'Cloud' means something important

Discussions of cloud computing often break down to complaints the term "doesn't mean anything," or to a bits-and-bytes acronym soup. But the fact is getting to flexible, variable, elastic IT is a big deal.

"Cloud computing" is so overused and overhyped that it doesn't really mean anything anymore. It's has become kind of a vague "what comes next in IT" label, with no specific meaning, applied indiscriminately to whatever the latest vendor to stop by wants to sell us today.

I now hear this complaint with great regularity--but I don't entirely agree. Sure, every vendor is eagerly "cloud washing" whatever products or initiatives they have to fit in with the latest buzzhype. And the "cloud" term is thrown around with pretty reckless abandon. But it still says something important.

In IT, we're all pocket engineers, prone to break everything down into detailed taxonomies. So, cloud computing: what does that mean? Let's break it down into its constituent acronyms. You've got your SaaS, your IaaS, and your PaaS--respectively, your software, infrastructure, and platforms as a service. Then you've got your second tier--things that various people and companies are trying to popularize but that haven't quite become standard nomenclature. Hardware as a service? We'll call it HaaS. Data as a service? DaaS. Storage as a service? Shoot! We're already using SaaS. Anyway, you get the idea.

How about an over-arching term? XaaS? Hmmm... Let's just call it IT as a service, or ITaaS--that works nicely! And then the network, or fabric, or cloud--take your pick--it can be the thing through which all these services are accessed! Now, we just need to figure out how virtualization and service-oriented architecture (SOA) fits into this, and we'll have a taxonomy with a cherry on top!

But stop right there. Yes, SaaS and IaaS and all the rest have a place. But the risk with all these fine-grained distinctions is that in using them, we may be seeing the trees but missing the forest. "Cloud" is more than just the sum of all these as-a-service flavors and varieties.

Cloud is the realization that what comes next in IT isn't a specific technology, but the infusion of flexibility, variability, and elasticity into what was previously a static, front-loaded, inflexible world.

Let's not lose sight of that. Our intentions and motivations matter; they help us reach our goals at least as much as our tool choices do. The vendors of this widget, that hypervisor, or that other orchestration engine may disagree, but from this vantage, that we get to adaptability is far more important than the details of how we get there.

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