A THREE-PART SERIES ON CLOUD COMPUTING
Part 1 - We've got to start somewhere.
I recently published a piece titled, Key Words and Tricky Phrases that focused on the nature of certain IT jargon. In my piece, I shared an observation I’d made while reading comments from 15 healthcare executives surveyed for a July, 2021 Becker’s Hospital Review post. I realized that the annoying, cringe-worthy nature attributed to certain IT jargon was not derived from the actual words and phrases but rather how certain terms, relatively new to our vernacular, are used. For me, “the cloud” is such a term. I find myself annoyed by its use, not because the term lacks valid and valuable meaning, but because it is used (and misused) in so many different ways that its true meaning is obscured, lost, and misunderstood.
It’s worth noting that terms like “the cloud”, “AI”, “big data”, and “IoT” (short for “Internet of Things”) happened to also make the healthcare executives’ cringe-worthy list of annoying IT jargon mentioned above.
I get it. New terms and phrases with specific meaning are twisted and turned upside down to fit fancy marketing messages designed to capture a moment of attention from decision makers and their advisors.
Our vernacular continuously adapts to effectively describe new innovations fueled by increasingly rapid and significant advancements in digital technologies. That is a good thing, critical to progress. When it comes to all the new IT jargon, I try to tease precision from the noise generated by fancy messaging and confusing narratives.
I think of the cloud as today’s manufacturing center - the place where things are made and value is created. In the spirit of precision over messaging madness, focusing on “the cloud” is a good place to start.
Talking about the cloud around the virtual water cooler
Have a discussion about information technology today in a group of three or more participants and someone in the group is going to mention “the cloud.” My experience has taught me an important lesson: in such discussions, it is important to consider whether all the head shaking conveys the message, “yes, I’m tracking what you’re saying” or “yes, I hear what you are saying and don’t really understand, but need to fake it until I catch up.” Why, you might ask? In short, context matters, and I will discuss how and why context matters in parts two and three of this series. For now, it is most helpful, I believe, to start with the basics.
What, exactly, is “the cloud”
At its most basic level, “the cloud” is a technology architecture that depends on two main components: 1) data center(s) that house data storage and compute capacity connected and secured behind one or more protective layers of cyber-security, and 2) a sufficiently robust connection to the Internet. The Internet serves as the means of transporting data and software capabilities to those authorized and able to connect to some or all of the data storage and computing capacity available in a given data center. When a person or organization takes advantage of “the cloud” in a small way (gmail only) or in a big way (the cloud serves all computing needs) cloud computing is the result.
I think it is worth hitting pause here to highlight that the basic level description above is the manifestation of a concept. Confusion and complexity reside in the myriad ways individuals and organizations can engage in cloud computing.
The different ways we can engage with and leverage “the cloud” is the proverbial “secret sauce.” As a technology architecture, “the cloud” is not a one size fits all thing - not even remotely (pun intended). On the contrary, “the cloud” offers various cloud computing options that can be assembled and reassembled like a set of legos.
Through the combination of specific cloud configuration options (e.g., public cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud) employed to subscribe to one or more cloud-based business models (IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, for example), the cloud offers an enormous number of options capable of serving a very diverse set of needs. When I think about my lego metaphor, I am reminded of one of the most relevant and valuable attributes of “the cloud” - hyper-adaptability.
Lost in the clouds
And this is where many discussions about “the cloud” cannot be understood without context. What manifestation of “the cloud” is in use and why? There are good and valid reasons to choose any one of all the possible ways in which the proverbial legos can be assembled. What specific options - the good, bad, and ugly (or good, better, and best) - exist with each? That’s up next.
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