What Does 'Cloud Computing' Mean, Exactly?

A lot of people aren't sure, but one thing is for certain: Dislike for the phrase has brought together some strange bedfellows.

cloud computing
With so much talk about "cloud computing," it's easy to feel lost in the clouds. If you either don't understand the term, or don't see a reason for it, you're in good company.

Take Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, for one. During his recent Churchill Club appearance, Ballmer dismissed the uniqueness of the concept by saying, "When people talk about cloud computing, they're talking just about taking some stuff, putting it outside the firewall, and perhaps putting it on servers that are also shared or storage systems."

Oracle's always-quotable CEO Larry Ellison went one better, according the Wall Street Journal. Ellison declared during a recent analyst conference, "The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women's fashion. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It's complete gibberish. It's insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?"

According to Gartner, you can blame hardware and software vendors for the confusion -- and the apparent outrage it's spawning. David Smith, a vice president and research fellow at the analyst firm, said he agreed that "cloud computing" represents another take on well-worn concepts, brought about as vendors slap the latest buzzword on their products if they think it will help them sell.

But Ballmer and Ellison aren't alone in blasting the trend -- with growing dissatisfaction over "cloud computing" bringing none other than Free Software Foundation guru Richard Stallman into the fray.

While wary of the term, Stallman -- not surprisingly, given his long history of advocating for free software -- took a different approach than did either of the CEOs. During an interview with the UK Guardian, Stallman singled out Google's Gmail in particular for criticism, saying it was 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 said.

Blame the vendors?

Gartner's Smith said he understands that Ballmer and Ellison blasted the concept in part to defend their turf against competing software models. But they also were reacting to the confusion caused by overuse of the term.

"The only people who aren't confused [by the term] are the ones with a myopic view of it, where they look at one little thing and say everyone else is wrong," Smith told InternetNews.com. "There is a fair amount of honest confusion [and] a fair amount of vendors confusing people. Not on purpose, just trying to paint what they are offering with the latest buzzword du jour."

Indeed, "cloud computing" is appearing on products and services far and wide. Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) tried to trademark the term, which it used for its servers, but was denied by the Patent and Trademark Office.

Evidently, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Oracle aren't themselves completely immune. Ballmer, now in London for the Cloud Computing Expo, announced Microsoft has a new Windows platform in the works, Windows Cloud. The offering is designed to support cloud-based applications. IDG News Service, which carried the report, said more details of Windows Cloud would come out during Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference at the end of this month.

Meanwhile, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) unveiled its latest cloud service, allowing customers to run Windows Server and SQL Server database on its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service.

Just last week, Amazon and Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) jointly showed off Oracle software that would be run on EC2, as well.

This article was first published on InternetNews.com. To read the full article, click here.






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