Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cloudy with a chance of bubbles

What is "the cloud"? It sounds too good to be true: a Happy Place where data are stored without ever perishing or degrading or running out of space.

But what have we been told about things that sound too good to be true? Oh yeah, they turn into bubbles, and bubbles burst, and burst bubbles create chaos and pain and poverty.

Looking for a precise definition of cloud computing, a definition that would avoid the telltale ecstatic dreaminess of proto-bubblistic thought, I found this (see link at ).

Seven experts were asked to define the cloud, and their answers were, and I quote:

1. A way of delivering value and monetization efficiency.

2. The notion of data and applications and hardware sources being accessed remotely.

3. 20 years ago your typical knowledge worker got 80 percent of the info needed to do their job from inside the company. Today, it’s completely flipped. Cloud computing is the technical response to this reality.

4. Providing value with computational devices.

5. I agree with Larry Ellison, I think cloud computing is a lot of hype.

6. Cloud computing is getting all the advantages of computing [without one]. ... Cloud computing is all about making it easier for people who create applications to provide them without the headaches of hardware.

7. Cloud is the worst buzzword I’ve ever heard. Vapor, something you can’t touch. I think it’s a lot of hype, but then again, here I am offering that service.

8. Extracting applications from hardware and networks.

9. Almost inevitable – self-serving technology on demand.

10. The solution to what you have in your basement.

11. As more and more people need it, it makes sense to provide it as a utility.

12. Virtualization is the promise to compute, but it is not actually computing.

13. To some degree, we’re talking about capacity … at some point, hardware becomes obsolete.

The moderator of this forum makes it confusingly clear from the outset that "although cloud computing is hard to define, it’s the reality of how it affects us on a daily basis — rather than its definition — that is important." Maybe that's why he didn't extract a coherent definition from any of these guys. Just dramatically invoking "reality" trumps concrete use of language in this universe.

One of the participants later adds, helpfully if a bit alarmingly:
We’re not so concerned with the hype or what you call it – for us, what it amounts to is real. The best example for us are the cybercriminals – they’re the ones who are the most effective users of the cloud today, with botnets and tens of thousands of zombie computers. That kind of power. That’s what we’re dealing with.

Another participant demands, "What are we putting in place to make sure we have a stable system? There’s only so much electricity, silicon, storage. It’s systemic in our society, but not everyone understands." Is cloud computing supposed to be that "stable system"?

So ... the cloud is everywhere because it can be nowhere, and nowhere because it can be everywhere. It is computing without a computer. It is a "promise" to compute, not computation itself, as our money is now a "promise" to pay, not payment itself. The cloud is information from "outside." Right now it is the playground of cybercriminals (but that will change?). It provides stability without utilizing "electricity, silicon [or] storage." It is even more "virtual" than computing, which I'd thought was virtuality itself. It is the magical solution to the physical limits of power generation, bandwidth, processors and silicon chips.

Despite their lack of physical existence, "there will be private clouds," assures one expert. Down-to-earth computers already lack any privacy whatever; supposedly firewalls made of cloud will prove more unbreachable than those of mere circuitry?

No matter how "remote" the location, the cloud must still exist somewhere. Mustn't it? Unless it's a mathematical point, which has no mass, or an electron, which has no fixed location. All of earth's knowledge contained in a massless point, a placeless particle, virtual virtuality ... Businesses as well as individuals might well feel insecure about relinquishing their data to be "stored" and accessed from such a no-man's land.

The cloud is external and universal. It is the concept that all data will be "outsourced" to some vague mega-processor in the sky (cloud cuckoo-land, I believe the British call it). The Information of all the world will be up for app. But the cloud is, first and foremost, a business opportunity. The next big thing! We know the warning signs by now: the glazed dazed look, the beatific smile, the catch in the throat when speaking of the Beloved, the absolute certainty, the blissful imperviousness to logic, the beautiful belief that this time, this time, there WILL be something for nothing ...


madsy said...

John says we will definitely run out of power if every company gets the data center they need. (He designs the electrical systems for data centers for IBM). I suppose the idea of the cloud is to group together on the data center thing and therefore more efficiently use power. Of course Big Brother will love this as will little nasty brother. Mad

Fran Coombs said...

I'm reminded of Gulliver's later travel to the cloud island of Laputa, where, as Wikipedia explains, the inhabitants are "devoted to the arts of music and mathematics but unable to use these for practical ends."

rcjhawk said...

You know, this blog is in the cloud. Fran's blog is in the cloud. My blog ( is in the cloud. Not to mention all of our gmail, hotmail, yahoo, etc. accounts. Half of my computational work is done in the cloud. They could move every one of those machines to the back side of the moon tomorrow and it wouldn't stop people from reading this stuff.* The point of the cloud is that information/computational resources aren't tied to one location -- they can move around if it's cheaper/more efficient to do so, or if you just need more space.

Of course there's a risk to all of this, you're relying on someone else to take care of your data. Which is why I always tell people not to use gmail for things they want to delete before the subpoena arrives.

*So long as the appropriate satellite links are in place, of course.