April 2009
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The Cloud – A Crock of Shit

Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin’ down
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.

It’s happened. Oracle have bought SUN. Some people are wondering if it was a Cloud-Play and cite Larry’s well-reported outburst against the cloud. For those that haven’t seen it, he says:
The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we’ve redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do. I can’t think of anything that isn’t cloud computing with all of these announcements. The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women’s fashion. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?
Well, I’m with Larry on this one. I think the Cloud is a crock of shit. I understand all the words people are using, but I don’t understand what’s new here. I’m even a member of the LinkedIn Cloud Networking Group ’cause all the cool kids are there. But I don’t get it. Maybe Wikipedia, the infallible source of all knowledge, will clarify things. Here’s their picture:
Okay, I see. It all makes sense now.

Okay, I see. It all makes sense now.

Right, that settles it. Let’s dig a bit deeper. Which services and applications currently live in the Cloud (again, from Wikipedia, which is really a good a place as any for this):

  • SaaS Applications such as Google Apps, Salesforce – they’re in monster data centers.
  • Hosted Social Networking Platforms, such as FaceBook – okay, another monster data center.
  • Storage, such as Amazon S3 or Mobile me – more big data centers.
  • Operating systems, such as Azure – Okay, so we can host our OS in monster data centers too and access it remotely. Hold on. Are we just going back to the dumb terminal/thin client model? Did we have The Cloud many moons ago and let it slip when we installed big fat operating systems on our home computers?

At least we’re seeing a pattern here. Excellent, we can make a definition – The cloud consists of big data centers with virtualisation. But these also allegedy live in the cloud:

  • Peer-to-peer applcations, such as Skype or BitTorrent – now these are the opposite. Not centralised at all. In this case, we’re The Cloud.
  • Open services such as OpenID – this is allegedly a “Cloud Service”. It’s distributed too. I can pick my provider.
  • Proprietory services such as Google Maps or PayPal – again, “Cloud Services”. Sounds like a Cloud Service is anything that is accessed directly from a client’s browser as part of a mash-up. Server-to-server communication isn’t sexy enough for The Cloud.
  • Google Analytics / Omniture / WebTrends – Yep, they must be Analytics in The Cloud. Client side JavaScript integration. Tick.
  • What about Social Community in the Cloud, for example from Pluck ? JavaScript integration. Tick. But wait. Each Pluck client has their own hardware. It isn’t shared at all. Sorry, Pluck. You ain’t got no Cloud. Just racks and racks of tin.

Shock! Horror! It’s starting to sound like The Cloud is just another word for The Internet. You’ll be glad to know that many others are as confused as Larry and me. Richard Stallman , founder of the Free Software Foundation doesn’t get it. And Joel on Software, who rocks, doesn’t get it either. Get this, even the Cloud Computing Journal (CCJ) says it is all hype and agrees with Larry. They say:

The current fad of butchering the term “Cloud Computing” to bring sexy back to the *aaS (anything as a service) model is embarrassing. More embarrassing is the fact that I agree with Larry Ellison …

As Kas jokingly said to me on Twitter: You have to have a constant flow of new buzzwords in this business. Otherwise analysts can’t write”XYZ IsDead” articles 2 yrs later. Well I don’t want hype and buzzwords. I want standards. Maybe any protocol or standard with an HTTP binding is a Cloud Protocol? Wikipedia’s list of “Cloud Standards” is a joke at the time of writing. A mix of existing web standards and, well, nonsense: HTTP, XMPP, SSL, Atom, AJAX (what!?!), HTML 5, LAMP (somebody shoot me), XML, JSON, WebServices/REST (like they’re the same thing). What a mess that is. Maybe, just maybe, CMIS is going to give us Content In The Cloud.

Get it yet?

Get it yet?

You may ask yourself, is anyone working on Cloud Computing standards? The same CCJ article states that:

C’mon, people. Don’t give into the generalist hype. Cloud computing is real. “THE Cloud?” Not so much.

Now I hear what he is saying, and there is some real work going on behind the scenes, but I don’t get what Cloud Computing really is either. The recent Open Cloud Manifesto seems very vague to me. It is by its own admission “meant to begin the conversation, not define it.” But what is the conversation it is meant to be starting? The Open Cloud Consortium is trying to do something but their website doesn’t explain much to me. They even have a testbed, but I don’t know what they’re testing. The Unified Cloud Interface Project is real and seems to be trying to merge Cloud Computing with the Semantic Web. I haven’t grokked this yet but it seems to me that if the Semantic Web standards (RDF/OWL/SPARQL) are losing out in the real world to Microformats , it’s going to be a while before any standards come out of this. There are many other expert groups that are putting their heads together and telling us that Cloud Computing is in its infancy and needs standards. But I’ve yet to find the detail outlining exactly what we’re trying to standardise. Whatever it is must be a pretty touchy subject, though, as different groups are already falling out with one another and refusing to endorse things.

It’s all too much for little old me. Doesn’t seem like The Cloud is going to help me much in the short term at all. So, what am I going to do about it? Absolutely nothing. I’m going to sit back and ignore The Cloud until some draft specifications start to emerge. Then I’m going to read them, fail to understand them, but understand what I’m failing to understand. And that’ll be a step in the right direction.

In this country, you gotta make the buzzwords first. Then when you get the buzzwords, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.

UPDATE 24 April: Since posting this, some helpful experts have helped me enormously by helping to separate the wheat from the crap. The useful stuff is hard to find, so read the comments below. And follow @stevecla and @jamesurquhart on Twitter.

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