples.

In the car
On the car

This one is easy to visualize. “The suitcase is IN the car” means that it is physically inside of it. “The suitcase is ON the car” implies that it is on the roof or something like that and not actually within the physicality of the car. Think riding IN the car vs. riding ON the car. Very different images.

In the water
On the water

Think of a buoy. In this case, you could almost use either one. However it also depends on the context. “The buoy is IN the water” connotes physicality. “The buoy is ON the water” really should be written as “the buoy is floating ON the water” which implies transportation or motion. You could say “the buoy is floating IN the water” as well but to me that sounds like it is water-logged and not floating on top of it.

However, it gets a bit complicated.

In the bus/train
On the bus/train

Both of these examples practically imply the same thing. However, there are subtle nuances between them. “IN the train” means you are physically inside of it. “ON the train” implies that the train is in motion or will be in motion and it refers to transporting between two different points.

And you wouldn’t say the balloon is “on the air”, would you?

Wouldn’t you rather be part of something than sitting on top of it or outside of it? Put your applications IN the GoGrid Cloud versus ON it.

A lot of people talk about putting pictures or data in the cloud. If you say you are putting it ON the cloud, to me, it sounds like it could fall off and isn’t really secure.

What about network diagrams? Infrastructure architects show infrastructure inside of a cloud or connecting to a cloud that has infrastructure within it. They aren’t putting that infrastructure on top of a cloud graphic, are they?

What do YOU think?

Clouds are soft, expand and contract and are elastic. They are not physical in the sense that you can touch and feel them. Hard objects pass through them like airplanes or birds, so how with this lack of physicality can you put something actually “on” it.

But I want to know from you, how do you say it? “IN the cloud” or “ON the cloud”? Answer the poll below (or enter your response here). Also, if you want to provide reasoning for your selection, please leave a comment.

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As I was writing this, my head was IN the clouds and definitely not ON them.

So the next time you hear someone say “it’s ON the cloud,” feel free to politely correct them.

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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.

7 Responses to “Poll: IN the Cloud or On the Cloud, That Is The Question (Or is it?)”

  1. This might have something do with language differences.

    In English, we say "I saw it on the internet". In German, we say "… im Internet" (i.e. in not on). I wouldn't be surprised if people's language/cultural background made a difference in how they said things about a new thing e.g. cloud.

  2. I am with "In the cloud" Because If its "on the cloud" then it would not be protected by cloud protection system.

  3. K1_ says:

    I am not a native speaker of English, but for my ears it sounds like "on the cloud" implies a passive attitude, whereas "in the cloud" implies being one of the constituents of the cloud. When it comes to trains, does the driver say "I am on the train", or this sentence is just for the passengers?

    • That is an interesting point. The driver of a train probably wouldn't say that they are "on" the train if they are actively conducting it. But if they are talking about location (e.g., as opposed to being on the station platform), they may.

  4. James Pray says:

    I totally agree….yet the fact that the cloud is just a term….and that it is still somewhere, makes sense to say that it is IN the cloud, but very much "ON" the cloud, because that cloud is somebodies personal, or enterprise level cloud…therefore somebodies stuff is both really, depending on how you refer to it…but over all ON the cloud is correct, as it is a drive of some sort, "in" it just refers to the cloud the stuff is…in fact…ON. Make sense?

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