Cloud Confusion, Cloud Washing, and the “Consumer”

To quote Bill Gates, “The next sea change is upon us.”

The “cloud” represents a foundational shift in how information is created, shared, stored, and protected across the data center, business, home, and mobile computing environments. I think we can all agree on that.

It’s important to note that this sea change lies not only in how large companies provision IT services in the form of compute, but also in how large enterprises, small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), and consumers save the digital content we create and consume in the form of storage. Thus, the cloud for all practical purposes serves two masters: compute and storage. Again, I think we can all agree that this, too, is the case.

The disagreement lies in how the cloud delivers its services. A number of people contend that the cloud is, for all intensive purposes, a new style of delivering datacenter IT compute and storage resources or services on demand. Whether those resources and/or services are software, platform, or infrastructure delivered via public, private, or hybrid architectures, the cloud is meant to change how large enterprise IT operates. Any attempt to otherwise define a cloud, they argue, would be deemed “cloud washing,” or an attempt to repackage an older service or application as a “cloud product.”

Delivery and Consumption

I think we all can agree the cloud is, without a doubt, a new style of delivering compute and storage resources on demand. According to SearchCloudStorage.com, something labeled “cloud” must include user self-provisioning, pay-per-use billing, a multi-tenant architecture, a virtualized infrastructure, and linear scalability. There’s no arguing with this view when we talk about delivering resources, but what about the consumption side? From the users’ perspective (be they consumers, small businesses or even large enterprises), the cloud is also a new style of consuming resources on demand.

In 2010, 16.1 million tablets shipped worldwide; by 2015, that number is estimated to be 147.1 million. By 2011, smartphones had surpassed PCs in shipments. Consumer and business productivity, communication, digital entertainment, social activities, even commerce is no longer limited to what happens inside the walls of a home or office. What was once somewhere and sometime, is now anywhere and anytime.

Given mobility’s rise, as evidenced by the sales of tablets and smartphones, the consumption of resources must shift to a cloud in some shape or form. Indeed, it’s already happening: consider the growth of cloud companies delivering such resources like Amazon, Rackspace, and Google. And yet many consumers, small businesses, and even large enterprises still choose to store content on-premise, be it for compliance, security, privacy, costs, or simply a sense of ownership to their content or data. This is where solutions like home and small business NAS (network-attached storage) products come in: all of the familiar benefits of on-premise storage, with the consumption benefits of the cloud.

In the end, people will inevitably differ in how they consume, store, and share content. Do they opt to store everything in a Google account? Or do they choose to store and share content via a home-network device, or even multiple devices across multiple households? As with businesses, consumers have choices about how they can access and share their content on demand.

I don’t buy the cloud as simply a datacenter story, restricted to a relatively narrow band of features and options. What I do buy is that the cloud is changing the way businesses and consumers create, store, share, protect, and analyze information and content.  As a consumer or business, the good news is there are many options to choose from. Selecting the best solution will depend on personal goals and priorities, but one thing’s for sure: the cloud should play a role. But how you go about using it? Well, that is in a style all your own.

Wes Perdue’s current responsibilities involve Seagate Enterprise Product Line Management Cloud Storage Strategy. For the past 9 years, he has held leadership positions in Seagate’s Strategic Technology Management, Business Development and Product Line Management. Prior to joining Seagate in 2001, he served as President of Danfoss Videk, an electronic imaging systems company.

Image: Caliber_3D/Shutterstock.com

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