Cloud Confusion

I must hear the word Cloud Computing 20 times a day. I hear it on NPR and TV. And there’s unending chatter about it in the blogosphere. Last month Rackspace co-founder Pat Condon and I were having lunch with a Rackspace customer who is a tech guru in his own right. He put his hands in the air, shook them near his head and said “woo! cloud computing!! There’s so much talk about cloud computing. What the heck does that mean?”

Even the most computer savvy can’t define it, yet there is no topic in America that’s has more buzz right now (…..except for Barack Obama, or the economy, perhaps. I would have to look at the numbers to know for sure.) There is no doubt that there is a lot of CLOUD CONFUSION in the world today. But, what exactly is cloud computing? I will tell you…..listen closely.

Cloud computing is simply computing delivered over the Web. That’s it. Simple and easy to understand. But it’s a very powerful idea whose time has come. Its like a tsunami that’s been gathering momentum for 24 months and has come ashore right now.  This wave is carrying the force of an atom bomb and it will dramatically change the landscape of computing on every continent.

Why? Its a cheaper AND better way to buy computing power. Really. Seldom do these two qualities go together but when they do, things can change in a big way.

History has seen this many times before.  For example, years ago our great-grandparents burned wood and coal to generate energy for their homes.  Today, few of us generate our own power. Instead, we buy it from power companies. These companies generate and distribute electricity from massive centralized power plants that can cost over $1bl to build. Once created, the power travels at the speed of light over the power grid to your home. Cloud computing works the same way, but it comes from companies like Rackspace instead.  And, the “power” is the power of computing, generated on servers running in huge scale data centers scattered around the country somewhere (it doesn’t matter where, really). The computing power is delivered to your home over a network of fiber optic cables we call the “Internet” or the “Web”. When computing is done centrally and on this scale the cost goes down, naturally. Recently I spoke with a Fortune 500 Rackspce customer who expects to cut IT costs 85% with Rackspace’s cloud computing.  WOW!!!!  That’s certainly cheaper, and it’s better because there is zero capital cost to the customer.  And because our cloud computing system is automatically CDN-enabled. And because Rackspace works 24/7 to keep their applications running and care for our customers.  This powerful combination of benefits packs the power of an atom bomb!

Just like any major technology category, cloud computing will continue to evolve. And along the way, computing will change in form. It will move out of the server closets of small businesses and the data centers of large ones. These rooms will be empty because computing power will be bought from Rackspace and other cloud computing providers.  This proposition will be so compelling, cloud computing will become not just a way to buy computing power, but THE way of doing computing.

So, there it is. I hope I have helped reduce your cloud confusion a little.  Even now, as I write this blog, Rackspace is delivering cloud computing from 45,000 servers for over 50,000 customers. Over one million people will wake up tomorrow and check their email quietly delivered to them from Rackspace’s cloud computing system. This blog is also delivered to you by Rackspace’s cloud.

Rackspace’s exists to help IT departments do their jobs better AND cheaper. We are a tool for them and we will work tirelessly to earn their trust as collaborators and partners. We will help our friends in the IT department become heroes by helping them drastically cut their employer’s computing costs.

Stay tuned.

8 thoughts on “Cloud Confusion”

  1. Great post! I like the “Power Grid” analogy, it really hits home for a lot of people when describing cloud computing. I was speaking with a friend of mine the other day who leads the application development team for a major US health care system, even he didn’t understand what the cloud really represented. Needless to say, after a half hour conversation about API’s, load balancing, and virtual devices it was amazing to see his curiosity unfold.

  2. Thanks for the lay view of this complex idea. We are all struggling with the way to explain this with the least amount of confusion and pain. I think you just nailed it here. Stealing some of this for the new cloud site!

    Welcome to the blogoshpere as well my friend! BTW new WordPress theme is one me…really…please;)

  3. Graham,

    The cloud term is certainly confusing because it is evolving. Cloud computing goes beyond being a software or service delivered on the internet. Your analogy to a power grid helps explain how cloud computing goes further than an internet service. Just like one pays only for the electricity used from a power grid, cloud computing consumers only pay for what they use. The notion of elastic capacity and multi tenancy is inherent in cloud computing which makes it more cost effective.

    It was nice meeting you yesterday in the office.

    Ranjit Nayak

  4. Graham,

    Great post! Glad to see you stepping out and taking a lead in the Cloud conversation. I think you’ve done a great job explaining the concept of the cloud.

    Personally, I’ve been try to think of simple concrete examples that gives people a visceral understanding. They way you’ve framed the explaination its almost as if you compare the Cloud to the Airline industry all people really care about when traveling is that you can help them get from one place to another. Airlines provide the infrastructure and manage all the logistics.

    It seems that cloud computing could be explained in a similar way as people booking their flight, getting on the plane and then airline delivers them to their destination. Hence, data is put on the network and the cloud infrastructure delivers the data to the users destination.

    I’m sure there are many other examples that could be thought of that can help people grasp the simplicity of what the cloud does. What do you think?


  5. the idea of cloud computing is still a bit foggy to me. I’ve never seen any companies offering any support for the clients infrastructures in the cloud, will you be the first? With all of the porno sites, video game servers is there any beacon in the cloud for the rest of us more ethical and legitimate businesses?

  6. Graham,

    As a tech savvy person, I know what cloud computing is but I had to give you props for your description. I’ve never seen anyone describe it in such a clear and concise way and with such an AWESOME analogy! I tried to explain cloud computing to my Wife recently and I couldn’t explain it in a way she’d understand. I’ll just send her to your blog! Great job!

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