Last week, PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer reported on cloud computing, even attempting (not quite successfully) to describe a multi-tenant architecture. Yesterday, my 67-year-old mother-in-law explained to me this concept she read about called "cloud computing." It's finally happened: Cloud computing has entered pop culture.Having been writing about this for several years, it was a kick to watch NewsHour try to describe it (thanks, Marc Benioff, for posting the link on your Facebook wall). Stretching the cloud metaphor, correspondent Spencer Michaels explained how servers reside in the cloud and are "called down to Earth" when needed. In another attempt to bring the concept down to Earth for viewers, Michaels likened cloud computing to "hiring a taxi cab instead of buying a car. You don't need a car all the time."
Back in more ambitious territory, Michaels (with the help of Benioff) gave a description of multi-tenancy, but then didn't explain its significance (and should consumers even care?). A bit later in the piece, NewsHour trotted out Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who then dodged a data-protection question with this: "A simple question for consumers is, have you ever dropped your computer?" With cloud computing, Schmidt said, "professionals keep track of [your] data."
Then my mother-in-law, a news junkie and an avid reader, began telling me about cloud computing last night. I bit my tongue as she excitedly explained that security is probably the biggest concern. "Yes, I know," I said, releasing my tongue. "I've been writing about this for years. I haven't sent my relatives links to my stories on this subject because I figured it would bore them. I'm glad that's changed!"
And seriously, I am. Consumers, from teens on up to seniors, are realizing that maybe there is something to this idea of not having to install your own software and keep all your data on your PC. Certainly millions are already storing their photos online, not realizing they're doing "cloud computing."
On NewsHour, Michaels interviewed a parent who uses Google Docs to communicate with her kid's teacher. And that's probably a better way to demonstrate what cloud computing means than drawing an analogy using taxis vs. cars, but what do I know.
This past spring, I set up a system for my son's school's readathon contest using Google Docs spreadsheets. The idea was that teachers would sign on every day to record minutes each student read during the contest's duration, replacing the large, hand-drawn charts the PTO moms and dad used to spend hours creating.
When I pitched the approach, some teachers visibly blanched, and later, a few threatened mutiny when they couldn't get Google Docs to work on their school-issued Macs (they just needed to update their browsers, which, thank goodness, a tech-savvy person at the school quickly helped them do).
But in the end, all but one out of 30 teachers used the Google Docs system, and many said they liked the new system better and found it much easier than they expected. They didn't call it "cloud computing." Maybe next year they will.
I know, it's still easy to snicker at "cloud computing" as a marketing term. And yes, it is thrown around a bit loosely. But for the IT managers and business professionals who continue to roll their eyes and say things like, "Isn't this just another term for hosted computing or, what did they call it back in 1999…an ASP?" the answer is, no, it's not. Much has changed since then. Cloud computing is, to some degree, a revolution. Just ask the grandmas and the teachers.