I’ve just attended my first cloudcamp unconference, held during QCon London. We ended up debating how you would explain cloud computing to a non-technical audience. The problem is that different people mean different things by the term.
The consumer perspective is to do with running applications and storing your stuff on the Internet. Gmail, Google Docs, Skydrive, are all examples of doing cloud-based computing from a consumer perspective. Somehow we brought BBC iPlayer, Facebook and YouTube into the mix as well. Some think that the home computer will disappear, replaced by Internet-connected appliances and devices.
The small business and entrepreneur’s perspective is to do with low start-up costs and low barriers to entry. Anyone can run a web site, take payments with PayPal or Amazon Payment Services or Google Checkout, and use cloud services for email and collaboration.
The larger business or enterprise perspective is do with exporting IT infrastructure to the Internet. Close your data centre, sell your servers, move your computing to virtual servers running on Amazon’s elastic compute cloud or some such. There is not much of this happening as far as I can see, though we are seeing virtualization (which might be a first step), and some take-up for software-as-a-service (SAAS) applications like Salesforce.com.
I suppose it is appropriate that the cloud term is fluffy. To some it is synonymous with the Internet; to others it means SAAS applications; to others it means virtual servers running who knows what; to others it means a hosted application platform (platform-as-a-service or PAAS).
The problem with vague terms is that they make discussion difficult.
My favourite usage: cloud computing means exporting IT infrastructure to the Internet.