Why Johnny doesn't understand cloud computing

Recent survey shows that most Americans don't understand cloud computing -- and it's our fault

Thanks to a nationwide survey conducted by Wakefield Research and commissioned by Citrix Systems, we now know what most people in the United States think about the "cloud": not much, it turns out. Indeed, 95 percent of respondents claimed they've never used the cloud. Worse yet, 29 percent thought the cloud is a "fluffy white thing in the sky."

We know that people who took this survey most likely do some online banking, purchase from online retailers, post status updates on social networks, and manage photos on photo-sharing sites -- all in the cloud. I'm sure many have signed up for iCloud, Box.net, Mozy, Dropbox, or other retail cloud providers, though perhaps not understanding exactly what they are using.

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We insiders in the cloud computing world are often stuck explaining to friends and family members just what the cloud is. Most of us start with well-known analogies, such as popular website-delivered services. We do this understanding full well that the cloud is much more complex and far-reaching than Facebook or hosted email. Others cite the NIST definition, which is the most relevant but also defines cloud computing broadly and is certainly not for laymen.

The problem with cloud computing is the term itself. It's way too overused, covering way too many technology patterns. As a result, cloud computing has no specific meaning, which makes it both difficult to define and to understand, whether you're a cloud computing insider or an average American.

I ranted about this problem in a post about a year ago, asserting, "I believe we've officially lost the war to define the core attributes of cloud computing so that businesses and IT can make proper use of it. It's now in the hands of marketing organizations and PR firms who, I'm sure, will take the concept on a rather wild ride over the next few years." That was true a year ago, and it's still true today -- officially, as the survey shows.

There is no easy answer to this problem. If we insist on defining cloud computing in very broad terms, nobody will understand exactly what it is. I suspect if the same survey is done next year, more will define cloud computing as a "fluffy white thing in the sky." Perhaps it is just fluff.

This article, "Why Johnny doesn't understand cloud computing," 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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