The Cloud means many things to many people. Whether working from the assumption that utilizing the Cloud has become second hat or working from the assumption that the Cloud is still opaque to the majority of consumers, one peculiar aspect rings through: Cloud Computing is everything and nothing to many. So we ask, how amorphous is the Cloud?
"Odysseus wept when he heard the poet sing of his great deeds abroad because, once sung, they were no longer his alone. They belonged to anyone who heard the song.” - Ward Just, 2004
In 1996, when I was 10, my older brother and I became obsessed with building our own computer. Up to that point, we had run through two family computers, both Dells, which in the long run, broke down and became overly annoying to operate/fix. In an attempt to avoid purchasing another Dell, my older brother, 15 at the time, purchased an empty tower from a local computer store and began the process of purchasing needed parts. The computer we built was an amalgamation. This is how I learned to build computers and servers.
While the computer we built was considerably faster and less prone to disaster than our family Dell, we could never find a hard drive large enough to hold all the data we loved. Every hard drive we purchased from 1996 – 2002, was never large enough to store and process all the bits of data we craved.
Enter the Zip Drive.
The Zip Drive, a floppy disk storage system first introduced in 1994 by Iomega, served the computing world as a medium grade portable storage platform ranging from 100 MB to 750 MB. The idea behind the Zip Drive was simple: with external hard drives too expensive for a good portion of computing consumers and with USB storage platforms not yet advanced enough to offer higher resource storage solutions, the Zip Drive filled the gap.
Local and external hard drives have become a cheap tool of information storage. USB devices are both small and cheap avenues to carry and transfer bits of data from one machine to another. The common thread between the three: physicality. As the world has transformed from local to global so have the avenues upon which we share, store, transfer and utilize data. The Internet has given rise to Cloud Computing and yet, a service which is roughly defined as remote servers storing data accessible 24/7/365 via the Internet, is a blanket term which feels more amorphous now than it ever has.
There are a few reasons for this.
How the Cloud has been presented to the public matters. While programmers, devs, NOC engineers and web hosting Linux admins understand the Cloud as bits stored in remote severs within a data center accessible via the Internet – the public only gets to see the advertising end of the solution. Infamously, the single most noted ad for confusing the market as to what the Cloud means is the Verizon Uppernet. Take a watch. In a span of thirty seconds, the word “Cloud” is stated six times without reference to what it actually is. The ad uses a buzzword surrounded by pretty graphics without supplying meaning or context. The term “low information” applies.
Too often, managed service providers have purposely advertised Cloud Computing technology as an amorphous tech meaning everything and nothing. It is no wonder out of a survey of 1,000 Americans, 95% of users claimed they never used the Cloud when in fact their online activities – online banking, shopping, emailing, social networking, storing/playing music – were all Cloud based. The survey, conducted by Wakefield Research for Citrix, proved in earnest how far removed the public is from what the Cloud actually is/does.
There are more than 200 million Dropbox accounts worldwide, more than 425 million Gmail accounts globally, more than 45 million Netflix accounts internationally and more than one billion Facebook accounts. Storage, email, streaming content and social media. All Cloud based. To the average consumer who doesn’t understand how the Cloud has transformed the backend infrastructure of the Internet (virtualization, networking, SaaS/PaaS/IaaS architecture) making the connection between email, streaming content, data storage and social all working off the same infrastructure is a hard ask.
The basic tenant of the Cloud – bits of data stored in a remote server accessible 24/7/365 via the Internet – is so deeply embedded in the current infrastructure of the Internet that most consumers have no idea what or how consumer facing solutions utilize it. The problem of understanding is one of ubiquity. With Cloud Computing infrastructure so highly ingrained in the tech culture, any real discussion of it for the public becomes white noise – a constant taken for granted with the expectation of universal understanding.
If you are reading this, you have a physical monitor in front of you. Maybe that monitor is a cell phone or a tablet or a laptop. Whatever the monitor, you are reading this via a physical interface. The physical world makes sense precisely because it is tangible. Outside of the physical devices used to access Cloud based information, there is nothing about Cloud Computing – from the consumer side – that can be considered physically tangible.
At its root, the Cloud is information. Data. Bits. Stored, transferred, utilized and built upon. In and of itself, the Cloud is wholly virtual. Outside of backend servers, routers, nodes, power/cooling equipment etc. and the devices information is digested through, the Cloud is wholly virtual.
The reason users understand and connect with a USB device or an external hard drive is because they can attach a physical understanding to virtual bits. The physical makes the virtual feel real. The physical makes the virtual tangible. The Cloud has none of this and thus, it remains an elusive concept which the majority of the public can only vaguely guess at.
"And then, when it was made simple, distilled, counted in bits, information was found to be everywhere." - James Gleick, The Information
So, I ask again: how amorphous is the Cloud? Due to fuzzy advertising capitalizing on buzzwords as opposed to tangible concepts, due to ubiquity of infrastructure and application and due to a lack of physical tangible devices, the Cloud is everything and nothing to the marketplace. At best, Cloud Computing is and will remain an amorphous concept. At worst, it will remain a founding principle of Internet infrastructure upon which the next generation of tech – Web 4.0 – is built which a vast majority of the public doesn't understand.
This said, if you want to learn about virtualization and Cloud Computing and move beyond simple buzzwords, check out the InformIT Cloud Computing & Virtualization section. To move beyond the bits – to understand how the Cloud works – I recommend checking it out.
Writers Note: If you’re wondering, I still have a pile of Zip Drive disks holding everything from early versions of Microsoft Office, to Sid Meier's Civilization and a bunch of MP3’s which I used to try and woo girls in high school. Try being an optimal word. Although they are virtually useless in today’s Cloud economy, if you would like a romantic Zip Drive disk playlist to woo your significant other, please reach out. Happy to help.
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