Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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8/7/2008
09:36 PM
David Berlind
David Berlind
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Cloudtroversy: Dell's Application For 'Cloud Computing' Looks Sunk

"Missed it by that much." That's probably what the lawyers at Dell are saying now that the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office appears to be revisiting Dell's application for a trademark on the term "Cloud Computing." Had it been one of the poster children for cloud computing like salesforce.com, Google, RightNow, NetSuite, or eBay, the application might not have been so dubious. But a gear maker like Dell? According to Computerworld...

"Missed it by that much." That's probably what the lawyers at Dell are saying now that the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office appears to be revisiting Dell's application for a trademark on the term "Cloud Computing." Had it been one of the poster children for cloud computing like salesforce.com, Google, RightNow, NetSuite, or eBay, the application might not have been so dubious. But a gear maker like Dell? According to Computerworld.......the USPTO must have taken notice of the "public attention" that Dell's application -- one that was very close to approval -- was getting. Wrote Computerworld's Patrick Thibodeau:

Dell had received near-final approval for this trademark, but the USPTO canceled its "Notice of Allowance" on Tuesday, according to trademark records. The application has been "returned to examination."...

....Dell spokesman David Frink said the company isn't commenting on the USPTO's action, other than to acknowledge that the issue is going back to the examiner for additional review.

Dell's application to trademark the phrase isn't the only source of cloud controversy in the industry. The phrase is getting so much traction that most major vendors including all the hardware companies are saying they're "cloud."

The "cloudtroversy" has drawn into question the very definition of cloud computing. The blogosphere is rife with opinion on what cloud computing is and isn't. Facing multitenant utility computing offerings like saleforce.com, Google (with Google Apps), and Zoho, which just scored its millionth user, the traditional IT companies are starting to bail on the anti-cloud rhetoric that's been commonplace and are now looking at how to cast their own solutions as being cloud-worthy.

The logic isn't too hard to follow. Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is essentially a pay-as-you-go on-demand server hosting offering. Through programmable APIs, you can provision a new "Intel-based server" (in reality, you're getting a virtual machine equivalent), pay only for what you use, and deprovision it when you're done. EC2 is considered "cloud computing." But if EC2 is cloud computing, then why isn't regular old server hosting where you contract with a hosting provider for a year's usage of a physical Intel box? Is it the on-demand part? The business model? The virtualization? Or are we just making the rules up as we go?

As much as I hate to say it, server hosting companies have a relatively defensible position (provided they use the argument above). The problem is that it's a slippery slope. From there, what's the difference between outsourcing your servers to a server-hosting company and co-locating your own Dell servers at some off-site data center? In either case (and even with Amazon's EC2), they're your applications running on an Intel processor (or equivalent) in another building.

Voilà: Suddenly, Dell and any other company that makes gear or is in a position to host your code or applications (e.g., IBM, AT&T, etc.) rates as a "cloud computing" provider?

I'm not saying I'm buying the logic. But it's not as clean an argument as some would like it to be. Personally, I think there needs to be an on-demand element to it as well as some measure of automated multitenancy. Feel free to comment.

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