Cloud Computing and Marketing Hype

Marketing is a mis-understood function.  Sometimes Marketing is the only thing you need to be successful.  Other times Marketing is evil and ruining everything.  Sometimes it seems like both are true statements.

Take cloud computing as an example.  Last week Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle corp. was quoted as saying:

“…we’ve redefined
cloud computing to include everything that we already do. I can’t think
of anything that isn’t cloud computing with all of these announcements.
The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven
than women’s fashion. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what
anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s
insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?

“…I don’t understand what we would do differently in the
light of cloud computing other than change the wording of some of our
ads.”

While I don’t think Larry is qualified to comment on women’s fashion, when it comes to technology trends it’s wise to pay attention to his opinion.  Is he right?  Is cloud computing marketing gibberish?

The answer, in my opinion is yes, and no and either way Marketing is responsible.

First you had the cloud computing “platform” vendors such as Google and Amazon.  These folks talked about making a set of interfaces available that allow developers to obtain and configure capacity with automatic scaling and load balancing and “pay for what you use” pricing models.

Then things started to get, um, cloudy.  As cloud computing as a term gained visibility, other companies, not wanting to be left behind, began to try to use the term to their advantage (i.e. “cloudwashing“).  Software as a service?  Cloud computing!  Hosted data?  Cloud computing! The Wikipedia definition of cloud computing is hilarious is its lack of specificity:

Cloud computing is a general concept that incorporates software as a service, Web 2.0
and other recent, well-known technology trends, where the common theme
is reliance on the Internet for satisfying the computing needs of the
users.

Super!  As long as your product uses the internet, you’re in the cloud crowd!  Suddenly cloud computing as a term is meaningless.

Is Marketing responsible for this mess?  Yes!  But not in the way you might think.  I would argue that the folks who adopted the term early (Amazon and Google) have not
defined it clearly and simply enough to prevent other folks from stretching the definition.  Industry analysts all had different definitions from the outset and customers didn’t get it.  If everyone is confused, that means there is still an opportunity to shape the definition.  The companies jumping on the cloud bandwagon are doing just that.

Which brings me back to Oracle.  Although Larry does have a point in that cloud computing isn’t well defined, I’m not so sure his comments weren’t also influenced by his own marketing department.  Some of Oracle’s competitors are arguing that cloud computing is the “next phase of Grid”.  Oracle is heavily invested in Grid as a marketing term and last week announced “application grids”.  Cloud computing is a threat to that.  Here is IDC in the New York Times:

“In some ways, the cloud is a natural next step from the grid-utility
model,” said Frank Gens, an analyst at the research firm IDC.

Statements like that are probably making the Oracle marketing department sweat a bit.  They wouldn’t want Grid to become yesterday’s news while these next-generation Cloud Computing things take over, would they?  So is Larry being refreshingly candid by “telling the truth” or is he simply doing his own bit of marketing by denying the existence of a legitimate threat to his business?

**Update!** This morning, the Free Software Fundation founder, Richard Stallman had this to say about cloud computing in the Guardian, “It’s stupidity. It’s worse than stupidity: it’s a marketing hype campaign.”  it would be easy to predict this stance coming from Stallman.  Cloud computing could be seen as a threat to his mission to get people away from proprietary systems and his opinion on privacy is widely known.  Again, even if it isn’t deliberate, I would argue that everyone is talking about cloud to forward their own agenda at the moment.

5 thoughts on “Cloud Computing and Marketing Hype”

  1. Again April, another great topic!
    To me, “Cloud Computing” is all marketing hype. What ever happened to thin-clients were to be all the rage 8 to 10 year ago or how about distributed storage where your files would be stored on other peoples empty disk space? They don’t work well if the network is not accessible.
    My point? How many thin-clients did you see professionals use on an airplane? You still need local applications to get work done when not connected to the internet.
    Who redefined network applications as Cloud Computing?
    Accessing e-mail, performing database lookups, and storing files on a remote server are client-to-server processes. If this is cloud computing, it’s not new. The day two mainframes were connected and allowed the passing of data between them was the birth of this concept (45+ years ago!)
    So what IS cloud computing?
    When I think of “true” cloud computing, I think of what was called “grids”:
    1) distributed software that is working on chunks of data or tasks.
    2) the result of the tasks are cumulatively working to solve a larger equation.
    3) the results are reported back to a server that originated the request.
    An example of grid/cloud computing:
    I downloaded a program from grid.org to offer CPU cycles for their cancer research program. The “cloud” was solving a problem as a super-set of smaller calculations. the research program would run in the background or when the PC is idle and only needed to connect to the network to get new instructions and provide the results of the calculations.
    Another example of cloud computing that we engineering and security folks cringe at – BOT-NETS! Now THAT’S cloud computing!
    Cloud-computing re-redefined:
    Clients access servers which accept control instructions. The servers break the instructions into individual tasks. Other client on the cloud are handed a task to complete. The clients complete the tasks and relay results to the server. The server collects all tasks and reports the results back to the original client. the results are received from the cloud faster than if they were processed by a single PC or even a group of servers.
    U_Geek_N

  2. Thanks a lot for the smart comment.
    Cloud computing as a term in my mind right now is a lot like “e-business”, “on demand” or even “Grid” when people first started talking about grids. It is not a technical term, it’s a marketing term which will ultimately be defined by the market. Right now there are a host of very large players trying to make their definition stick. Until the market settles around one definition (if it ever does), “cloud computing” will mean whatever you want it to mean. If Oracle has its way then the term will either go away or become synonymous with “Grid”.

  3. What most tech people forget is that they live in an echo chamber…an in-crowd nerdtopia where everybody knows what everybody else is talking about on a very high level.
    Trouble is, most people aren’t tech people. The average person wants a For Dummies, 101, fast-food definition of what something means or does.
    Thus we had ‘The World Wide Web’, then ‘Web 2.0’, ‘thin clients’ and a host of other watery contructs that now includes Cloud Computing.
    Thing is, they still help explain an idea, even if it’s nearly meaningless.
    In my opinion, Cloud Computing is no longer meant for us in the same way that “E=MC2” is no longer the purview of a handful of physicists. Everybody knows what it means….basically. But very, very few people could get in front of a chalkboard and do the math : )
    So yes, it’s a marketing term, but it’s also a translation for a bunch of complicated and interrelated concepts.
    People want shorthand. I don’t blame them.
    In a way, it’s marketing’s job to make something digestible — and thus sellable. So I say let this cumulous little catchphrase stand, even if we don’t like the rain : )

  4. Hi Trevor,
    Thanks for the comment!
    I agree with you that not all decision makers are deeply technical and everyone (even the techies) needs a set of good short hand terms to talk about complicated concepts.
    I’m a big fan of easy to understand terms that folks can use to describe technology, and I like the idea of using cloud computing to describe what Google and Amazon are trying to do. I would love to see them put more marketing muscle behind it to make it clearer for customers so that when they use it as shorthand, everyone knows what it is shorthand for.
    April

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