Railing Against Cloudspeak

I readily concede that I can be as obtuse as the next guy — maybe a lot more obtuse if the next guy is exceptionally bright. Try as I might, sometimes I just can’t comprehend what others are trying to say.

I suffered a severe onset of this condition in the late 90s when the “next big thing” materialized on a weekly basis and typically vaporized just as suddenly.

Back then, evanescence was portrayed as apotheosis. We had niggling questions about the cliches and impenetrable jargon that were deployed by marketers to describe the next big thing. But we didn’t want to be seen as dim and uncomprehending, so we refrained from demanding clear, transparent definitions and explanations. It was our loss.

Well, now we’re faced with cloud computing. It seems like a simple concept to me, but one with potentially serious implications, likely to result in further industry consolidation and sustained deflationary pressure. For the record, I define it, broadly speaking, as application services provided on demand, as needed, on a subscription basis. Google does it today, as do others.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not a Luddite. I’m not trying to halt the march of progress (as if that were possible). I’m just asking for some candor, clarity, and honesty from those trying to sell us their particular interpretation of the cloud.

Maybe that’s too much to ask in an era of financial chicanery, dubious business ethics, and the utter disintegration of any semblance of a social compact (or community) in most Western nations. Still, ask I will. It’s a stubborn holdover from civics lessons I received in school.

Before we talk about something, we should be able to define it. Socrates might have been a layabout and a carouser, but he got it right when he told students: “If you would speak with me, you must define your terms.”

I wish he were around today as a scribbler in the business press or a trade journalist. He’d force cloud-computing proponents to speak clearly, explain what they mean, and work through the implications and ramifications, if only because that’s what is owed to an audience.

A few months ago, in an address to the Churchill Club, Oracle’s redoubtable Larry Ellison railed against misty, murky cloudspeak. Referring to cloud computing, he said:

“Cloud? Clouds are water vapor. My objection to cloud computing is the fact that cloud computing is not only the future of computing, it is the present and the entire past. Google’s now cloud computing. Everybody’s cloud computing. … All it is, is a computer attached to a network. What are you talking about? What do you think Google runs on? It’s databases and operating systems and memory and processors! What are you talking about?”

Ellison asked that plaintive question back in September, and we’re still getting either too many different answers or none at all.

If you can answer the question — if you can give me a clear, relatively unambiguous definition of cloud computing — I ask that you do so. Please help me see the light through the darkening clouds.

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