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9/17/2008
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Interop: Oracle Predicts Cloud Confusion To Continue

In a young market, there is also confusion being sown by companies that aren't committing entirely to Internet-based computing, including Microsoft, an Oracle exec suggests.

Confusion about the definition of cloud computing will likely continue, Peter Laird, managing architect for Oracle's WebCenter product group, said Wednesday in a session at Interop New York, where he laid out his own taxonomy of cloud computing.

"It's an evolving space, and so the definitions, you may have different opinions about how valid they are," Laird said. By presenting a list of disparate definitions, Laird showed how even self-proclaimed experts have widely diverging views of what exactly cloud computing entails.

Cloud computing is but the latest computing term to find itself ill defined. The most prominent recent example of hazy terms is Web 2.0, though the list also includes Enterprise 2.0, unified communications, mashup, and REST.

Solidification of cloud computing's definition faces a number of challenges, Laird said, including the relative youth of the term, which has only become popular within the last year.

"We're going to see a lot of vendors rushing into the space," Laird said. "If you see a vendor saying they've got a cloud solution, it may or may not be a cloud solution." That phenomenon would be similar to the one experienced at the height of Web 2.0 frenzy within the last few years. Companies are also beginning to refer to hosting and virtualization products as cloud computing, though it's unclear whether that's actually the case without a solid definition of the term.

In a young market, there is also confusion being sown by companies that aren't committing entirely to Internet-based computing, including Microsoft and Laird's own company, Oracle.

"In a lot of cases, you actually want some local application running, and then somehow that interacts with some cloud application, and the combination of those is really powerful," Laird said of Microsoft's "software plus services" strategy. "That's certainly a valid approach. But it's kind of easy to get overwhelmed, it's like did someone just invent this word? The answer's probably yes."

There are other, older terms like grid computing and utility computing that may confuse people, Laird said. These terms are often used interchangeably with cloud computing, but Laird said that don't necessarily intersect. Grid computing, for example, typically refers to environments processing large, specialized and monolithic tasks, while cloud computing also could also include multitenant software as a service.

In defense, Laird has adopted one of the many definitions of cloud computing as his own preference. Cloud computing is "the notion of providing easily accessible compute and storage resources on a pay-as-you-go, on-demand basis, from a virtually infinite infrastructure managed by someone else," RightScale CEO Michael Crandall wrote in June. "As a customer, you don’t know where the resources are, and for the most part, you don't care. What's really important is the capability to access your application anywhere, move it freely and easily, and inexpensively add resources for instant scalability."

But even that definition is imperfect, Laird said. It's unclear what Crandall means by the ability to move applications freely and easily, and Laird argued that the recently much-debated concept of "private clouds" (environments where large enterprises set up internal clouds as a computing resource) does indeed refer to cloud computing under his own definition.

Despite the terminology confusion, companies large and small are using cloud computing in their enterprises. To help understand how, InformationWeek has published an independent report on the subject. Download the report here (registration required).

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