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Is “the Cloud” Overrated?

It's not the white, fluffy cloud that most envision, says one man

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With so much hype around how great cloud computing is, it’s hard to imagine it any way other than good. The news is full of stories about what the cloud can do, the increased adoption rate of the cloud, and how more and more businesses are developing cloud applications. As a result, it would be really easy for businesses that are not on board with cloud computing to think that they’re way behind the times.

Is this really true though? Should businesses rush to get involved with the cloud? Let us know what you think.

According to Jason Scott, a digital historian and archivist, “the cloud,” as it is known today, is entirely different from its original meaning. He said that the term was actually used all the way back in the 1980s and was essentially used to describe a “great unknown.”

Back then, when companies dealt with networking issues and used machines outside their control, he explained that they would use a cloud in their diagram in order to send the message that this area was untrustworthy. Sounds a little different from the cloud that we hear so much about today, doesn’t it?

“Somehow we reversed that completely to thinking – what a great, trustable, fluffy thing,” said Scott.

He has written several blog posts expressing his views over the past couple of years but recently updated a post and called cloud computing a “sucker’s game.” In an interview with us, he pointed out that he is not against the cloud itself but is against the way it’s being portrayed.

“When I say I’m against the cloud, I’m against the term and the use of the term,” said Scott.

In today’s world, he thinks that the use of the term “the cloud” is nothing more than a big marketing gimmick. He told us that transparency, open systems, and interoperability are all very good and effective but that the cloud has been in used in relation to all these areas, which he doesn’t think is accurate.

Sales and marketing teams always strive to simplify processes for their customers, and according to Scott, this is exactly how the misinterpretation of the cloud began.

“While I think a lot of ethics are good, the term and the use of the it and the way we’re throwing it around and the way we’re encouraging people to be less informed and less knowledgeable about their environments, is just a terrible trend,” he said.

Scott went on to warn that companies should be very careful to not take the cloud for something that it’s not. He thinks that people should remember when Friendster went down and that there was no recourse for getting data back. Another example is when Ma.gnolia died and the users also lost their data, an issue which is addressed in this video:

When Amazon Web Services went down for 3 days, more recently, a lot of people and businesses saw their sites go down as well. It’s this lack of control that people have that concerns Scott with the current interpretation of what the cloud is.

“At this point, I think the term ‘cloud’ is ruined,” said Scott. “It’s used so much for so many things, [and] it has no meaning whatsoever anymore.”

He said that companies like Salesforce are “taking a big bet” and suggests that they take proactive moves in making sure that anything they put on the cloud has certain stipulations attached. He also believes there should be standards in place that clearly states what is actually represented by a cloud service.

In an effort to raise awareness of his concerns, Scott preserves data to show that there are risks involved with depending on the cloud.

“By bringing those items to light and trying to rescue at least artifacts of that service, we show people that no matter what you’re being told, it’s not permanent,” he said.

“The cloud is a cloud, but clouds fade and clouds drift away,” he added.

Although Scott has some very legitimate points, his perspective throws quite a curveball into the fluffy, trusting representation of the cloud that so many people are pushing.

Which cloud portrayal do you think is more accurate – the fluffy, trusting cloud or the great unknown cloud?

Is “the Cloud” Overrated?
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  • http://www.LAokay.com Steven

    Well cloud computing is great for when you need to use other servers to complete tasks that your device would otherwise have to be as powerful as the cloud server to do on it’s own. Essentially you could have an iphone or even ipad that acts like a regular desktop, but is essentially only a terminal. So the benefits to using a cloud on a device, especially a mobile device is: processing power, battery life, and storage space. While I don’t use cloud computing in a direct way, I do use remote desktop which allows me to use my lower grade netbook that wasn’t designed for higher end applications to be able to run higher end applications remotely on another computer as if I were right there at the other computer. Granted I do this on an internal network locally, so if you’re doing that remotely on a public or untrusted network I recommend using GoToMyPC because the connection is encrypted between device and machine.

    • Dockstar

      Is the cloud anything more than a glorified VM/CMS of the ’70s?

  • http://www.bluedog.net Tom Termini

    Getting a good picture of the value of SOA to cloud efforts is not easy — SOA is more of a design philosophy, less of a technology solution. During my sabbatical at MITRE, a not-for-profit advisor to the US federal government, my group and I explored many applications of cloud solutions to address large enterprise IT issues — useful advice to any organization, governmental or not, can be found in this document from MITRE. Clearly the cloud is of vast importance to the future of the internet, but how an organization leverages that is paramount to whether or not they find value in the effort.

