Everyone has heard of the cloud, but few know what it is

The cloud buzzword risks losing any meaning among the people asked to buy into it

A new survey from U.K.-based hosting group Webfusion revealed that two-thirds of Britons don't have a clear understanding of cloud computing. Thanks to all the hype, "cloud" may be a buzzword that most people have heard, but it appears that in the United Kingdom -- as in the United States -- people don't really understand its purpose and value.

The poll of more than 1,000 people showed that, except for those directly in the cloud computing space, people have little knowledge of the technology. Only about a third (33.8 percent) said they had a clear understanding when asked "When it comes to computers, do you understand what 'cloud' means?" Nearly as many -- 28.5 percent -- emphatically said no, and 18.3 percent said they had "some understanding."

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I suspect that those who said they have a "clear understanding" really don't have a clear understanding. The reality is likely even worse than the survey shows.

One issue with cloud computing is that it's broadly defined to mean so many things; as a result, it means nothing. If people are to understand the true value of cloud computing, the industry needs to move beyond the buzzword and get to the meat of the technology. Sound familiar? We've already been through this learning curve with the PC, the Internet, smartphones, and other complex technologies that emerged in the retail space.

Among its big cloud computing predictions for this year, Forrester says companies will stop saying that everything is going cloud. That would be great, because even the companies that say they're going cloud usually have no clue about cloud computing.

The solution to this problem is to remove the blanket term "cloud" for everything and anything, and instead define whatever it is specifically. Photo sharing, for example, is photo sharing. It's not the cloud.

However, as long as companies see gold in them thar clouds, count on the term finding its way into more advertising to sell everything from cars to appliances. The cloud will remain a thing that is many things, and therefore is nothing. At some point we need to stop the confusion or else people will ignore the term as meaningless -- joining the likes of "seamless," "natural," and "easy."

This article, "Everyone has heard of the cloud, but few know what it is," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and track the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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