Cloud! Cloud! Cloud! A Not so Authoritative Look at What “Cloud” Terms Mean

By April 29, 2011 Cloud Computing, DCIG

Cloud. Cloud! Cloud!! That’s all I hear these days. Cloud computing. Cloud storage. Private Cloud. Private Storage Cloud. Public Cloud. Public storage cloud. Hybrid cloud. Hybrid storage cloud. Enterprise cloud. Consumer cloud. Cloud archive. Cloud backup. You name it, there is a cloud term to go with it. Further, no matter which vendor you talk to, everyone has a cloud solution even if the product looks just like it did five years ago before the cloud craze began. So it begs the question, what do these cloud terms mean???

I am probably as guilty as anyone else in the use (or maybe I should say overuse?) of the term cloud. But technically almost anything can fall under the definition of the term “cloud” if it is applied broadly enough. So I thought what I would do today is define all of the aforementioned cloud terms I used at the outset of this blog.

Now please do not view this blog entry as an authoritative or exhaustive definition for any of these cloud terms. Rather it is more of a tongue in cheek look at how these terms are being used and misused in the industry and how easy it is easy for anyone (analysts, media, users and vendors included ) to slip into the habit of slapping the term “cloud” on anything that has a on/off button on it.

Cloud computing. This can be applied is any device that connects to the Internet, has a CPU and some memory and can run programs that can store data to storage that resides somewhere (locally or remotely.) So if you own a desktop, laptop, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, or smartphone, face it, you are doing cloud computing. However as I was writing this, I noticed my wife sent a print job to the printer next to my desk. While I am not yet willing to lump laser or inkjet printers into the realm of cloud computing, that day may be already be coming.

Cloud storage.
This is any device connected to a network that can accept data from a device that is located somewhere else on the network. While that definition is again pretty broad and a stretch, trust me, I just heard a vendor pitching me again today that they do “cloud storage” even though they need someone else’s NAS gateway in front of their storage array to do “cloud storage.” OK, so that means my externally attached USB Western Digital drive is now officially “cloud storage” since I can share it from PC over the network so my wife and kids can access it. Give me a break.

Private cloud.
The consensus on this term seems to be that whatever applications are running and whatever resources that are using reside behind a company’s fire wall. The resources that applications utilize when running in a “private cloud” consist of servers, network and storage but not necessarily all three and are somehow aggregated together so the collective power of all of these resources can be harnessed. Exactly how it is possible to run an application in a private cloud without all three of these components, I don’t know, but I have been assured it is. So long as it is behind a firewall.

Private storage cloud.
The difference between this term and the previous one is that it is storage that resides behind a corporate firewall. The presumption is that all of these storage resources can be collectively aggregated so they function as one big logical pool of storage. Just so long as this pool of storage does not get too big then you have to create another private storage cloud which defeats the whole purpose of creating a private storage cloud in the first place. But as long as we nod our heads at the appropriate point in PowerPoint presentation, shake hands and smile, all of these technical details magically go away in a private cloud. Again, so long as it resides behind a corporate firewall.

Public cloud. The definition of this term is eerily similar to the one for private cloud except that now all computing resources (server, network and storage) reside outside of the corporate firewall. However based upon the recent upheaval we have seen in the public cloud storage provider market, where these resources reside and how secure or available they are seems to be of no concern. Just so long as when you go to access whatever application you are running in the “cloud” and it turns on, life is good.

Public storage cloud. Again, eerily similar to private storage cloud in that it again only applies to storage resources but, like the public cloud definition, it must reside outside the corporate fire wall. The only problem is it can’t just reside anywhere outside the corporate fire wall. I spoke to one user a few weeks ago who was looking at using a public storage cloud but found out that it had data centers in Europe and the US and mirrored data between the two for availability.

That sounds like a highly available and redundant solution if there ever was one except for one minor problem: he had data that had compliance restrictions associated with it and putting data in both locations would put his company in a bit of a legal bind.

So any storage outside of the corporate firewall should be considered public storage cloud. But just don’t put it too far outside of the corporate fire wall. Or too far away for that matter because if it ends up inside of someone else’s domain (no relation to a cloud) it can result in a thunderstorm.

Well, I was going to define the rest of these terms but I want to watch the rest of the first round of the NFL draft with my son so this just became a two-part blog. Look for part 2 sometime next week.

Jerome M. Wendt

About Jerome M. Wendt

President & Founder of DCIG, LLC Jerome Wendt is the President and Founder of DCIG, LLC., an independent storage analyst and consulting firm. Mr. Wendt founded the company in November 2007.

One Comment

  • It is tough to nail these descriptions/definitions when marketing is rushing to use “cloud” in relation to their products in an effort to cash in. That is exactly what I consider it – a marketing term.
    Obviously some meaningful and important products being designed to service “the cloud” but it doesn’t make my skin crawl any less when I hear it. On the inside, I still roll my eyes just like I did when everything was “Information Superhighway, Information Superhighway, Information Superhighway!”

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