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A Tale of Two Clouds

by David M. Smith  |  September 29, 2008  |  4 Comments

Think that the hype around cloud computing might generate some kind of consensus? Think again. Reading blogs and listening to enterprises and vendors have led me to the following conclusion: The term cloud computing has come to mean two apparently very different things:

The ‘cloud’ as an internet/web/saas originated idea, with credit largely given to Eric Schmidt for the term. It is a global class phenomenon and is a high level concept that includes much. The focus is more on ‘cloud’ than ‘computing.’ Gartner’s definition (“a style of computing where massively scalable IT-enabled capabilities are delivered ‘as a service’ to external customers using Internet technologies.”) is along these lines. Frank Gillette at Forrester defines it similarly.

This is a narrower view that also applies more to traditional enterprise approaches. GigaOM disagrees with Forrester and subscribes to the virtualization view. At Gartner, we don’t consider these technologies and offerings to be “cloud computing” in its entirety. Many vendors and media subscribe to this limited view of cloud computing, which relates to cloud system infrastructure only.

As usual, when a term can have multiple meanings, confusion abounds. The problems become most evident when discussing ‘internal clouds.’ Does this term mean the application of cloud (eg global class) characteristics internally? Or does it mean virtualization and its evolution? These arguments can lead to some much testier disagreements than the relatively tame disagreement by GigaOM.

There is some connection between the two perspectives. The connection is that virtualization (of some sort, not necessarily virtual machines) is a way to implement the underlying infrastructure in the cloud.

Both views are valid. A key to getting through the confusion is to recognize when the term is being used to mean a broad concept and when is being used to mean a more focused system infrastructure view.

Cloud and virtualization are not the same as my colleague Tom Bittman writes. While virtualization doesn’t mean you have a cloud, it doesn’t mean you don’t have one either.  Other factors, such as whether a services model is employed is more important.

Stay tuned for more. Something tells me we haven’t heard the last of this…

Category: 

Tags: cloud  virtualization  

David Mitchell Smith
VP & Gartner Fellow
16 years at Gartner
30 years IT industry

David Mitchell Smith is a vice president and Gartner Fellow in Gartner Research, where he specializes in the impact of catalytic technologies such as the Internet, Web 2.0, cloud computing and consumer technologies. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on A Tale of Two Clouds


  1. Hi David, Good post.

    With any hot and trendy emerging technology or trend, one of the biggest problems is lack of definitional rigor. This type of discussion is really useful to try and take back important concepts from the hype meisters and press.

    BTW, kudos for linking to the Forrester research note and GigaOm posts. Shows you are getting into the spirit of blogging.

  2. […] on September 26, 2008 by sagecircle Update 9/30/08: Kudos to David Mitchell Smith for his post A Tale of Two Clouds that links to a Forrester research note and other non-Gartner commentators. Nice to see a […]

  3. Michael West says:

    David, I think this is a spurious controversy that will certainly get you some play, but to what end? Anybody who matters understands that Cloud Computing refers to SaaS and On-demand infrastructure solutions whether public by subscription or other fungible pricing mode or private. Virtualization is one enabling technology, but certainly not the only technology involved. Browsers and Web services APIs are equally important. Come on now, David. You can do better than this.

  4. Anthony Bradley says:

    “Anybody who matters understands” sounds a bit eletist to me. Gartner clients exploring cloud as an addition to their IT portfolio are asking the question, don’t they matter? Ellison and Stallman don’t seem clear on cloud. Do they not matter? Unfortunately, many people that matter don’t understand cloud computing and the various ways it can deliver value. Definitions ar a recurring challenge in the adoption of any new technology or new technology term. Any new term getting significcant press immediately has any remotely associated vendors jumping on the bandwaggon and causing confusion. This challenge isn’t new and applies to all of the hyped terms like Web 2.0, E2.0, mashups, etc. Or we could just say, “anybody that matters understands.” After all, that would be much easier.



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