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When is a "Cloud" a "Cloud," Anyway?

Joe McKendrick
Insurance Experts' Forum, February 5, 2010

I've been working on a special report on cloud computing for an upcoming issue of Insurance Networking News, and one of things I've run up against is there really is no exact definition of cloud— it spills over into a lot of areas.

In many ways, we've been doing “cloud” for years, but just haven't been calling it that. The first time we signed onto the Internet (in my case, 1993, when AOL opened up its proprietary network to access WAIS [Wide Area Information Server] databases), we were accessing the cloud.

When we go to a mortgage site and use their calculator, is that not a cloud application? These have been around for well over a decade.

When we use online presentation services, we're accessing the cloud. I first used Placeware (now Microsoft Office Live Meeting) for a presentation in 2001. WebEx has been around since 1995.

Or as I alluded to in a post a few months back, when a reinsurance company provides a portal with analytics that is used by insurance company clients, is that not a cloud-computing offering in its own right?

But what about the origins of cloud computing as a term? I recall many a presentation in the 1990s in which the PowerPoints showed a zone between the Internet client and the server machine, represented by a cloud. The imagery apparently stuck for a lot of people.

Then there are all the confusing blank-as-a-service terms that have been bandied about, starting with “Software as a Service” a few years back. Lately, there's been “Infrastructure as a Service” or “Platform as a Service” (provided by Amazon Web Services, for example) As I understand it, all these “xaaS” terms fall under the more general cloud computing umbrella.

Then there's the notion of “private clouds” versus “public clouds.” Public clouds are the companies we know about—Salesforce.com and so on. Private clouds are clouds offered and supported either through a special, secure arrangement between a cloud provider and a client, or by the company's own data center. Which begs the question of what the data center has been doing all these years, then—something else besides providing applications and services across the enterprise network?

Anyway, Lee Gomes of Forbes magazine thinks all this cloud terminology is kind of silly, and suggests that it may even be setting the industry back. He says we should call it for what it is: “Working over the Internet.” The idea of working "in the cloud," on the other hand, “is opaque and euphemistic rather than vivid and direct. Being 'in the cloud' sounds like an undertaking involving magic carpets and gossamer wings. Who wouldn't want to be up there, high in the sky?”

Cloud computing—or computing over the Internet—is becoming more and more ubiquitous, more and more the “default” mode of computing. Perhaps in a few years we'll just be calling all of it “computing,” period.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at joe@mckendrickresearch.com.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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