The misunderstood cloud

With apologies to The Animals –

Baby, do you understand me now? Sometimes I feel a little mad But don't you know that no one alive can always be an angel When things go wrong I feel real bad.

 I'm just a cloud whose intentions are good Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

When Citrix recently surveyed 1000 people, it found that 51% think bad weather affects cloud computing. 17% have pretended to understand cloud computing while on a date. 40% said the biggest advantage to cloud computing was the ability to work from home, naked. And, of those who profess to have never used cloud computing – 95% actually have.

With further apologies, this time to Leonard Bernstein –

Gee, Officer Krupke, we're very upset; We never had the love that ev'ry cloud oughta get. We ain't no delinquents, We're misunderstood. Deep down inside us there is good!
Michael Osterman, of Osterman Research, recently opined about the security of cloud computing – and its misunderstandings. He compared cloud security to on-premise security in four areas (employee theft/incompetence, malware, hackers, and physical security) and showed that in all four areas the cloud should be, and generally is, more secure than on-premise data storage. Yet the myth persists that the cloud is less secure.

The thought that on-premise data storage is more secure than cloud storage is true in the same sense as storing your money in a tin can buried in the back yard is more secure than using a bank. There was a time when keeping the cash in the yard meant it was more easily accessible, true. There was also a time when keeping your data local meant it was more readily accessible. But that day is gone – for both your money and your data.

In another recent survey, Cisco found that 38% of “IT decision makers would rather get a root canal, dig a ditch, or do their own taxes than address network challenges associated with public or private cloud deployments”.  Yet one of the major benefits of cloud computing is the ease of deployment and maintenance. Another myth, I guess.

What then, exactly, is “the cloud”?

Most computer geeks first became acquainted with the cloud in illustrations of remote computing where a fluffy cloud was used to represent either the public internet or a private network with the controlling computer and the target computer connected via lines from the PC to the cloud then down to the other PC. This 1996 illustration shows an example used to picture a tcp/ip remote connection.

When the catchy phrase “service oriented architecture” failed to grab the attention of non-geeks in the early part of the 21st century, someone launched the phrase “cloud-based computing” for the conglomeration of remote services and that caught on. People knew what a cloud was. Unfortunately, for most people, “cloud” has a bad connotation. Rain clouds, storm clouds, dark clouds all are metaphors, used in song and story, for irritating, upsetting, even evil occurrences. The thought that “every cloud has a silver lining” doesn’t make the cloud a good thing. People generally want blue skies, with no clouds.

But most people will at least pretend to know about “the cloud”. The Citrix survey found that 14% have pretended to know what the cloud is during a job interview, and an additional 17 percent have pretended to know what the cloud was during a first date! I don’t believe anyone has ever used a pretended knowledge of Service Oriented Architecture to impress a date.

Wikipedia defines cloud computing as “…the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet).” That’s straight-forward enough, but the article then goes on to note that “cloud computing” encompasses many things offered “as a Service”:

  • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
  • Platform as a service (PaaS)
  • Software as a service (SaaS)
  • Storage as a service (STaaS)
  • Security as a service (SECaaS)
  • Data as a service (DaaS)
  • Test environment as a service (TEaaS)
  • Desktop as a service (DaaS)
  • API as a service (APIaaS)
And probably more (including Identity Management as a Service).

In reality, cloud computing isn’t a paradigm shift at all. Rather it is a platform shift, or, actually, an additional platform. Cloud computing differs little from the datacenter computing of the 70’s, the LAN server computing of the 80’s, the client-server computing of the early 90’s or the network computing of the end of the 20th century. In all of these cases the data and/or applications were remote from the user who employed a terminal, PC, network PC or browser to access them. The major difference, and the major advantage of the cloud, is the ease of setup and maintenance based on standard, public, Application Programming Interfaces (API). My colleague Craig Burton has written extensively about the coming API economy which is both the cause and the effect of cloud computing. You should especially get a copy of his white paper “Advisory Note: The Open API Economy.”

The mainframe and the terminal, the web and the “network computer” are, essentially, the same. All apps and data are stored remotely from the user who has a local screen that allows him to see and possibly manipulate the data; to request computations on the data; and, perhaps, to construct reports about the data.

Users quickly latched on to the personal computer (PC) and rejected the network computer (NC) for the same reason – easier, quicker access to data. With data and apps stored locally (or apps local, with remote data) the user was no longer dependent on the MIS department (mainframes) or slow, intermittent connections (network computer).

Client-server (and LAN-based) computing restored the benefit of centrally managed data and apps with easy and rapid access for the user. The cloud paradigm did the same after the debacle of network computing.

Unfortunately, dozens, even hundreds, of vendors latched on to the buzz words of the cloud computing meme to further confuse the public – and even the Technorati, who should know better – as to what cloud computing really is. Western Digital (the storage people) recently published an article on the 5 biggest myths about cloud computing:

  • Cloud Computing Is a Fad
  • Cloud Computing Is Only Trustworthy for Consumers
  • The Cloud Is More Risky Than Traditional Infrastructure
  • Cloud Computing Is More Expensive
  • You Can’t Beef Up Security on the Cloud
If you think any of these might possibly be at least a little bit true – read the article.

Cloud computing is a boon to small business, decentralized enterprises, global conglomerates, educational institutions, mom & pop retailers, and teenagers the world over. Understand what it is, understand its limitations and start taking advantage of its benefits.

Then you too can sing along with Bush:

I don't wanna come back down from this cloud... It's taken me all this time to find out what I need yeah I don't wanna come back down from this cloud It's taken me all this, all this, time


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