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Interop: What (Really) Is Cloud Computing?

Service providers and product vendors spar over buzzwords in effort to shape the debate in their favor.
Numerous enterprise IT organizations claim to be implementing private clouds—data center architectures from which end users can tap information and applications on-demand, from internally managed servers.

But does that really fit the definition of cloud computing, an IT model that, some argue, necessarily adds a third-party, external service provider to the equation?

A private cloud "is simply what IT should have been doing for the past 20 years," said BitCurrent founder Alistair Croll, Monday at an Interop Las Vegas session called, "Private Clouds Are Just Another Name For IT Done Right."

Croll argued that the mere implementation of certain technologies associated with the cloud—virtualization, scripting and automation, single sign-on and the like—do not in and of themselves add up to cloud computing.

"All those things are good, but they don't make you a cloud," said Croll, who added that owning a corporate jet does not make a company an airline.

Some vendors, particularly those pitching "cloud" offerings to in-house IT departments, begged to differ.

John Stetic, a director of product management at Novell, argued that there's little difference between an external or internal cloud from the perspective of the end user business unit. "It's simply another shared services model," said Stetic.

For their part, third-party providers of cloud services insist that cloud computing, by definition, implies the existence of an outside vendor that specializes in providing IT services from over the wall, usually under a metered pricing model.

"There are technical aspects and business aspects (of cloud computing)," said Steve Riley, senior technical program manager at Amazon Web Services. "You can duplicate the technical aspects, but not the business aspects," said Riley.

"And in-house, you can't reach infinite scale," Riley added. Of course, a decade ago the IT industry embraced terms like ASP, utility computing, and on-demand computing to describe services very similar to those offered by today's "cloud" vendors.

So the better question may be this: Does cloud computing, whether external or internal, really represent anything new?

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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Pam Baker, Contributing Writer
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Greg Douglass, Global Lead for Technology Strategy & Advisory, Accenture
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter