Who Cares What Cloud REALLY Means? (Part 2)

What, exactly, is the cloud?

Part 1 – Standards are Dumb!

In addition to the aforementioned fields that influence the development of the technology industry in concert with the market, there is one other obvious element: the press. I don’t think it’s really accurate to call journalism a part of the market since it’s really describing it, so David is excluding his own commentary (in a sense) from the evolution of definitions.

Criticism #1 – Beyond Business

As described above, David’s perspective is limited, with excessive emphasis on private-sector business in terms of how this technological concept is being crafted and assessed. Thinking that the market will generate clear and cohesive information without the work of people directly studying the overall technology from an objective perspective seems to me to be excessively optimistic, if not naïve. Perhaps David considers news media to be a part of the market and believes discussion will be shaped through shared online content (in addition to exchange of information at conferences, etc.), but typically news reports pale in comparison to groups of thought leaders on a standards board painstakingly carving out the scope of a service model.

Criticism #2 – Beyond Opinion

David says that the way that cloud is understood is too vague or amorphous to have any real significance. It can’t be described, at least not in a punchy dictionary definition.

Okay, so we can’t come up with a set definition, right? How do we create working definitions, though, so that we can use the word? This is when David’s logic gets especially problematic. He says, “I know what cloud computing is – you probably do too – but that’s a personal definition” (and who knows what this definition is, because he doesn’t share it, which perhaps means it’s just as amorphous as his idea of the general definition). He then states explicitly that one’s own idea of the cloud is preferable to a standard.

Have the terrorists finally won?

On the level of debate and discussion, probably the most flawed approach that a person could take would be, “Because I said so.” That’s usually the words of a parent, but it’s a dictatorial kind of comment, contrary to our ideals of liberty and democracy.

The second most flawed approach was that used by Justice Potter Stewart in his argument against censoring material that had been targeted as unlawfully obscene: “I shall not today attempt further to define [hard-core pornography]… But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” That just seems to be intellectually lazy, and it’s the same tactic used by Linthicum. Definitions and descriptions are helpful. I really do not believe that everyone knows what cloud computing is when they see it.

Criticism #3 – Beyond Meaning

David finishes his report by suggesting that the discussion on distributed virtualization should center less on what it is and more on “what cloud computing does.”

That points directly toward the other issue I have with David’s opinion: he is focused excessively on definitions related to the standards community. It seems to me that standards go far beyond definitions. A common mistake that people make in debates, sometimes knowingly to manipulate the audience (although I’m certainly not suggesting that’s the case here), is to argue based on false givens, faulty assumptions. Standards are not explicitly or only definitions.

Exhibit A – ISO/IEC 17789, “Cloud computing – Reference architecture”– presents diagrams and information on how components are pieced meaningfully together into typical distributed virtual architecture. That’s not a descriptive sentence but a guidebook.

Additional Cloud Definitions

Let’s look at a few other ideas of what the cloud is.

Cloud Definition #2 – TechTarget

“A general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services over the Internet.”


That is really not a very good definition. It seems to me that a cloud system must be a virtual server, with its resources distributed across many machines – so it would not apply to any type of web hosting. The definition also doesn’t account for private clouds.

Cloud Definition #3 – Wikipedia

“Computing in which large groups of remote servers are networked to allow… centralized data storage and online access to computer services or resources.” [edited for usage/punctuation]


Not bad. However, it’s not just data storage but data processing and transfer that are centralized or unified. Processing is obviously critical to user-friendliness of the system.

Order in the Court

My explanations for why technology standards and other third-party sets of accreditation parameters make the industry stronger are, needless to say, brilliant. However, it’s also worth taking a look at the opinion of one of the standards organizations itself, the ISO.

Writing on the official site, Vivienne Rojas notes that the cloud has major incompatibility issues. Development has been less streamlined than it could have been since the field “has suffered from chaotic development.”

Beyond difficulties with integration and having to settle into multi-cloud situations rather than a cohesive model, the other environmental problem created by incompatibility is confusion: no one can really tell what they’re getting. It’s not as transparent as it could be.

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By Kent Roberts