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Article

That Which We Call Cloud Computing By Any Other Name...

...Would Be as Sweet.. I Think Larry Agrees with Me

It's Tuesday afternoon, March 16 in Manila as I am finishing this story. I started it last night, when I was struck by the similarity of quotes from Larry Ellison and Richard Stallman about Cloud Computing.

Both have expressed doubts about the term: Larry because he thinks (or thought at one time) that Oracle was already doing many cloudish things, Richard because he sees a vast conspiracy in turning over personal computing assets and capabilities to corporations. Richard's apparent viewpoint syncs up nicely with the succinct words of John Dvorak, who wrote that "the cloud stinks" recently, referring to the idea of Microsoft delivering future personal computing apps through a metered cloud (which they would control completely) rather than through hard copies or downloads.

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My idea was to contrast Ellison's and Stallman's quotes, then write a bit about how it's time to define precisely what we're talking about when we're talking about Cloud Computing. We don't want Cloud Computing to become just another cliche along the lines of Web 2.0, which although articulated well by Tim O'Reilly a few years back, today is more of a handwave than a precise definition and has come to mean whatever someone (or some company) says what it means.

I try not to overrate my article ideas, but I thought this one was at least OK, maybe good. Understanding the concept that if you have a good idea then a lot of other people have the same idea, I did a quick check to see if there were any other current articles about "how to define Cloud Computing."

A Load of Hot Air?
I quickly found one, entitled "Cloud Computing: Really Useful or a Load of Hot Air?", written in the UK and quoting Mr. Stallman himself. So then I went to bed. It was late. I was tired. I decided to finish my article in the morning.

So here I am. To start with, I liked Nicholas Carr's book on the topic, The Big Switch, and agree that computing power will some day be a utility, like electricity or water. I understand that a complex web of security concerns stands in the way of widespread adoption, and may do so for many years. I also understand that there's a granularity issue in creating SLAs for business use of cloud resources, that computing resources are not measured in drops of H2O or teeny tiny surges of current.

So I do think Cloud Computing is inevitable, the word that Stallman hates and thinks is a function of evil corporations pushing stuff that will inevitably be good for them but bad for us.

He may be right, but I'm sticking to my belief. The image in Carr's book of little power mills behind every small company in the 18th century refuse to leave my brain. Today, back-up power generators are commonplace in office buildings, even more so in developing nations with shaky electric grids. But even the largest power consumers--say, aluminum smelting plants or server farms--are fed by utilities. There may be a power plant located immediately next to the smelter or silicon farm, but it is owned by a utility. This is the future of delivering computing power as well.

Define and Redefine
Stallman's concerns lead to what I think is among the most important issues related to Cloud Computing: we have to keep defining our terms. Cloud Computing is marching through the hype cycle at double speed. The mainstream media has gotten ahold of it before it's been thoroughly geeked through. So far, I haven't seen a crime attributed to Cloud Computing (in the way crimes are attributed to the Internet and Craig's List), but the technology industry needs to embrace the term Cloud Computing fully and get out in front of how it is defined.

The key differentiator is not between public and private clouds, because those are both business clouds, as is the hybrid term "hybrid." The key differentiator is between the Enterprise Cloud and the Consumer Cloud.

The Enterprise Cloud can include small business as well. In fact, convincing owners in the small-to-medium business (SMB) sector is considered vital to many technology vendors and service providers in these early days of Cloud Computing. I think the Enterprise Cloud, given its gutting of capital expenditure requirements for users, can be notably helpful in developing nations, whether in business or government.

The ability to enforce SLAs and a welter of security concerns are the limiting factors to the Enterprise Cloud today--but these concerns are being addressed by too many smart people every day around the world for me to think they will never be resolved.

In other words, I don't see a philosophical battle when it comes to the Enterprise Cloud. There's the old build-buy argument is now a build-buy-rent argument. How far to trust cloud providers is another one. Whether to keep resources onsite and virtualize them, and whether that private cloud is a "real" cloud can be nice discussion fodder.

But this is not philosophy or ideology, it's just the usual "it's only business" approach, whether a potential move to cloud is measured by risk-reward, ROI, amortized capex vs. monthly variable cost, or other metrics.

The Trouble with the Consumer Cloud
It's with the Consumer Cloud that the real battle for hearts and minds lies. We've had no privacy for some time, as former Sun CEO Scott McNealy told us, and we haven't gotten used to it. It's always seemed slightly heinous to some people that a single company could corner 90% of the operating systems and applications markets for personal computers.

At least users got to have their very own disks (whether floppy or DV) with their very own copy of the software. They could even make a "personal copy" if they wanted to, and rumors have always abounded that some people made additional "legacy copies" as well.

Even in this era of downloaded software and upgrades, the user's copy of the program resided on his or her own system. If someone got into a beef with the software provider over one thing or another, there was no fear that said company could, say, "cut off their oxygen" by disabling the user's access to his or her software.

