Sunday, March 22

Breaking down 'The Cloud'

A few weeks ago I attended the 2009 SaaS summit in San Francisco and there seemed to be some confusion about the how the term "Cloud" should be used and what it means. The panelists and speakers presented and discussed how the word is used and the different meanings that it can have. I was not satisfied with any of the answers and decided I needed to write a post with about a single definition of the "Cloud".

The problems seems to stem from the fact that the term "cloud" has been used for so many things. There seem to be two main ways that people are using it today that cause confusion:

1) Computer Cloud - This could be any cloud computing service such as Amazon, GoGrid, AppEngine, etc. 


2) Cloud Application - In my opinion this is another way of saying Software As A Service, and includes, Google Docs, etc.

It gets a little confusing when people say "On the Cloud", or that they are going to move their application "to the cloud". Does that mean that they are going to move to a virtual cloud infrastructure or that they are going to provide a SaaS? 

This is how I break it down:

Cloud can be defined as any technology service that a user can plug into which provides something without the user's knowledge of the infrastructure that supports that service. 

Some examples - 

(1) a software application (i.e. SaaS): you can log into the application and use it but you have no idea what the code looks like or how the servers are configured. Some examples are Google Docs or

(2) a virtual server environment: you can get on the server and add code to it, but you have no idea what the server looks like or the bandwidth/power/rack environment around the server. Some examples are Amazon Web Services, GoGrid, or AppEngine

(3) any other service where you cannot see behind the curtain. 

Think about it. It is a cloud. Something that is not definable and is given the universal term that is completely amorphous and only visible from the outside. I am not exactly sure where the term Cloud came from (in the technology sense). Back in the days it was used as people were trying to describe the Internet and System administrators (and people attempting to draw the Internet) would invariably draw a bunch of servers and lightning bolts and then that big cloud in the middle. 

Some people do not like the term, but I don't mind it so much. My advice for anyone that wants to clearly communicate using this word, is to add something in front of it or after it to clearly define the service that you are referring to, such as 'computer' or 'application'. Whatever you do, get used to it - whether software or infrastructure, the Cloud is the future. 


  1. Thank you for this article. I totally agree to you that the Cloud is the future. I wish that my partners would understand that. The problem is that we are selling our company at the moment and I want to do it using data room m&a , although my partners are very conservative and want to it all the procedures "on paper" but not online. Maybe you also have some articles where you describe pros and cons of VDRs? Thank you in advance for your reply

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