What is cloud?

A debate rages on Twitter as to what constitutes cloud computing.  It was inspired by my previous tweeted post and draws upon Public Strategist’s articulate post on the very subject.  I say “rages”.  It drew a few shy of 20 comments, retweets and points of discussion.  (It’s all relative.)

First things first.  I’ve decided that, like internet, cloud will hereafter be lowercase—in my world at least.  Its gratuitous capitalisation has done nothing but make a big deal out of something that was happening anyhow.  So if we lowercase the C [sic], we won’t attract eyeballs and will be able to get on with the job in hand.

To me, cloud means nothing more, nothing less, than shared.  I posted a year or so ago about my forays into cloud computing.  For the record, I regard myself as unusually bold in this area, having divorced the majority of my stuff from my desktop and moving it into a shared resource, a cloud, if you will.

But I was thinking that actually, in addition to my computing examples, my car usage is also cloud-based.  I am an avid fan of Streetcar.  Their cars are shared resources that can be called upon by anyone, subject to availability, much like the Boris Bikes that have become so famous.  I see these as no different to the computing resources that I call upon.

Any computing resource that is shared by more than one individual, department, organisation, should be regarded as cloud-based.  And the greater its level of sharing, both of code and resource, the more cloudy it should be regarded.

A shared drive is probably the lowest form of cloud computing.  Hotmail should be regarded as the pinnacle, with an estimated 360m active accounts.

For government, there are certain aspects of computing that just aren’t in the market for sharing beyond the confines of the users that use them.  Many of the DWP and HMRC systems, for example, are so bespoke and self-serving (in a non-pejorative sense) that they can’t be “cloudified”.  No one else would want to use them.

But so much of the stuff that government does on a day-to-day basis is consistent from one organisation to the next.  Email, collaboration, call centre screens, contact and content management systems, Office-esque applications, financial and HR systems.  They’re all used consistently from one organisation to the next.  And as such, they can be shared—or put in the cloud.

Whether this is a cloud built specifically for government or one that also serves individuals and the private sector will depend on the case.  Horses for courses.  But let us be clear: the former *must* play its part.  Otherwise, we’ve missed the point.

It’s also important that cloud should not be confined to the world of computing.  In these austere times, sharing, or cloud, should become the modus operandi.  There should be cloud offices that can be used by people from numerous government departments; cloud call centres; cloud procurement vehicles; cloud subject-matter experts (people that can be called upon by multiple departments).


3 Responses to “What is cloud?”

  1. Bill McCluggage on November 28th, 2010 01:52

    A key element of the early nature of shared resources like Boris Bikes and even Streetcar is the use if open standards. Lets take Boris Bikes as an example, they come in a standard form, so you know what you get and it’s not high performance or tailored. In fact the gearing ratio leaves many people standing when the London cycle elite race past. The access methods are intuitive – nothing fancy – and they serve a single purpose – the’re bikes – not scooters. They are used at the cyclists own risk – while they come with all necessary legal attributes (lights, reflectors etc). The cyclist, however, has to supply a helmet and reflective clothing if they want personal security. They attract a standard charge and can be picked up or left off at the users leisure – but you do need to redock in a common place. Finally, the supplier does not demand you invest anything, commit on usage rate, duration if use or how far you intend to travel. An excellent first step analogy for cloud services and we should identify and segment the government IT services that could benefit from a ‘Boris Bikes’ approach and push got them to be public cloud first!

  2. Cathy on November 29th, 2010 13:38

    Somebody wrote in his blog spot that 5 people writing on cloud computing gives 5 different definitions of it. But whatever be the definition, it’s is something that will bring next major revolution in IT industry. Something IT industry desperately requires.

  3. SLATFATF on December 2nd, 2010 12:51

    While I like the analogy of the Boris Bikes and Bill’s extention of it I think that it is only half the story.

    But to extend the bike analogy to how it is in government it needs some tweaking.

    In bike terms the government departments already have bike suppliers. They have 10 year bike supply contracts and each bike is already painted to the colours the client likes, is geared for the dept’s needs. The dept on the whole has to buy the bikes and then pay to have them maintained.

    Then, somebody in gov world decides that what we need is a bike shared service. So Boris Bikes is invented and a procurement is run. The winning company has to invest and provide the bikes on a pay as you peddle model.

    But, no work is done to undo the dept bike supliers and so any move to Boris Bikes leaves the dept with stranded cost. Also, the cases for compromise and adoption of standard Boris Bikes usage in depts is always undone by a perceived need by the dept bike supliers for bespoke bikes as any move from that means loss of control, loss of revenue and loss of jobs.

    So the Boris Bike supplier invests and demand is so low they lose money on the whole thing. At the same time they are obliged not to supply Bikes direct to the depts as that is counter strategic.

    Then someone else in central gov decides what is actually needed is more competition. We need 3 Bike suppliers all investing with pay as you go services. Yet nothing is done to sort out demand.


    They all lose money, the central gov does nothing to force demand and the suppliers who do the right thing lose money or go to the wall.

    For Boris Bikes in analogy read Alerts Online. It would be funny if it were not true. Until Gov faces up to deal with the real root cause of the shared services problem and stop building careers out of repeating the same mistakes over and ove Gov will make no progress.

    Am I bitter? Yep. No apologies for that.

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