By Ian Withrow
My last few post have been pretty rich with Keynote specific content. But today the temperature is supposed to reach 80 degrees so for my last post of the month I think it’s time for something a little bit more spring: a rant. Specifically a rant on what to some may seem like splitting hairs and to others may seem like the most important of things: terminology. In blog posts, in many other areas of the web, and even the airport these days you’ll see something referred to as “The Cloud.” I must confess upon consideration that I strongly dislike this simplification in spite of its popularity today. The problem is it is ambiguous and means different things based on the agenda of who you are talking to and when you are speaking with them. (I’m probably no exception) For example, today the loudest voices might mean ‘Cloud Computing’ or perhaps they are referring to running your applications through a web browser when they say ‘Cloud’. The problem is these meanings, and others, have little in common beneath the skin. What ‘Cloud’ really is, when the topic is something related to networking, computers, and communications, is an abstraction. Starting at least in the 70’s and perhaps earlier, when data networking was young, a cloud was used in network diagrams to simply represent a logical group of infrastructure that wasn’t relevant to the discussion at hand. Like for example this X.25 network diagram courtesy of Wikipedia.
As the Internet Protocol (Internet) supplanted earlier solutions like X.25 it maintained their conventions, typically using a cloud to represent the internet backbone in a diagram. Other technologies like, Frame Relay and ATM, also followed this practice. However, the internet quickly eclipsed these other solutions in terms of mindshare and soon, at least in this world, you started hearing people say “the internet cloud.” It’s at this point that I’m really wishing I had my old Newton’s Telecom Dictionary so I could find out what he had to say about it. Regardless, fast forward a few years and someone who was combining virtualization with lots of spare hardware decides that “Cloud Computing” is a good term to use. After all you are using the internet cloud to access computing resources, Cloud Computing. Makes sense right? But now simplifying it to just the Cloud is confusing as heck. It’s like they decided to call it ‘Black Box Computing’ and then for simplicity sake started calling it the ‘Black Box’. It might work if no one else was using this abstraction but the truth couldn’t be more the opposite. So in conclusion on this fine spring day I encourage you to ask anyone who is talking about the cloud to clarify what type of cloud.