Why Do They Call It The Cloud?

“Most of my clichés aren’t original.” — Chuck Knox, former NFL Head Coach

We hate clichés as much as anyone, but don’t use them any less than anybody else. OK, maybe a little more than everybody else. Jargon often morphs to form clichés, but the convenience of the jargon races ahead of the meaning the jargon is meant to facilitate. So we are left with the words without the meaning. To wit: the cloud. Samuel L. is just making our point, a classic from Pulp Fiction.

Everybody is cloud nuts. It’s evolving as rapidly as any technology adoption during my career. So if we’re going to give in to the cliché, perhaps we would all do better to agree on what we mean.

My first contact with the cloud came in the 70s (Hey!!! Stop snickering you punks!!). The telecom guys were deploying technologies like packet switching networks (any X.25 weenies still alive out there?) where all of a sudden we didn’t need to know where the wire was run. All we needed to know was that the zillions of bits we put on the line magically found their way to the right destination. To us, the network was just this place-less cloud that magically routed and reassembled the bits in the right place.

The world gradually standardized on Internet Protocol and suddenly we could connect from and to anywhere. And just as the network seemed to have no place that mattered, the things connected to the network now seem to have no place that matters. Hence, we all live in the cloud.

I define the cloud in a self-serving way as any infrastructure that operates outside your own facilities. It’s easier. But if you want all the benefits that the cloud can offer, consider this definition from our friends at NIST:

  • Ubiquitous Network Access: The cloud’s capabilities are available over the network and can be accessed through standard mechanisms by a variety of devices.
  • Rapid Elasticity: the ability to scale resources up and down as needed. To the end-user, the cloud appears to be infinite, and the consumer can purchase as much or as little computing power as they need.
  • Measured Service: where the cloud services are controlled and monitored by the cloud provider. This enables access control, billing, resource optimization, and capacity planning.
  • On-Demand Self-Service: a consumer can use cloud services as needed without any human interaction with the cloud provider.
  • Resource Pooling: allowing the cloud provider to serve consumers via a multi-tenant model. Physical and virtual resources are assigned and reassigned according to demand.

The customer needs no knowledge of the exact location of the provided resources, or for that matter, how it all works.

The reality is that most solutions now, and into the foreseeable future, will be a hybrid (soon becoming yet another cliché) mix of components that live in the cloud, in private segments of the cloud, and on company premises. Server sprawl led to virtual server sprawl leading to cloud sprawl. We change the tools but seldom the management… that’s where the greatest innovation in the cloud will occur.

Leave it to me to make this not about the technology but about managing. C’mon, you knew I would.

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