I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the obstacles of Cloud adoption is the term Cloud itself. What does it truly mean? Is it a thing, a place, a methodology or a philosophy? Is it singular, plural or a collection of many different things? Capitalized or lower case? Can it be defined in such a traditional way?
If you think logically, the term “Cloud” is generally accepted to have come from the depiction of the internet we all have used for years in technical diagrams. But, as I was not in a logical mood, I set out on my quest for the truth (or at least as a way to avoid some real work). It’s my hope that with some clarity on the terminology, we will be able to have discussions on the subject, with each party having a consistent baseline of understanding to work from.
I started my investigation with the same tool I used back in high school – Webster’s Dictionary – albeit the online variety. C’mon you didn’t expect me to actually find a real dictionary did you? Webster’s definition is of course related to the meteorological term, and thus was less than applicable, at least at first blush. However, what was interesting was that of the 5 definitions, 3 of them were related to the concept of obscurity, which if you have followed my posts I identify as one of the potential pitfalls of a poorly developed cloud initiative.
So, next I went to one of my favorite sites for word associations. This tool is very cool, showing the relationship between words from a central term. Upon entering Cloud, the result was a little more interesting, and perhaps a bit more enlightening, however the general bent did not include the technical application of the term.
On to path #3. Since we are talking about technology here, I went to the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology). The definition there was much more in line with what I was hoping to find. According to the NIST, “Cloud” is defined as “a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources…that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.” Hmm, seems pretty logical right? They also define three service models (SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS), and four deployment models (Private, Community, Public and Hybrid). NIST even has a paper they wrote on the subject, which can be found here.
So search over right? Not so fast. The definition above certainly contains a lot of what we have rattling around in our noggins when we talk Cloud. But let’s dissect this definition. “Cloud” is defined here as a model, and since the result I was looking for was a clarity-inducing definition we would find in Webster, I still had to close the loop and translate this to a less complex definition.
Webster defines the term “model” in many ways, but one that applies to the NIST definition of Cloud is as follows: “a description or analogy used to help visualize something that cannot be directly observed.” Ok, so “Cloud” is a description or analogy used to bring some clarity to the utilization of Saas, PaaS, and/or IaaS services delivered via by a Private, Community, Public or Hybrid architecture.
Still a bit messy, but I think we are getting there. We can now safely say that “Cloud” is not a thing or place, nor is it singular or plural, as it is a collection of dissimilar platforms providing different services, delivered by various methods. Nor is it a direct equivalent to the term Internet, as it is not restricted to the public domain network.
So, can we say that Cloud is an analogy used to demonstrate the provisioning and consumption of compute resources on-demand? Do we need to define Cloud any further?
Maybe this exercise was a futile one, since we are dealing with an ecosystem of compute capabilities that can be delivered upon demand from anywhere to anywhere. Can it be defined at all?
Oh, maybe I just did. Where’s that Webster’s submission form?