C-l-o-u-d Spells Cloud?

Cloud Computing4 minutes readJul 1st, 2014

You’ve probably heard the claim: Eskimo’s have dozens of words for snow, each one conveying a distinct set of characteristics or values of the snowy nature of a particular kind of snow. In January of this year David Robson published an article in the Washington Post online entitled, There really are 50 Eskimo words for ‘snow’. Robson points out that the claim was considered more of an urban legend or a product of sloppy research by anthropologist, Franz Boas during his travels of Northern Canada in the 1880s, rather than fact. Now, however, more recent research has proven that Boas’ claims were far from exaggerated, not only are there many words for snow, but other objects as well: One people, the Sami, have as many as 1000 words for reindeer.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had clearly differentiated words to describe all the different variants of cloud computing?  Well, maybe not – 1000 words for cloud might be a little too much. However, perhaps we do all need to apply existing definitions a little more precisely to avoid the constant confusion in the market.

I was recently presenting our private cloud offering to a prospect when halfway through my pitch one of the folks in the room asked me: “So what kind of SLAs do you offer?” I pondered that question in silence for what seemed like an embarrassingly long time, before I had to ask “What do you mean?” The gentleman then elaborated that if I offered some form of private cloud service; didn’t I also provide some sort of SLAs? As it turns out we were talking past each other completely. Both of us had walked into the session with pre-conceived notions of what constituted a private cloud and while we had nodded at each other with blind understanding through a good portion of my presentation, in fact, I had made rookie mistake: I had assumed we were all working off a common set of terms and understanding. I was talking about an on-premises, private cloud while he thought I was talking about a hosted, managed private cloud.

This episode forced me to reflect on the vagaries of a market defined by a multitude of options, overblown marketing hype and one overused/misused term: “cloud”. Nowhere is the misuse of the term more clearly articulated than in Forrester Analyst Lauren Nelson’s report, Adoption Profile: Private Cloud In North America, Q3 2013, in which she notes that while there is a slight decrease in mislabeling of enhanced virtual environments as private clouds “…cloudwashing will continue for quite some time, with 92% of private clouds still falling short of the core requirements.”

“Cloudwashing” – another great term – refers to the all-too-common practice of calling something a cloud when in fact it misses the mark. Vendors have been known to stick the term “cloud” to any and all solutions / offerings to increase their overall market attractiveness in light of the popularity of the term within the IT community. It has also been used extensively by IT shops to “disguise” business as usual projects as modern implementations and satisfy head office directives to “get us to the cloud, now!”

So, back to my presentation predicament: it seems that I was sorely mistaken in my belief that we all understood what I meant when I referred to “private cloud” in my presentation. In fact I am guessing when I first mentioned the term earlier in the blog, yours and my definitions may have diverged greatly. To make a long story short, we all need to be more diligent when we throw around the various cloud terms. This may seem a little pedantic, but had I done so before I launched into my jargon-laden presentation, I might have saved myself some embarrassment and my audience would have had a much clearer picture of what I wanted to talk to them about.

A good starting point might be the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) definition of cloud computing published as The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing. The plotline is not riveting, but the paper is short and easy to understand and while nearly three years old, still holds the valid definitions of the most prevalent cloud deployment options. Take five minutes to review it before your next conversation on c-l-o-u-d.

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