Counting the cost of cloudy jargon

Steve Cassidy
10 Dec 2010

You know that kid in class who would always have the answer to the question? The one who dislocates his shoulder to get his hand up, waves it frantically and puffs his cheeks up, bursting to belt out the answer? That's how I felt, reading Davey's blog about the cost of cloud computing.

If you go back to EMC's linked page on the brief they gave the economic worthies of the CEBR, then I can see exactly why he would be bedazzled, confused and frustrated. It can seem completely impossible to go from an estimate for the whole of the European Union, right down to someone's choice to rely on Gmail, much less make sense of the basis of the research.

I totally agree, incidentally, that there's a massive tidal-wave of sense-free mush with "cloud" stuck on the front of it. It's very easy to follow the example of a major UK corporate MD, who said to me that he instantly bins any materials that mention "cloud", such is the confusion that attends the term.

And it's terminology which has entirely sunk the CEBR report. Not the first-year business-school chatter of CAPEX and OPEX: it's in the introduction and terms of reference from EMC that everything falls apart.

EMC asked the CEBR to look at the impact of the private Cloud, carefully capitalising one word and not the other. This is a huge shame, because "Private Cloud" doesn't mean "the use of the Cloud by private companies". It means "The use of Cloud technologies inside companies" - the cloud itself is private.

Several commenters here on the blogs have said "huh, same old same old" at other articles on this topic, and they are partly right. This is all about using the elastic computing party tricks like shunting work round a pool of servers, or separating compute from storage, which underpin the way data centers present as clouds - but using them inside your company, not out in public.

Of course, it's hardly surprising that EMC backs this finding: it is a Cloud technology firm, keen to sell inside firms just as much as outside them. The big problem here is that CEBR seems to have been just as sideswiped by the use of the term as the audience: as Davey says, the economic buzzphrases are ladled on pretty thickly, and speaking from the privileged perspective of a former Merchant Banker I think I'm safe in saying that what they are talking about is true of any saving, whether it arises from Cloud stuff or not. It could be about the switch from soft loo-paper to hard and it would still be true.

Private Cloud stuff can save you money. You need to be operating a hefty IT investment and you need to be at the far end of a long and I would say, frankly exploitative relationship with a hardware provider who has connived in inflating your annual purchasing budget: then there is plenty of opportunity for squashing your spending on kit - but here we are thinking about someone with 30-40 servers who might reasonably buy ten enterprise grade replacement machines per year.

Running up an iSCSI or Fibre Channel disk farm (hopefully provided by EMC) and then virtualising your servers will chop back the re-investment cycle handsomely. That's what "Private Cloud" is meant to draw attention to. In this case, the effect is the exact opposite of the intent.

I've written a few times about how industry insiders bemoan the way that words with perfectly good existing meanings are co-opted by over-excited cloud evangelists; EMC has provided me with a close-to-perfect example of the downside of cavalierly mixing up economics jargon, with cloud jargon, with blue-sky number crunching.

When the mobile phone business hit a far lower level of complexity in communicating with the customer base, Orange ditched long descriptions in favour of a campaign based on some helium ballons shaped like cuddly animals (Dolphins, as I recall, were the right tarriff for heavy texters) - some of that approach in Cloud communication could go a long way to alleviating the kind of pointless suffering that m'learned colleague has so ably demonstrated.

Read more about: