19 Comments

Summary:

The world of words gets in the way of conversations between IT and the business all the time. Cloud computing is no exception. Words such as “application” and “service” mean different things to different people, but perhaps there’s room for consensus on some core principles.

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Words can be tricky.

My first post for GigaOM, where I introduce the foundation of everything I believe about cloud, elicited some excellent responses from the community. I made the case that cloud boils down to a very simple statement, at least for the enterprise: Cloud computing is an application-centric operations model.

Most of the comments I received affirmed this statement, but there were a few that took issue with it. Andi Mann, vice president of strategic solutions at CA Technologies, wrote:

I like that there is a growing move away from low-level infrastructure thinking, but I think an app-centric view is still too IT-centric.

For the business, the application is no more relevant than the infrastructure. I think the ability of cloud to deliver better (cheaper, faster, more efficient, etc.) business services is much more fundamental.

This is reflected in why CxOs are choosing cloud. Leading drivers tend to be cost reduction, increased agility, and greater business-IT alignment. Nothing about apps there. You could argue that a focus on the app helps achieve these, but I think that misses the bigger picture.

Indeed, one app may well be just a component in a larger business service. Take Salesforce.com – is it a CRM app? A SFA app? An enterprise social app? A customer datastore? Or is it a combination of apps that together reduce the distance and friction in the sales value chain to deliver a better throughput from lead to pipe to revenue?

We went back and forth on Twitter about this for a while, and what we discovered is that what he considered a business service was indeed one form of application in my eyes. We didn’t disagree completely in terms of what cloud computing is about, but we had a complete disconnect about what I meant by “application.”

New words for new delivery models?

This is only one of many examples I can cite where the use of “legacy” terms to describe concepts altered by newer models (including service orientation and cloud computing) creates unintended confusion within the market. In the case of “application,” we all probably remember when that term represented a single executable packaged with supporting libraries and delivered on floppy disks or a CD in a shrink wrapped box.

In the service-oriented, Internet-deployed world of cloud computing, we need a term to describe “the unit of stuff to be managed by the customer consuming one or more cloud services.” Since the final output of such software/data/config metadata/policy is typically software being applied to some problem (business or otherwise), I call these elements “applications.”

However, in the cloud, applications are not singular, independently acquired and operated software executables anymore. Cloud applications can and will rely on other applications to meet their objectives. Some applications may, in fact, be made up of collections of other applications, strung together to create a process flow, or a consumer service, or even a new platform. In many ways, I’m talking about applications of distributed computing to computable problems.

For the record, this is why I use the word “application” in this context — because it represents something managed by operations that is applied to some definable problem to be solved by computing.

Unfortunately, many, many applications are also services. For a business, the term “service” applies to processes that often bridge software and human work. So using the term “services” as the ultimate goal of the business isn’t wrong.

“System” is another word that gets lost in translation when applied to cloud computing in different contexts. When a business talks about “systems,” it is talking about something that may incorporate IT only partially, or not at all. Most IT people think of “systems” in terms of hardware or turnkey systems.

The world of words gets in the way of conversations between IT and the business all the time. Cloud computing is no exception — in fact, it may exacerbate the problem, at least temporarily.

In the end, I’m not particularly concerned about whether you accept the term “application” as the unit of management that enterprises care about in the cloud. What I care most about is that you recognize that cloud computing is not some new infrastructure, but rather a new way of delivering software and data — a new model that makes it easier to apply computing to a variety of needs.

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  1. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/3e4CRNg3 #Cloudcomputing

  2. Jacquelyn Jenkins Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  12. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: Words can be tricky.
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  15. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: Words can be tricky.
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  17. Peter Alexandrov Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  18. Mitanshu Saini Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  19. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: Words can be tricky.
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  63. DAVID L JOHNSON Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  64. Boissou Jérôme Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  65. Darshan Arya (CEO) Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  81. Ashton Lee Hudson Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  86. Cloud Computing Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  87. DavidLinthicum Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  88. Interesting read by @jamesurquhart on why it’s so hard to talk about “the cloud.” http://t.co/miSz0imx

  89. James Urquhart Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @toddcadley: Interesting read by @jamesurquhart on why it’s so hard to talk about “the cloud.” http://t.co/miSz0imx

  90. James Urquhart Sunday, December 11, 2011

    New blog post: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: http://t.co/ocEWBrrT

  91. RT @jamesurquhart: New blog post: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: http://t.co/ocEWBrrT

  92. RT @jamesurquhart: New blog post: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: http://t.co/vqkIG9ww < great read! Nice James

  93. @fatherof8js: Why so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/H2aSHXO8”. Someday soon like a utility (water, electricity).. Coolio #IBMCloud

