RealTime IT News

Do 'Clouds' Get in the Way?

BOSTON -- No one would accuse IBM senior vice president and group executive Steve Mills of having his head in the clouds.

IBM's top software honcho heads up a $20B operation at one of the world's foremost IT players. Still, Mills maintains that clouds are getting in his way. More precisely, Mills was speaking this week about cloud computing -- and the casual way most companies and users throw around the term to describe anything and everything that has to do with Web-based activities and applications.

"It's hard enough to put a definitional meaning behind the idea of service delivery and what you mean by that without getting into 'cloud computing,'" Mills told InternetNews. "Is 'cloud' a statement of infrastructure or is 'cloud' a statement of software-as-service, and which end of the cloud are you at?"

"The tech industry loves these terms that are meaningless," he continued. In fact, "Software-as-a-Service is a kind of a meaningless term. What's beyond cloud computing? Fog computing? Invisible computing?"

To be fair, Mills's comments on cloud computing came in response to a question raised at IBM's Business Events Processing Summit in Boston, where IBM talked up its business intelligence strategy following its acquisitions this year of AptSoft and InfoDyne, and last year, its $5B purchase of Cognos.

Still, it's clear that Mills had some strong feelings on the subject of cloud computing, maintaining that most customers may not have the foggiest idea of exactly what cloud computing is. In fact, users may be more concerned with clouds in their coffee than vague, stratospheric terms.

"If I am a commercial company, I don't care about any of the double-speak from vendors," he said. "I have to deliver the service I have to deliver, and what are the techniques I'm going to apply?"

"If you want to call some of those techniques 'cloud computing,' I'm not going to fight with you. Just show me pragmatic results and don't try to deliver something that does not fit my business needs," he added.

The term "cloud computing" has been bouncing around for nearly two years, with scores of major (and not-so-major) vendors finding ways to work it into their marketing messaging. Use of the term also initiated a storm of sorts when it recently surfaced that Dell Computer filed a patentfor the catchphrase in 2007. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has since put Dell's trademark for the phase on hold.

IBM hasn't shied away from tossing around the term itself. Big Blue has launched "cloud computing centers" as part of its worldwide network of 60 development and research facilities, and has even coined the phrase "Blue Cloud" to relate to its datacenter-enabling technologies.

Mills isn't alone in criticizing "cloud computing," with overuse of the term prompting backlash from others.

In the end, customers pay about as much attention to the terminology as they do to yesterday's weather report, Mills said.

"I know you guys use stupid terms," Mills said, taking the user perspective. "Just show me the pragmatic results and don't try to deliver something to that doesn't meet my business needs."