    • http://www.PlacesToEatOkay.com Steven

      I agree, not everybody needs to be able to run higher end applications from a computer that would laugh if you tried to install it because it would take forever to load, such as a CAD program on a netbook. A few interesting points have been made so far, one in particular is what if your cloud goes down? The cloud is not an excuse for not having backups and redundancies in place, it’s mostly about processing power and storage space. So get 2 clouds so that if one fails the other kicks in. Heck buy 3 if you can afford 2.

  • http://www.cloudcomputeinfo.com Paul Morse

    I agree the term is overused and there will come a time for the establishment of an accurate and universal taxonomy so people know exactly what type of “cloud” computing is being mentioned. At a high level, there is public, private, hybrid and community. Each one of those can provide SaaS, PaaS, Iaas, Database, storage, CDN, Communications, Global Queueing infrastructure and more. Today, if someone just says “cloud”, it tips me off that they really don’t know what they are talking about. And, no solution is overrated if it actually provides value to the end user in a secure and highly available way for a fair price.

    Great to see some Cloud tire kicking going on here. The tech industry needs more of a reality injection to get away from all this hype.

    • Gregory

      This concept bait and switch is successful due to the fact that in most companies, the technical decision makers are not that technical, and in fact are the least qualified to make a technical final decision.

      Marketers know their target audience and they know that often this group of quasi-technical decision makers respond to buzz words and concepts as a substitute for real due diligence (which requires time, money, and knowledge).

    • http://cass-hacks.com Craig

      What I think is ‘funny’, to the extent of being ludicrous is that my being CISSP certified and actually having worked in the standards industry, ITU-T, trying to define security standards for ‘the cloud’ and seeing how difficult it is to try to pin something to what is just a paradigm, accounts for next to nothing when management decides they want to invest in the ‘technology’.

      There is no single ‘technology’ that one can’t point at and say, ‘This is what cloud computing is.’

      One can’t have meaningful security standards for systems which have no standard interfaces. Anything else is just hand-waving and marketing.

      ‘Cloud computing’ is still only a concept that different entities implement in different ways with different functionality using different and most often proprietary APIs.

      I think ‘cloud’ is a perfect term for what is being marketed currently.

      It basically comes down to how much one trusts one’s ‘cloud provider’ with one’s sensitive data.

  • http://freakytj.com Jack

    The meaning of “The Cloud” is now a central and multiple access for data. It has been over hyped and ployed to make sales as a geeky buzz term; however, the resourcefulness and convenience cloud computing offers is severely beneficial. Honestly, Cloud computing should be explained to all levels of computer users so as they can utilize it to it’s maximum potential and capabilities.

    One up coming company that I sincerely hope nail there technology perfectly is Bitcasa; it’s Dropbox on super mojo juice! Essentially it’s not just a single “folder”… your entire hard drive is the cloud and the provide unlimited storage! google “Bitcasa” and their goals and mission will be a home-run if executed properly!

    Just my .02$

  • http://www.CaptainCyberzone.com CaptainCyberzone

    Yes.

  • http://www.go-travelguides.com/ Grey Olltwit

    It’s all super and great until something goes wrong and I believe cloud computing is so very open to all sorts of attacks in the future that they cannot back up these guarantees that everything will be safe and preserved. Google cannot even keep my calendar reminders constant, requiring me to log in every so often just to untick and re tick the notifications boxes to get reminders started again. Whilst not a cloud this is just an example of data cock ups when left in someone else’s hands.

  • http://www.4little1s.com Mark

    Well I have to kind of agree. I have been in the IT industry for well over 20 years now and have been in it long enough to see technology ideas go round in a huge circle. The cloud itself as a distributed processing model is not a new one….anyone remember mainframes ?

  • http://www.itosolutions.net Eric

    My little joke is that the term “Cloud” is like the word “Smurf”, it means so many things.

    When you are talking about Cloud Computing you are talking about a very broad topic. In some ways a Cloud Computing application makes sense, in some ways it does not.

    Many of my customers are very concerned about security risks and do not feel comfortable putting their information out to the “Cloud”. Also, many cloud providers although they say they are the greatest thing since sliced bread are very unhelpful and they cannot do many things as “seamless” as you might read about.

    Bottom Line: Each application is very different and you really need to analyze the pros and cons of leveraging cloud computing to your benefit.