  94. RT @jamesurquhart: New blog post: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: http://t.co/HmXZNaL6

  95. Data Center Blogs Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  96. Vanessa Alvarez Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  97. Jerome Gentolia Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/60at2ON7

  98. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/tI2tkggR

  99. RT @jamesurquhart: New blog post: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: http://t.co/wi824rVQ < so we have a vocab issue in IT again? shocked

  100. brenda m. michelson Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  103. Delivered Innovation Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  104. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud – good article: http://t.co/pH26rlsu

  105. Michael Topalovich Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  106. Cloud-Workforce Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  107. @jamesurquhart http://t.co/RMQeyElC “cloud not some new infrastructure, but rather a new way of delivering software and data” < well put

  108. Jeroen Neckebrouck Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  109. RT @jamesurquhart: New blog post: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: http://t.co/ocEWBrrT

  110. Christian Reilly Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @jamesurquhart: New blog post: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: http://t.co/ocEWBrrT

  111. Nirendra Awasthi Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  112. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/7c7B2Oqo

  113. Why it's so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/AW1ZoSjc

  114. Very good write-up, the terminology confusion is real, and does create communication barriers and mishaps. I believe some of the confusion is the result of mixing different domains, and using the same terminology and “words” in all of them.

    Andy Mann talks about “cost reduction, increased agility, and greater business-IT alignment” these describe business value, not the way it is achieved. “Applications” and “services” on the other hand, describe a product category, what both business and IT are choosing to realize desired business value. These product categories are broad, and somewhat vague, as described above. Products and services have a technology and operational models underlying them – client server, distributed, grid, cloud – all these describe a collection of technologies, delivery methods, and operational models used to create applications and services.

    Ultimately what customer cares about is the business value – running the business better to increase top line revenue and reduce cost. Cloud computing is definitely more than infrastructures. Infrastructures enables realizing some of the cost and agility benefits, but applications typically encapsulate more value, and are much closer to the line of business terminology and way of thinking. Cloud based applications delivers more of that desired business value.

    And last – I absolutely agree with the following statement above “Some applications may, in fact, be made up of collections of other applications, strung together to create a process flow, or a consumer service, or even a new platform.” I expect most cloud services, applications, and platforms to be highly interoperable composition of many other services, consumed over the cloud.

  115. Brian Jimerson Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  116. HFCC Institute Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  119. Good post @jamesurquhart “Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud” http://t.co/zR3t3UQS >confusion by mixing biz, ops, tech terms cc…

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  123. Michael C. Leonard Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: http://t.co/mMmyD685 < it’s about the business process and we need new terminology to talk about it.

  124. Chris Barnhart Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  125. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/TTIza8WR

  126. Web Tech Update Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: Words can be tricky.
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  127. SMS TECHNOLOGY Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  128. Mohammed Maqsoud Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  129. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/s3z1mhJT

  130. fluidcomputing Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Public Cloud is a new delivery model but Private Cloud is a new Architecture. It would be helpful if people specified Private or Public when referring to a specific model @parkercloud

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  132. Why it’s so hard to talk about #cloud http://t.co/4L35naKc

  133. Apps APIs Ecosystems Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  134. LinkedIn Telecom Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  136. Martijn Veldkamp Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  137. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: Words can be tricky.
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  138. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/BUgoTxwh

  139. Amandeep Sidhu Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  140. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud – GigaOm http://t.co/YrojHFpo

  141. Govinda Tamburino Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  142. Cloud Computing Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  144. Derrick Harris Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  145. Dr Mark R Baker Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud — Cloud Computing News: The world of words gets in the way of conver… http://t.co/J8aDPmrt #cloud

  146. fluidcomputing Sunday, December 11, 2011

    I agree Public Cloud is a new delivery model but Private Cloud is new Architecture. It would be helpful to specify Public or Private when referring to a specific model

  147. 777final777feed Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  148. William Souder Sunday, December 11, 2011

    “@spellicy: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud – good article: http://t.co/dQPVTYsB” dunno, my friend. I relish finding different ways to

  149. RT @derrickharris: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/p90AaPdp by @jamesurquhart

  150. Abdul Jaleel KK Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  152. adrian cockcroft Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  153. Why it's so hard to talk about cloud — Cloud Computing News http://t.co/Qm4cUK1Z

  154. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/LltKlnRl #cloud

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  156. Andrew Bartels Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  158. Dominic Wellington Sunday, December 11, 2011

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  159. Jeremy M. Kissel Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @gigaom: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/cwuxyNfL

  160. @gigaom Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/ermT60Ul <It seems harder to talk about what cloud is or does then effects it has

  161. @gigaom Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/ermT60Ul <It seems harder to talk about what cloud is or does then effects it has

