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6/2/2010
11:42 AM
Bob Evans
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Steve Ballmer: Can't Explain Cloud But It's Next Big Thing

How tricky is it to explain cloud computing? Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer declined to even try last week, telling his C-level audience that "I'm not sure my goal for today is going to be to actually explain it to you, but I do want to make sure that people understand that I think everybody in our industry accepts it's the next major transition point in terms of how IT gets done."

How tricky is it to explain cloud computing? Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer declined to even try last week, telling his C-level audience that "I'm not sure my goal for today is going to be to actually explain it to you, but I do want to make sure that people understand that I think everybody in our industry accepts it's the next major transition point in terms of how IT gets done."Quick background: on a global customer tour including some summit-style events with C-level executives, Ballmer offered a cloud overview/definition at the first such event at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond last week. At the next stop on his tour in Singapore, he admitted that maybe his definition at the Redmond event wasn't so great, per his quotation above. So here's part of what Ballmer said in Redmond that left some attendees at his CEO Summit more foggy than clear about the cloud:

So, what is this cloud thing we talk about? In some senses I think that the best way to think about the cloud is it's a place where we will all work, we in the tech industry and all of the IT people who work for companies like yours. We'll work to fuse the best of what we think of as the PC today, the phone, the TV, the Internet, and the corporate data center. And it's a land of opportunity. I was with one of the CEOs in the audience who is a business partner of ours, Bernhard Charlet, whose company does design software for product design, product lifecycle management, and the like. And he was saying, look, we've got a great business. We built it up. Many of the most important products in the world are built and managed with our software. And yet, with the cloud the ability to let our customers get that stuff deployed more quickly, at less cost, with more agility, to share information better between suppliers and their vendors, in terms of product design information. It's a phenomenal opportunity to change the way things work, and we're fusing concepts that come essentially from these multiple areas.

Hmmm-I think we can see that while that's a nice bit of cloud extemporaneity for IT-industry insiders, it might not exactly illuminate and excite CEOs from other industries.

As Sharon Pian Chan wrote in the Seattle Times, "After spending 30 minutes pitching Microsoft's cloud computing service to 100 corporate titans at Microsoft's CEO Summit in Redmond last week, Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said he still wasn't successful at explaining what it was."

So at that next event in Singapore, here's how Ballmer chose to deal with the cloud thing:

We're working with customers here in Singapore on all of these agendas, but one of the most important agendas for our company and our industry is the embrace of a whole new technological approach that we call cloud computing. We -- our industry calls cloud computing.

It's kind of a funny thing. I tried to describe cloud computing to a group of 100 CEOs at our headquarters in Seattle last week, and I thought I had done a really fine job. And after I was done, a lady in the front raises her hand and says, I don't mean to be slow, but I still don't know what is cloud computing. Is it kind of like the Borg or something -- bright, smart lady.

So, I'm not sure my goal for today is going to be to actually explain it to you, but I do want to make sure that people understand that I think everybody in our industry accepts it's the next major transition point in terms of how IT gets done. And when your CIO comes to see you and says, we're taking a look at the cloud, today maybe they're on the leading edge of that, not the bleeding but the leading edge, but it really relates to a fundamental change in the way we think about fusing the Internet, best of the Internet, with the best of what's going on today in your data centers, with the rest of what people love about the PC, and the best of what they love about mobile computing.

Moral of the story: when talking to the non-initiated, speak in English, focus on business benefits, and learn from Ballmer's experience.

Overall, I did enjoy the transcripts of both of Ballmer's talks and you can read the one from Redmond here and the one from Singapore here.

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