Coining the Cloud: An Assessment of Cloud Computing’s Shifty Definition

Coining the Cloud: An Assessment of Cloud Computing’s Shifty Definition

As with any burgeoning technology, cloud computing remains in flux in terms of its definition. Cloud steadily rises in popularity and familiarity with both tech nuts and the general public, thanks to an increase in advertising and more widely distributed education on just how useful it proves for a variety of sectors: major conglomerates, small businesses, enterprising individuals, and casual genre devotees.

Yet despite the uptick in cloud’s presence, the cloud community has yet to agree in consensus on its best denotation. Dictionary.com provides a serviceable and fairly clear explanation about what the term “cloud computing” entails: “Internet-based computing in which large groups of remote servers are networked so as to allow sharing of data-processing tasks, centralized data storage, and online access to computer services or resources.”

Yet Merriam Webster’s dictionary currently pegs cloud as: ” The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary.”

Indeed, the most trusted word volume has yet to recognize cloud computing as an official technology, or an official anything.

It would appear as though one of cloud computing’s own resident experts stands in firm agreement with the well-known definition tome. PCWorld’s David Linthicum has essentially declared outright war against any semblance of a definition for cloud. “These days, when somebody wants me to define ‘cloud computing,’ I fight the urge to eject them from the conference room,” he rages.

The National Institutes of Standards and Technology, arguably a major force in technology whose acceptance institutionalizes new concepts, provides a definition that also dissatisfies Linthicum, probably as a direct result of NIST’s rep for institutionalization: “Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Linthicum and his rejection of attempts to pin down cloud. From what I can make out, such phrasing as “sharing of data-processing tasks” and “minimal management effort” fails to convey cloud’s propensity to inspire creativity and resourcefulness within a community — ideals that surpass cloud as strictly technology and redefine it as a synergistic medium.

As Linthicum states, “Perhaps the best definition is around how cloud computing, or whatever you want to call it, will redefine how we consider and use technology to make us better at doing whatever we do.

The key word there? “How,” not “what” or “who.” If anything, cloud computing (as it stands in 2012) channels and synthesizes creative and intellectual output so that it does more. There’s a reason why clouds float in the sky. Attempts at fencing them in, however romantic, inevitably prove futile. Nevertheless, defining is what we do as a species. We quantify so that we can better understand and utilize.

And so I put it to you, dear CloudTweaks reader. Odds are that you’re quite cloud proficient. I’d love to get your take on this: how would you define the cloud, version 2012?

By Jeff Norman

Jeff Norman

Jeff Norman is a freelance writer currently based in New York City. He's moved into writing about cloud computing from substantial work in culture and the arts. He earned his undergraduate degree in English at Stanford and has studied at Oxford and Cambridge.

0 Responses to Coining the Cloud: An Assessment of Cloud Computing’s Shifty Definition

  1. Quite simply, I like the definition, for Cloud Computing, to read – “Computer operating with the use of outsourced, centralized, software, allowing ubiquitous access to data”. Any finer than that and I expect that you will be changing the definition every 5 minutes. I usually refer to the software as “Satellite Software”.


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