  162. RT @derrickharris: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/p90AaPdp by @jamesurquhart

  163. RT @jamesurquhart: New blog post: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: http://t.co/ocEWBrrT

  164. Top Tech Tweets Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @jamesurquhart: New blog post: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: http://t.co/ocEWBrrT

  165. Nicolas Lecointre Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/dEHDfHU8

  166. RT @DavidLinthicum: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/fythh20d

  167. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/AmvDDdat

  168. Why it’s so hard to talk about #cloud http://t.co/e3yrlQsh

  169. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/vFYBDjG4

  170. Andrei Muresianu Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @gigaom: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/qD9J6BTu

  171. Arjan Hendriksen Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @DavidLinthicum: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/fythh20d

  172. Perfect site with interesting content and design!

  173. RT @gigaom: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/hCY31YIy

  174. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/XBmBv62R

  175. RT @jimkaskade: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud – GigaOm http://t.co/YrojHFpo

  176. Björn de Visser Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @DavidLinthicum: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/fythh20d

  177. RT @derrickharris: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/p90AaPdp by @jamesurquhart

  178. Jennifer A. Molina Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/e1dy8O42

  179. Dr M Ambler-Shattock Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/YwbjDFLl

  180. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud — Cloud Computing News http://t.co/vsleXO1R

  181. Take it ALL to the Cloud, baby. Finally people talking sense about Cloud computing systems. http://t.co/fPNUpc8o

  182. RT @derrickharris: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/wYGBsIBX by @jamesurquhart

  183. alexander knorr Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @ITBlogs: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/tI2tkggR

  184. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud “New words for new delivery models?” http://t.co/5u3zcZSg

  185. IT Consultancy Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @MAmblerShattock: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/YwbjDFLl

  186. RT @jamesurquhart: New blog post: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: http://t.co/ocEWBrrT

  187. That’s because the cloud is just another dumb buzzword for other people’s servers and other people’s managing said servers. Aka: the Internet. It’s not new. It’s just useless jargon that doesn’t mean anything.

    1. +1 – The only thing that’s really changed is that technologies used to manage & provision hardware have matured. Its a natural evolution of I’m sure where we all have been. Our hardware/network/OS is managed by one IT organization while that apps are managed by another. Now, the hardware/network/OS is “outsourced” to others for management. But *someone* is still doing it.

  188. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/ygkYOfKK

  189. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud | Cloud Computing News http://t.co/9w5opQr9 #techgossip – good read!

  190. Dr M Ambler-Shattock Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @MAmblerShattock: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/YwbjDFLl

  191. RT @MAmblerShattock: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/YwbjDFLl

  192. RT @MAmblerShattock: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/YwbjDFLl

  193. A World Wide Web Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @MAmblerShattock: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/YwbjDFLl

  194. Philip Greenfield Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/3xfwJp72

  195. Kimberly J. Wilson Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @slainson: Why Spotify can never be profitable: The secret demands of record labels http://t.co/JoiptYMf…

  196. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/0QQRrAVM

  197. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/KL5TAnZd

  198. Avnet CloudReady Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @CloudTopics: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: words gets in the way of conversations b… http://t.co/UC2YtP11 CloudComputingTopics

  199. Well – al clouds are not created equal and indeed have a different focus – some are infrastructure oriented (IaaS), and some are platform oriented (PaaS). The answer to your question about Salesforce is yes, to all of those listed – there’s the legacy CRM, SFA SaaS, to which have been added Service applications (ServiceCloud – again, SaaS), but then there’s a much broader platform focus – application platform – so all the benefits of the cloud in general are just magnified in a PaaS setting. You don’t have to worry about the hardware, OS, network, etc., just building your application in most whatever language you choose – legacy APEX and VisualForce, Ruby, Java, Clojure, Node.js, etc. You can push straight out of GIT and deploy your app – doesn’t get much easier. In this case, applications are not merely services, although they could be, but in most cases are full-stack applications. Great article, BTW!

  200. Sorry, meant *all* clouds are not created equal – it is a Sunday afternoon and I’m trolling for cloud articles… Sad in some ways… :)

  201. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/xjIaFVxn #yam

  202. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/DPa7F24l < What is the Cloud? An application? A service?

  203. RT @datachick: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/DPa7F24l < What is the Cloud? An application? A service?

