At the end of the odd but intriguing movie Existenz, one of the primary characters looks at the other after killing a bunch of people and says “We’re still in the game, right?” With the implication that you the viewer really don’t know if they’re still in the Virtual Reality game they were playing. Sometimes, Cloud feels like that. I can just go “We’re still in the cloud, right?”

Here we are, it is 2010, the pundits have been hailing cloud for years, and yet there is still a vast gulf of understanding of what is the cloud, exactly out there. Recently I was involved in a Twitter conversation with Mike Fratto (of Network Computing), Andy Ellis (of Akamai), Lori (of F5, as am I), with occasional input from Dustin Amrhein (of IBM), Greg Knieriemen (of Chi Corp and the InfoSmack podcast), Vanessa Alvarez (of Frost and Sullivan), and Tom Petrocelli (formerly of IP.com) where it became painfully clear that it is indeed not at all settled. Not even amongst such an august group of individuals.

The thing is, that nearly two years ago, Lori gave “The Last Cloud Definition You’ll Ever Need”, and laid out what Cloud was and was not. It’s a good definition, but it is one that many vendors do not want to acknowledge for a variety of reasons, the most prevalent of which is marketing of their own products.

In this conversation, Andy was simply asking “is a Content Delivery Network (CDN) not cloud?” now you might be quick to say “marketing! He works for Akamai!”, but my experience is that he’s deeper than that, and not really a marketer… He IS the CSO of Akamai after all, not exactly a marketing position. Also, his question made sense to me. A CDN delivers content across a wide geography on demand. A CDN is billed very much like all cloud services are billed, and many have APIs to manipulate what’s out there, how it’s delivered, etc.

It didn’t make sense to Lori, and she was continuing the conversation with a different set of individuals in that wonderful “Twitter fracture effect” that causes conversations to veer off not just in topic but participants also, they generally seemed to be in agreement with her assessment. Mike was pretty much in agreement with her also.

I spend a lot of time talking cloud with Lori because we’re together essentially all of the time, and she’s largely focused in that space right now. I don’t see it as too clear. If Cloud is or includes Infrastructure-As-A-Service (IaaS), and CDN was the original IaaS product, then it seems to me that it is worth exploring whether it is indeed not cloud just by virtue of being what it is.

In the definition I linked to above, CDN is excluded by the simple fact that it is not an application delivery mechanism, but a content delivery mechanism. But that definition would preclude cloud storage from the definition of “what is cloud” also. And I think that cloud storage meets all of the numbered points in the definition, though due to the difference between storing data and delivering applications, point number four is only adhered to by some cloud storage providers.

The NIST Notional Definition of Cloud Computing (MS-Word Doc) is commonly referenced by Cloud aficionados, and also seems to limit “Cloud” to application services, which would imply that there is no “Cloud Storage”, see above for my views on that notion.

The problem is that you just can’t say (as Brenda Michelson of Elemental Links said while I was writing this blog) “The tubes formerly known as web”. She was joking, even used the #snark tag, but we do need a definition that goes beyond application delivery, or at least makes cloud storage fit into the application delivery paradigm (heh. I said paradigm in a blog. I’m so 90s) that is currently en-vogue.

I’m trying to get a handle around the issue, because if you read the SNIA Cloud Storage documentation, it doesn’t clear the issue up, it ignores it and says “all these things are “cloud storage”. Nice, but how does that fit into the current definitions of cloud? And that doesn’t even touch Microsoft offering MS-SQL Server on Azure, which is technically SaaS, but smacks of cloud because of whom the customer is…

I think that is where we come to the key to defining cloud as it exists today. It does leave some vendors out, but only those aiming at end users, and I’d argue those are cloud-delivered applications.

So how about this for a new definition…

“IT services designed to interact with and/or take the place of core enterprise IT hardware or software infrastructure”.

It’s short, and no doubt I’ll get feedback that will help refine it, but it does encompass the core – this would be inclusive of Databases as services, it would be inclusive of what we all think of traditionally as “cloud” – server allocation – it would include cloud storage, it would rule out applications with end user interfaces that happen to be hosted in cloud or cloud like environments because those have never been considered “infrastructure”. It would include CDN, but if you’re going to put cloud storage in the bucket, you’re going to have to accept that CDN is a service that meets the above definition.

It fits, it captures the spirit of cloud computing, and it leaves out those IaaS vendors that have been a serious bone of contention for everyone else. Some IaaS vendors can claim “Hosted in the cloud”, and that would make everyone happy, just don’t claim to be “the cloud” if your target user is an end user and not an administrator.

Feedback, conversations, commentary, and even flame are all welcome. Visits from the men in white coats will not be appreciated.

And thanks to all those listed. My blog topic for today was not nearly as interesting as this one.

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