What is NOT Cloud

As an industry, we do love to over-hype new or cool technologies, according to the latest fads. In the middle of the last decade, it was “green washing” when all new tech was made to sound more environmentally friendly than old tech. Now it’s cloud washing that’s in vogue. Long-established old technologies are given a new, cloudy lick of paint (the more cynical would argue that there’s nothing new about cloud computing either, that grid computing, utility computing and application service providers were all there first, but that’s beside the point). Hence we have hosted telephony being called “cloud telephony” when it’s the same proprietary turnkey piece of hardware that it’s always been.

In the same way that some people use “the Internet” and “the Web” as if they’re the same thing (they’re not, the Web is one of many Internet-based services), now people talk about “the Cloud”. The use of the definite article here is wrong – there is no such single entity as “the Cloud”. There can be “a cloud” and there are “clouds” but there is no single monolithic “cloud”.

There’s an irony, of course, that this site is We think of this as “the marketer’s dichotomy” – on one hand, we want to be more accurate in the words we use but on the other hand, “the cloud” is recognisable jargon so we’re forced to use it so people know what technology we’re talking about. C’est la vie!

Moreover, it has become commonplace to talk about websites as “cloud services” when are just websites. This is not helpful. Some all-encompassing definitions seek to make out that webmail sites like Hotmail and e-commerce sites like Amazon are “cloud services”. We believe this isn’t helpful either, as it is too broad-brush and makes everything Internet or Web-related cloud, rendering the definition meaningless. Transactional websites and email should not come under a new blanket definition of cloud.

Others seek to build on the NIST definition by being even more specific and pedantic. We have heard people contend that it MUST be pay-as-you-go to be cloud. Thus, they argue, that (what many would argue is the defacto example of a Software-as-a-Service cloud offering) is not cloud as a contract is needed. This is a step too far. Sometimes a contract is required by both the customer (so prices are agreed in advance and service levels are contractually established) and the supplier (to allow them to have a return on upfront investments and to put the right resources in place to support the customer).

We have even heard arguments made that something cannot be a cloud service unless you can pay via credit card on an Internet portal. This is nonsense. That’s fine as a definition of public cloud services but not as cloud as a concept. Delving down into the minutiae of the payment model or the payment method is not helping anybody to understand; it cuts most of the B2B market out entirely, and is a pedantic leap too far.

We prefer to think more simply. A cloud service will be based on “virtualisation” (see cloud technology for more information whereby the customer looks to determine the resources that they require (core processor units, RAM and storage) but does not “see” or specify the hardware that underpins the cloud offering. Options for self-service will be available or for delivery through a managed service if the customer does not want an unmanaged, DIY approach. PAYG or MRR (monthly recurring charges) models will be available as requested. In short, no two clouds will ever be the same and not all clouds are equal.

Another reason for the UP site to exist is to try to put a stop to the fighting in the industry around cloud. At one extreme, if everything is called cloud, then nothing is cloud, it’s a zero sum game. At the other extreme, being so picky about what “cloud is” and “cloud isn’t” is self-defeating too, nobody wins and nobody benefits. We believe firmly that it’s time for the industry to grow up, for marketers to behave themselves and for vendors to stop pulling the wool over their prospective customers’ eyes. We’re all in it together and the better our customers’ understanding of cloud, and the richer their experience, the better for us all. So this site is ultimately here as a challenge to our peers to end the confusion and to start helping the market to make sense of what we’re all doing.

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