  204. Gauthier GENEAU Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @sugarclint RT @jimkaskade: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud – GigaOm http://t.co/CVE5k6vv

  205. Gustavo Zapico Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/kZWND5VM

  206. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/uOrFMfbT; good take, we’re really just gettn started on how biz will use cloud #ibmcloud

  207. RT @gigaom: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/qD9J6BTu

  208. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/lEB0DUuH (@gigaom)

  209. RT @gigaom: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/qD9J6BTu

  210. RT @SteveTomasco: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/uOrFMfbT; good take, we’re really just gettn started on how biz will use cloud #ibmcloud

  211. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/TXHdj2vt

  212. RT @gigaom: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/qD9J6BTu

  213. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud
    http://t.co/4Vs29Kvy

  214. Why it’s so hard to talk about #cloud http://t.co/nEEMU7P6

  215. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/lOqrokOv

  216. Could means one thing: “Somebody Else’s Problem.” Companies want to take their IT needs, problems, and click the ‘SEP’ checkbox and make all those problems go away, all at the price of a monthly payment. Forget outsourced IT, this is outsourced infrastructure.

  217. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud; to the business, the application is no more relevant than the infrastructure – http://t.co/5xgP7vVc

  218. RT @jimkaskade: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud – GigaOm http://t.co/YrojHFpo

  219. John Troyer / VMware Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @mestery: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/ck82cYZL

  220. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/8EiV3GON

  221. Reinier Moquete Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/pDiNM2oH

  222. The Cloud Network Sunday, December 11, 2011

    #Force #Cloud Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: Take http://t.co/8l2EchHN – is it a CRM app? A SFA app? … http://t.co/k5ZoZSy1 #TCN

  223. Much ado about nothing in the cloud http://t.co/y8ehlDbs

  224. Love this article…Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/5HjlgpTg

  225. In my opinion, required reading for every Enterprise IT Sales Executive “Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud” http://t.co/wiDycHKs #in

  226. One man’s application is another man’s service eh? Four years on from the beginnings of “Cloud” and we’re still trying to define it. That’s how big the impact of Cloud is becoming.

    Overloading of terms is common in technology as it reinvents itself faster than the lexicon can adjust, but Cloud is so broadly impacting that it’s almost impossible to find new terms to describe all the aspects. So we struggle on each of us “knowing” what Cloud is but having challenges describing that to others.

  227. LinkedIn Software Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud (http://t.co/GRybKm75) http://t.co/uTl4D4Qe

  228. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/IUF7HODe

  229. Jeremy M. Kissel Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud — GigaOm http://t.co/7GUph6ae #cloud

  230. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud — Cloud Computing News http://t.co/V1OCmStl

  231. Edelman Tech Policy Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @JeremyKissel: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud — GigaOm http://t.co/7GUph6ae #cloud

  232. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/j0mCQiSf

  233. Dennis Di Toro Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Folks, “clouds” have been in place since pre e-commerce and exclusively used to describe the Carriers w/ ICX’s. e.g.. transport SVC, PVC and or VCC’s in a TDM or packet switched network and or converting electrons to photons, through their “Cloud”. In to the cloud and out the other side for moving our sought after private electrons. It’s now been through the miracle of marketing that we see the residential populous move to the “cloud” based computing as a means to understand the future of communications.

  234. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/Cke2y8lL

  235. Dennis Di Toro Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Interesting comment on “Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud” @gigaom: http://t.co/BKWTGI6P via @gigaom

  236. Matthew Leib ✔ Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/TcjZkpRu via James Urquhart – Excellent post

  237. Great discussion on what is cloud . . .RT @gigaom: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/GOPeljZG

  238. RT @jamesurquhart: New blog post: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud: http://t.co/ocEWBrrT

  239. Benjamin Dover Sunday, December 11, 2011

    @jamesurquhart great post as usual James. http://t.co/dKwWs2g8 > just don’t waste time with Andi Mann. He doesn’t know what a true cloud is.

  240. Gwynne Monahan Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @JeremyKissel Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud — GigaOm http://t.co/JyERejIt #cloud

  241. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud – http://t.co/LHATaTPA

  242. GigaOM: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/XtWHVzVg

  243. hangaroundtheweb Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/3TtAoeOn

  244. RT @mestery: Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/ck82cYZL

  245. Rainer la Barre Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/RIPiJNkh

  246. Interesting read on cloud computing and using SAS http://t.co/54TKAuo5

  247. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/xOr10VwZ

  248. Cloud computing as a new way of delivering software and data (by @jamesurquhart) http://t.co/uj67Mij1

  249. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/ZDRQIQQb

  250. Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud — Cloud Computing News http://t.co/73SyTO3S

  251. Why it’s so hard to talk about #cloud? http://t.co/8NLSwOEs

  252. And all this time I was thinking “applications” were those things I filled out on paper. ;-)

    1. You see? There is an even bigger disconnect between IT and the unemployed… ;)

  253. And this is… “Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud” http://t.co/t61xGP98 via @gigaom

  254. Charles Weaver Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Why it’s so hard to talk about cloud http://t.co/8lMCN382