2011, a good year to hate "the cloud"..

Am I the only one who's watched the new Microsoft commercials and been dumbfounded by how utterly moronic they are? The one with the mom who can't get a decent photo out of her family is half a hoot. If I'd fidgeted that much in a photo sit, my mom would have told me where to go, and it wouldn't have been to "the cloud"... but I digress. That such a game changing technology as cloud computing could be dumbed down to a dopey Photoshop head twisting trick seems really pathetic to me. But those commercials just serve to punctuate how hard it is to describe or explain the benefits of server virtualization, Software as a Service and platform time-sharing to the non-geek masses in a 30 second spot.

This crazy little thing called "the cloud" has seemingly come out of nowhere to dominate the media like nothing else I've witnessed in my 30 year career in IT. When Cramer starts yelling about how much Mad Money can be made on "cloud" stocks such as Salesforce.com, RedHat and F5, you know we've entered a new phase in both the market and the marketplace. For the near term this phase will be dominated by ignorance and a new gold rush full of hype, blather and misinformation. Over the holidays recently, I mentioned my personal interest in the cloud while making small talk at a few parties I attended. It was interesting to stand back and hear people opine about what they perceive the cloud to be and which direction the winds of change will blow it. Yet while that wind is picking up, we're still pretty far from a tipping point.

Personally, I've been doing "the cloud thing" for about 15 years now, ever since I put my first email, web and data backup servers online as an ISP. Email is the granddaddy of all cloud applications and the gateway drug as anyone using hosted Exchange will tell you. I was hosting email and messaging for about 5 years when some marketing twit told me that I was really an "ASP". Remember ASP? If not, ASP was an IT acronym which stood for Application Service Provider... ASP was really just SaaS (Software as a Service). So I was an SaaSy ASP and one of the cool cloud kids long before the cloud kids were cool. It's been over 10 years since John Gage (SUN employee number 21) uttered the phrase "the network is the computer". In the years since, marketing wonks have rebranded what I do "grid computing", "network computing" and now they are "all about the cloud".

During a recent interview Forester Research VP Frank Gillett criticized the nature of and motivations behind the push for cloud computing. He described what he calls "cloud washing" in the industry whereby companies relabel their products as cloud computing, resulting in a lot of marketing innovation on top of real innovation. The result is a lot of overblown hype surrounding cloud computing. Gillett sees cloud computing as revolutionary in the long term, but over-hyped and misunderstood in the short term, representing more of a gradual shift in our thinking about computer systems and not a sudden transformational change.

Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle has stated that cloud computing has been defined as "everything that we already do" and that it will have no effect except to "change the wording on some of our ads". Oracle has since launched a cloud computing center and done a worldwide tour. Forrester Research Principal Analyst John Rymer dismisses Ellison's remarks by stating that his "comments are complete nonsense and he knows it". Richard Stallman, a notorious free software anarchist said cloud computing is simply a trap aimed at forcing more people to buy into locked, proprietary systems that would cost them more and more over time. "It's stupidity. It's worse than stupidity: it's a marketing hype campaign", he told The Guardian. "Somebody is saying this is inevitable – and whenever you hear somebody saying that, it's very likely to be a set of businesses campaigning to make it true."

My goal this year is to help vent the hype, focus the conversation, explain the value and lend my magical powers of disambiguation to my readers and clients. Personally, I don't like the term "The Cloud". I think it's a lame name.. it's ethereal and vague and mysterious and complicated. No wonder people have so trouble understanding it and are so uncertain about how to benefit from it. I created Virtual Density to be a catalyst to accelerate the adoption of computing as a service. I want to help you see "The Cloud Beyond the Fog". Drop in on me here if you want to follow my random rants and ramblings. I wish you peace and prosperity in this new year.


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