Can You Describe an Elephant? How about Cloud Computing?

If you did not know what an elephant was, could you describe it by just touching it?  According to Wikipedia, the story of the blind men and the elephant originated in India.

  • (My use of the word blind is just for the sake of metaphor. I intend no discrimination or disrespect to visually handicapped people.)

I think I heard this ancient story when I was a kid in Japan, so your version may be different from mine. The story goes like this. A group of blind men who didn’t know what an elephant was encountered one for the first time. Each man touched a different part of the elephant—an ear, the body, the trunk, the tail, and so on. After that, each described what an elephant was. So the definition of the elephant was drastically different among those men. Why is this relevant to cloud computing? Each of us comes from a different background and experience, and looks at cloud computing from his own viewpoint. Since we cannot see the entire picture of cloud computing (yet), we define it as what we know in the way we know it. That is why there are a tremendous number of definitions for cloud computing. And no two people can agree upon the definition of cloud computing precisely. Sometimes, the only way to define it is to list all the descriptions of cloud computing as we touch it blindly. I think that is why many of the definitions are lengthy and complex. Like anything else, if you cannot describe it simply, you probably do not understand it very well.

Does Your Cloud Have a Silver Lining?

At the end of the first day of the OpenSource, NGDC, and CloudWorld conference, a panel discussed cloud computing. The panel consisted of the following people: Moderator:

  • Jeff Kaplan, managing director of THINKstrategies and chair of the CloudWorld conference


  • Sam Charrington, vice president of Product Management & Marketing, Appistry
  • James Urquhart, market manager, Cloud Computing and Virtualization, Cisco Systems
  • Joe Weinman, Strategy and Business Development, AT&T Business Solutions
  • Timothy Chou, chairman, Ming Holdings

All are experts in cloud computing, but as in the old story, each has a different perspective, which is fine with me. They spent a good part of the panel session trying to define cloud computing but reached no conclusion. Then, the topic shifted to public vs. private clouds. As other bloggers reported, the most interesting comment came from Joe Weinman of AT&T, who said, “A private cloud is like a personal hotel.” I will go further and say it is an oxymoron. Each business unit of a corporation may be charged for what it actually uses, but ultimately the corporation should pay the fixed costs of IT and facilities. This violates the pay-as-you-go model, one of the must-have features of cloud computing. Actually, Weinman was the second speaker to tell the truth about private clouds. The first was Armando Fox, associate professor, UC Berkeley Reliable Adaptive Distributed Systems Lab. This is like everyone knows about it but is afraid of speaking out for fear of persecution. In the meanwhile, the discussion of cloud computing continues (forever) with a lot of confusion. We need help! Wait, OMG (Object Management Group) for the rescue! SD Times reports that OMG is trying to set standards for cloud computing. The most recent Cloud Standards Summit was held July 13. SD Times reports the following major participants:

Kevin Jackson wrote a blog on this with more information about participants. This is a good step towards the standardization of cloud computing, including standardizing terminologies.   This step may stop the repeated iterations of cloud computing definitions. I wonder, however, if it will. The notion of cloud computing is fairly simple, but more and more potential uses and new technologies will send cloud computing down several evolutionary routes. No matter how quickly standards are set, they will lag behind the real speed of cloud computing’s progression. There is a term "green washing" but there is no term "cloud washing." It will be a long time before reasonable standards emerge for cloud computing. But it is certainly a good sign that cloud computing is entering the mainstream of IT and computing.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.


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