Is 'The Cloud' a Misnomer?

The Cloud Conversation

Is 'The Cloud' a Misnomer?

By Juliana Kenny, TMCnet Managing Editor  |  August 03, 2012

Dear Service Providers,

Consider this question: What do you mean when you say “cloud-based?” Do you mean your solution lives in the ether, accessible to all who pay for it with no vestiges of the old legacy systems? Or have you simply rebranded your existing legacy-based systems into sexy, virtual-looking offerings?

Now, consider this statement: No matter how “virtual” you think your new solution is, it’s still rooted in a bunch of wires and still needs a hardware-based system to back it up.


The Cloud Skeptics

There are some who stand by the school of thought that that there is actually nothing that “cloudy” about a cloud-based system – that our perceptions of the cloud are actually misperceptions because no matter how “virtual” something is, it must still have a system of backup, which must still be rooted in hardware.

So how virtual is this “virtual environment” in which we participate and house our data? Do we dupe ourselves into thinking that this “cloud” is the be-all and end-all of virtual technology? Right now the answer looks, well… cloudy.

We spoke with the Senior Director of Technology for the GSMA, Dan Warren (News - Alert), who is a proponent of this theory that the cloud isn’t really a cloud, rather it has become the “rebranding” of existing systems.

The general public views the cloud as this ethereal depository that it can “put things into” and “get things out of” whenever it wants. Warren indicates that, as a technologist, no one will ever be able to convince him that such a depository exists without it including a concrete place in which to back up files. Technologists see what’s “going into the cloud” as a finite amount of data they need to store and requiring a certain amount of capacity that they need to have backed up.

This argument makes sense, but that concrete place needs concrete servers and storage, which means hardware. So really, this virtual depository is just as hardware-based as all systems have been since the dawn of the technology age. It’s just got a new fancy name now.

Warren says he “calls people out” when they describe a service that has been “around for forever” which has now been moved to the cloud. For example, he spoke to one vendor who offered a DNS service. This vendor told Warren that his company was going to do “DNS in the cloud.” Warren asked him, “Where was DNS before then if it wasn’t in the cloud?” To which this particular vendor had no response. So it seems as though the eagerness to jump on The Cloud Train preempts the understanding of what the cloud means, how virtual it is, and where its base in technology lies.

 “It’s only really cloud if the amount of resource which is available means you have no limit on scale. Any time you are putting something into a single-operator environment, then there generally is a limit on scale,” says Warren.

So how “virtual” can any service be when it must necessarily be rooted in hardware and require concrete storage?

Jamie Brenzel, CEO of KineticD, had a few words to say on this subject. As the head of a company that focuses on the idea that online back-up is the best way to back up every device, he is immersed in the physical vs. virtual.

Brenzel said his company provides solutions for virtual and physical environments, and that the combination of hardware and software solutions to get to “the core of the cloud” is the most interesting dilemma of late.

“Right now, it’s the combination of the two: Hardware costs have come down 20 percent a year. As our infrastructure grows, because we’re ordering things on a volume basis, our costs have come down,” reveals Brenzel. “Beyond that, hardware and bandwidth costs are coming down. I don’t see that as a trend that will change. So what does that mean for back-up providers? It benefits us in terms of delivering our services.”

The bottom-line changes in costs have a direct effect on KineticD’s ability to provide a better, more cost-effective virtual storage service to its customers.

Brenzel witnesses most companies exploring cloud-based options choosing hybrid solutions. Enterprises are taking on a “you jump, I jump” mentality. They are reluctant to move their legacy-based systems to cloud-based ones because they are uncertain as to how to resolve security concerns and continuity issues.

But this dilemma for the enterprise brings us back to the first question: If cloud-based systems are still just based in hardware, what’s to worry about? Why even call it “cloud?”

“What we’re really talking about is the ongoing trend of separation between hardware and software,” reiterates Warren.

This “trend” manifests itself in this paradoxical environment that looks like a cloud, acts like a cloud, but really isn’t a cloud – at least not to some.

Edited by Braden Becker