Well, there is fear of that with the personal cloud. Who is to stop a vendor from cutting off access to a person's cloud account, whether over a billing dispute or if the vendor's bureaucracy gets "confused" about the details and status of an individual account? Why would society, after experiencing 35 years of personal computing empowerment, suddenly give the source of that power back to corporations?

It's as if we suddenly decided to give up our cars and depend solely on public transportation that's run by a big company somewhere that bases its service on the profit motive.

There's also the issue of government snooping. Many of us are outraged by the Chinese government's desire to continue censorship that is beyond heavy-handed, whether we are sympathetic to Google or not. But we know equally that there are plenty of fascists within the US government who fantasize about having that sort of power. The abuses of unauthorized spying on US citizens that occurred during the Bush administration were hardly a unique product of that president.

It's clear from the Obama Administration's obtuse inability to consider the least sort of change to the ridiculous TSA, for example, that the War on Terror is the perfect Orwellian excuse for those in power to exercise it, regardless of alleged political ideology. Now, do we want to simply hand over all of our private information to big companies that we might infer would, if requested, gladly hand that information over to our paranoid friends in Washington?

By Any Other Name
I think Cloud Computing is the future of the enterprise worldwide. We should all be sure that when we mention Cloud Computing, that we draw a distinction between the Enterprise Cloud and the Consumer Cloud. Within the Enterprise Cloud, debates about public-private-hybrid-community-etc. and mere virtualization vs. true cloud are merely the implementation details. These debates will determined the pace of Cloud Computing adaption within specific enterprises; but they don't involve determining good vs. evil. Within the Enterprise Cloud, all the stuff regarding grid, virtualization, SOA, SaaS/PaaS/IaaS that's been talked about the past several years is, in fact, just Cloud by another name. Larry was right. He usually is, you know.

To be sure, I can see an issue of people not wanting corporations to store private information within an outsourced cloud infrastructure. But we've already faced this issue, from stories of Indian outsourcing employees trying to hold bank records hostage, to enormous security screw-ups that have theoretically allowed Eastern European gangsters to get their hands on credit-card information.

Society has seemingly come to terms with these problems. As Bjorn Lomborg has pointed out, we could reduce traffic deaths from 1.2 million annually to almost zero if we simply observed a speed limit of 5 miles per hour. But that notion seems ridiculous; we've decided the benefits of automobiles are worth the death toll, and besides, it's probably not going to happen to me, right? We seem to accept the downsides of outsourced computing infrastructure as well, even if most people wouldn't put it in those terms.

Here's Where it Gets Scary
That said, the Enterprise Cloud should never be confused with the Consumer Cloud, because valid concerns over the Consumer Cloud should not be allowed to derail the momentum behind the Enterprise Cloud.

Society needs to determine whether it will accept the advantages of a Consumer Cloud as weighed against its disadvantages. I think it's "inevitable" this will happen; but whether it happens in a utopian or dystopian way depends on the quality of our political leadership. As of today, I'm not seeing a utopia in our future.

The good news is we're nowhere close to addressing, let alone resolving, the issues related to ubiquitous adoption of the Consumer Cloud.

With the Enterprise Cloud, you get your flexibility, your scalability, your dramatic capex reduction, your efficiency. But what are the advanages of the Consumer Cloud? What do you get with the Consumer Cloud? Yahoo mail and gmail? Facebook? George Costanza's cool iPhone app?

Have you lost a minute of sleep, worrying about the way things might have been? You've never said something stupid to a friend via gmail or Facebook? You don't mind if some kind government folks start picking through all this, do you?

If you don't mind, no problem, then you won't be bothered by a breaking news story of widespread FBI surveillance of social networking sites, with the government agents flagrantly breaking the terms of agreement by not stating who they are.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation uncovered this latest nefariousness through a Freedom of Information Act; the article I saw was distributed by the Associated Press with a headline that started "Break the Law and Your New Friend May be the FBI." It's not a surprise that FBI agents believe that criminal suspects are guilty until proven innocent; it's extremely disheartening to see the AP falling into line with this non-constitutional thinking. The article also mentioned that the Facebook folks pee their pants, um, I mean, are "cooperative with emergency requests" from the Feds.

The former Sen. Stevens from Alaska made a fool of himself when he spoke of  "receiving an Internet" (ie, email message) and referring to the "collection of tubes" that comprise the Internet. My guess is that Mr. Stevens was hardly the only ignorant person in Congress, and maybe not even the most ignorant.

What if Ted Stevens had been known as the go-to guy to all the other Senators whenever they had a question about technology? What if Ted Stevens had been the Vint Cerf, the Tim Berners-Lee, or the Vannever Bush of Congressional knowledge about the Internet?

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.