Cloud Confusion

If there is one term in IT that I would like to see pass from popular use it is, “The Cloud.”


Its meaning in the IT context is nebulous and confusing.

This confusion is not harmless. Millions have been dumped into “The Cloud” and converting systems to the cloud without a clear understanding of the benefits or cost involved. In many cases, the underlying reason for these investments is some sense of, “newer is better” or “the cloud is the future.” Is it really the future or is it just smoke and marketing.

Don’t get me wrong, services such as rackspace, gmail, flickr and pagerduty are fantastic. It isn’t the individual services I am going after. It is the mantra that seems to be pervading businesses that in order to keep up with the changing pace of technology they must move to the cloud.



A visible mass of condensed water vapor floating in the atmosphere, typically high above the ground.
(of the sky) Become overcast with clouds.
darken – obscure – overcloud – overcast – becloud

Ok, so maybe the dictionary definition isn’t all to helpful. Perhaps wikipedia will be more helpful.

Cloud computing is a colloquial expression used to describe a variety of different computing concepts that involve a large number of computers that are connected through a real-time communication network (typically the Internet). Cloud Computing is a jargon term without a commonly accepted non-ambiguous scientific or technical definition.

Hmm. A little better, but still mostly uninformative. It may be helpful to break cloud computing down into three categories. There are more, but these make up most of what you will see.


Software as a Service. Probably the most popular of the cloud computing types. This is essentially the application service provider (ASP) model delivered over the internet. A few examples are:

  • Gmail
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter


Infrastructure as a Service. Less well known, but still quite recognizable. This is essentially using some one else’s virtualization environment. It usually includes an API so that you can theoretically scale your environment automatically. A few examples are:

  • Amazon AWS
  • Rackspace
  • Google Compute Engine


Platform as a Service. This one is a bit tricky to nail down, but the idea is that you start with a working base application and just add business logic. Sort of like middleware as a service. A few examples are:

  • Salesforce
  • Heroku

So you can see that the word cloud can refer to a pretty diverse set of services. If we were to generalize the meaning, then the cloud would be simply infrastructure that you don’t own.

Hear my call. Learn about the terms you use before you use them or spend money on a Don Quixote quest.


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