The seven cliches of cloud

Many vendors of today's flexible online computing services despair of the phrase 'cloud computing'. It doesn't really capture the essence of the model. Clouds are steam driven, they're made of vapour and they get blown away by the wind. Much like many application service providers were, before someone thought up a new name for the scheme and everyone moved to a new address.

Besides, the term Cloud doesn't have a good track record. Last time The Cloud was used as a marketing metaphor it was illustrate the workings of asynchronous transfer mode (ATM). Expensive, cloudy ATM was vastly to superiority to cheap and nasty Ethernet, were were told. Guess what? Ethernet won out, despite all the marketing directors, yes-men analysts and tame journalists who acted as cheerleaders for cloudy packets.

I remember that period with no small degree of bitterness, because if you dared to challenge that assumption then people assumed you didn't know what you were talking about. Well ha! Who's laughing now, eh? Er, actually, the yes-men analysts and tame journalists are, because the most important skill in the media seems to be to run in front of the parade and pretend to be leading it. There's no shame in this business. Look at Piers Morgan.

Having said that, the way that 'The Cloud' is used today is so appalling it even offends IT vendors. “I can't wait for this term to go away,” says Bitlev Bradahl, CEO of OnApp, a global, er, aggregator of IT resources into something that appears to to users to be one amazingly fluid but powerful computer. “At some stage the cloud will just be how stuff is done,” he says. Maybe we can call it the OnApp.

“Countless old-school products have rebranded themselves by just adding 'cloud' to their product name,” says Bradahl. Backups are now cloud backups, suddenly servers are cloud servers and network devices are cloud enabled. Even though they're the same backups, servers and network devices that were around 10 years ago.

Surprisingly, cloud is only the seventh most off-putting word in IT marketing.

Even less acceptable, to Campbell Williams, IT strategy manager for Six Degrees Group, is the habit of attaching the suffix “as-a-service” to everything. “I went to a presentation at Cloud Expo and the speaker shoved as-a-service in front of storage, backup, database, desktop, applications, infrastructure, you name it,” he says.

Worse still, the speaker's presentation was called, don't laugh, Cloud 2.0 – New Paradigms. And that is the fifth most insultingly trite phrase you can use when trying to sell cloud computing. Cloud 2.0? What he described was, at best, Cloud 1.0.

Still at least the users of meaningless terms can't be accused of being inaccurate. Unlike the people who routinely use trendy tag lines like cloud-based servers. These are the fourth most irritating people in the channel, according to my survey.

"Not all [so called] cloud-based servers are cloud-based at all."

Andy Carr, Contact Holdings

Beware, because the use of glib phrases makes Andy Carr, acting CIO for Contact Holdings, lose all confidence in the speaker. “Not all [so called] cloud-based servers are cloud-based at all,” he says. “You need to know a few things to work out if a service or application is truly cloud-based.”

A similar lack of understanding is detected when salesmen talk of cloud computing being cheaper than on premise IT, says James Henigan, MD at service provider Rise. “It may not always be cheaper. Sometimes people want a different cost model and solution,” says Henigan. But those glibly issued mistakes are just the third most off-putting terms that resellers use.

Don't mention Dropbox, says Peter Chadha, CEO of Steegle.com, because that's the second most insulting thing you can do. If you can't talk about cloud computing without reference to Dropbox, or Hotmail, or some other free consumer insecure web service, you don't really understand your clients and what sort of service levels they need.

Neither do you understand them if you use the word disruptive in the context of IT, says Mark Seemann, CEO of cloud telephony firm Synety. “The last thing any business wants is disruption,” says Seemann. “It's off-putting for many businesses. They want to do things smarter, quicker, cheaper and they want it to be easy, without hassle. They certainly don't want disruption.”

The very worst people are those who can't explain what the phrases they use actually mean. What exactly is an IT agnostic? Taken literally, that would mean someone who isn't sure whether IT exists but they can't say for certain that it doesn't.

Bradahl confesses he takes pleasure in making salesmen explain what they mean by a paradigm, and by the word cloud itself.

According to consensus of this study group, the lack of understanding over public and private cloud is the biggest insult to the intelligence of the prospective buyer.

“When they can't articulate the difference between private cloud and public cloud,” says Henigan, “that's when you know they are more smoke and mirrors than cloud.”

This was first published in February 2013

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