Awash in the cloud

Some things should never be referred to as cloud computing, even though the trend is proving more formidable than we thought

For a few months during the darkest depths of the downturn, the drumbeat for cloud computing faded, as if it might slip into oblivion forever.

But oh, cloud computing has thunked its way back big time, providing the soundtrack for VMworld and the Intel Developer Forum -- and supplying fanfare for all kinds of announcements, from Verizon's cloud services to AMD's forthcoming "cloud computing processors" for mobile devices. A few days ago, I actually heard about Intel's "investment in cloud computing" (i.e., cloud management provider Adaptive Computing) on AM radio. Wall Street, it was reported, reacted positively.

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Even a couple of neighbors have asked me, "So, what is this cloud computing stuff I keep hearing about?"

Very good question. InfoWorld readers know that we have taken several swipes at defining cloud computing, from "What cloud computing really means" to, much more recently, "What the 'private cloud' really means."

If you're in doubt, please refer to those definitions. My neighbors get the consumer version: "You're already using the cloud. Do you use Web email? Do you play multiplayer games? Do you stream music or video? Are you on Facebook? Do you surf the Web? All of that lives in the cloud -- and you're using it."

Simple, right? It's the obfuscation in the industry that's getting to me. The operative term is "cloudwashing," where all sorts of things get grandfathered into the cloud. Here are a few things I never want to see referred to as "cloudy" ever again:

  • Virtualization. Server virtualization is a necessary foundation for cloud services, mainly because it allows providers to scale services as needed (or, in the case of infrastructure-as-a-service providers, provide a platform for customers to run their workloads). By itself, though, virtualization is not cloud computing. It's virtualization. (I'm looking at you, VMware).
  • Processors. There is no such thing as a "cloud chip." Not AMD's forthcoming Fusion APUs, which are supposed to accelerate browsing and video in mobile devices, nor Intel's Single-Chip Cloud Computer, where "the cloud" is really a bunch of cores for parallel computing. Processors run workloads. You can integrate networking or video acceleration or whatever you like into the die, but a chip designed for the cloud is like a car designed to drive to Albuquerque.
  • Servers. You may have noticed that HP and IBM have released "cloud-in-a-box" servers. These are preconfigured with "services" -- dev and test platforms, Exchange mail servers, business intelligence applications, and so on. The servers may be tricked out with gobs of RAM and 10G interfaces, but there's nothing inherently cloudy about the metal. The preloaded software makes the whole package behave as if it were a cloud service. Full stop.
  • Hosting. For decades, service providers have set up and maintained servers or entire data centers for customers willing to pay for the outsourcing. But if it's a one-to-one relationship -- that is, a service provider takes over the care and feeding of one customer's dedicated infrastructure -- that's not cloud computing. For it to be cloud computing, the infrastructure must be shared and sold (or if maintained internally, charged back) as a commodity.
  • iPads and other mobile devices. Increasingly, I hear iPads and similar items referred to as "mobile cloud devices" or some variation on that theme. Well, it's true that the iPad and the Android pads in its wake provide a lovely new way to experience the Web. But you can use an old boat anchor desktop PC to surf the Web, too. Is that a "cloud device"?

The thing is, I wouldn't be cloudbashing like this if cloud computing was failing to win mind share -- and I'm not just talking about marketing. Smart IT guys like our own Matt Prigge are warning that IT needs to clean up its act and provide cloudlike services internally or risk having work outsourced to cloud providers. Yes, cloud computing -- public or private -- may take a while to become a significant part of the IT spend. But the paradigm has hit the mainstream like few industry trends ever have and, like it or not, we are all in its thrall.

This article, "Awash in the cloud," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter and on your mobile device at infoworldmobile.com.

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