A Clear(er) Definition of Cloud Computing

By April 24, 2013Cloud Computing
IT, Cloud, IDS, Integrated Data Storage, Networking,

IT, Cloud, IDS, Integrated Data Storage, Networking,What is the Cloud? I get asked this all the time. It is part of many client meetings. My relatives ask me when we get together. My friends ask me. Heck, even my wife asked me at one point. It is probably the most common question I get asked in my life right now. It’s a little disheartening because it is my job.

I am the Director of Cloud Services and questions like this sometimes come across like “What exactly do you do?” But the confusion is understandable. The media have taken the term Cloud and made it their latest craze, threatening to bury it in a sea of hype. To make matters worse, there is not strict definition. So, inevitably my answer varies depending on the question. So, here is my attempt to define what the “Cloud” is.

Well, let’s start with our favorite place, Wikipedia.

Cloud computing is the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet). The name comes from the common use of a cloud-shaped symbol as an abstraction for the complex infrastructure it contains in system diagrams. Cloud computing entrusts remote services with a user’s data, software and computation.

Okay! Now we are getting somewhere!

But there’s a problem. If we read this, isn’t an Exchange server at your work Cloud Computing? Well, by this definition, yes. It is a software you, as a user, use as a service that is delivered over a network, and sometimes the Internet. So wait … everything is the Cloud? Well, yes. Sort of.

What about when I buy a book from Amazon, is that the Cloud? Well, let’s see: you’re not using a computing resource, so it’s not Cloud Computing—the difference here being that second word. Remember, we are looking for the definition of the Cloud and if you remove the word Computing from the definition of Cloud Computing, you get a pretty accurate definition of the Cloud.

Cloud is the use of resources that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet).

So, book buying on Amazon is using the Cloud. It’s a Cloud-based reseller. Gmail is a Cloud-email provider. Netflix is a cloud-based media provider. Progressive is a Cloud-based insurance provider and your bank has Cloud banking services. Even this this blog is a Cloud information source. It’s all Cloud. By strict definition, if you’re using the service and it isn’t running on your PC, like the Word application I am typing on, you’re using the Cloud.

It might be a private Cloud, like your work email, or a Public Cloud, like Gmail, but it is all Cloud. There are even hybrid Clouds where some features are privately owned, and others run on public resources.

Ironically, the next realization is that the Cloud is not a new idea, just a new term. The idea of internet and network-based resources has been around since … the internet and network-based resources. That is important to remember when thinking about leveraging the Cloud for your business. It is not a new idea. It is, in fact, over 25 years old as Public Cloud and 40 or more as Private Cloud. It is almost as old as the PC.

So, apparently the Cloud is not so mysterious after all. It’s on old concept (in computer years, anyway). It’s a common concept and it is a concept we already readily embrace. Now if only I could get my mother in law to read this.

Photo credits: niamor and thekellyscope