Who Cares What Cloud REALLY Means? (Part 1)

What, exactly, is the cloud?

(Note: This is Part One of a two-part article…Part Two will be posted shortly)

Two standards bodies – the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association (IEEE-SA) – are working on documentation to better delineate what cloud technology is. The goal of both groups is to develop a credible third-party model for the technology. Similar to other standards and accreditations (such as SSAE 16 certification, auditing control guidelines established by the American Institute of CPAs), the two sets of developing cloud descriptions are intended to provide a universal understanding of distributed virtualization so that it can be understood and discussed meaningfully.

Suffice it to say that InfoWorld columnist David Linthicum is unimpressed by the news that someone has decided to figure out the cloud, pin it down, study it, and delineate exactly what this technology and service industry are. Linthicum’s perspective means something: he blogs about cloud for InfoWorld, analyzes the market for GigaOM, and is a senior vice president for a consulting company focusing on distributed virtual IT. His opinion matters. And he doesn’t think that the perspective of a standards body is all that relevant.

Sure, Linthicum has a point. But that point is a little nuts. Obviously you have to keep selling papers, but that still doesn’t mean you disregard a part of the industry that is shaping the cloud into a less confusing and more easily manageable concept.

In this two-part series, let’s look at Linthicum’s argument, then explore and analyze definitions from online informational sites. Finally, we will look at a specific argument made on the official ISO site that sums up why standards are essential.

Standards are Dumb!

“Your mom writes standards,” David Linthicum often ranted to his classmates on the schoolyard playground. Then, no one would listen. Today, he has our ear.

In an October 24 InfoWorld op-ed, David notes that the idea of standardizing cloud tools and expectations is not new: the federal National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published a cloud guide in 2011, which described the cloud as follows (with further discussion of the InfoWorld report following this initial analysis).

Cloud Definition #1 – NIST

“A model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources… that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”


This definition is really spot-on. It also points to the idea that a definition can be incredibly narrow or incredibly broad (for instance, you could call cloud simply “distributed virtualization,” or you could describe it lengthily, in terms of the kinds of functions it serves or the benefits it offers versus other options. Specifically in this case, the NIST spoke of the resources provided within a cloud infrastructure in terms of strengths (accessibility, deployments speed, ease of use, etc.).

David says that the definition being used by the ISO does little to further the understanding that was positioned by the NIST three years ago. Well, sure, the definition should probably be incredibly similar, maybe with some slight tweaks based on new information. The ISO also delineates “subcategories” of the concept (more on that below), which David again considers to be old news.

Taking into account the NIST and ISO definitions, David says there is a reason that the cloud can be confusing and definitions can be so vague: the $15 billion of funding that have fueled this technological field create fluctuations and volatility that render definition “nearly impossible.” The reason that $15 billion is critical, per his perspective, is that companies have been pouring money into selling something that they call “cloud,” so (in a sense) free market competition has morphed the term to meet its ends, with everyone wanting to own and re-mold the concept for an advantage.

Getting into the topic of categorization referenced two paragraphs up, David says that it is not yet a meaningful project to attempt specific description of this technology. He believes business will gradually determine what is involved with this form of computing: “The truth is that the market itself – not a standards body – defines cloud computing.”

That’s just plain ridiculous.

Here are several other settings beyond the business world that help to determine what this, or any fundamental computing technology, is:

  • Public perception (beyond that of the consumer within the “market” model)
  • Governmental bodies such as the NIST and EU’s European Commission
  • Academic research journals and computer science departments at universities
  • Nonprofit standard organizations that draw on diverse global expertise to better understand the concept.

When you choose cloud, get guaranteed performance through an organization that believes in the role of certifications so that clients know that what they are getting fits the expectations of the entire tech community, not just business. Check out our cloud.

Part 2 – Order in the Court

By Kent Roberts