The Cloudy Meaning of The Cloud
There are a lot of words and phrases bandied about in my industry… I’m often reminded of that scene in The Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya says to Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
The one that’s been bugging me the most lately is “The Cloud.” The meaning of the cloud seems particularly cloudy… Everyone is talking about their cloud computing, but they all seem to have a different idea of what that means. And in reality, I don’t think the common meaning has really settled down.
Of course, Microsoft hasn’t helped any with their recent ad campaign, “To the Cloud!” and then show basic programs like photo editing or video sharing. To me, that’s not “the cloud” but rather an “Software as a Service” -- that is, the programs they’re trying to sell you aren’t running on your local computer, but out on the Internet somewhere.
By that definition, any webmail program from the 1990s is “the cloud.” Hell, any “save for later” function could be considered a “cloud” program at that point, but it really isn’t.
The cloud, in my understanding, is a bunch of computers that run out on the Internet and are constantly sharing data and programs. That is to say, the computers aren’t specifically dedicated to someone or something, unlike your desktop computer sitting in your office is yours.
You need more storage? There are plenty of computers with hard drive space on “the cloud.” You need extra processing to render that photo? The cloud lets you find a server that isn’t busy and does the processing there.
It’s a matter of load balancing, but “load balancing” sounds like something you do to your trailer at a truck stop, not a spiffy computing system. But this 'load balancing' involves some hardware, some software, some personal data, some shared data… It's less of a cloud and more of a soup… But, again, 'soup' doesn't conjure images of magic and gleaming technology.
And that’s the biggest challenge with cutting through the marketing to the meaning -- if it doesn’t sound cool, it probably isn’t going to sell. If it sounds cool, it doesn’t really matter what it means…