'Cloud' – A term entering the final days of meaningfulness

I was interested to read some of the mainstream press coverage of Google’s recent GDrive announcement. There were a number of things about this coverage that interested me, but the one that caught my eye the most was the use of the term ‘cloud’.

Jubilee BridgeFrom the BBC:

Cloud services have become hugely popular as people seek to access content from a variety of places and devices.

Dropbox helped popularise the idea of storage in the cloud, but risks being undercut by its rivals

Richard Edwards, principal analyst at research firm Ovum, said that Google was "very late" to the market but that its move could spur others.

"Facebook doesn’t have a cloud service but this may prompt it into an acquisition," he said.

Really? I’m sure that Facebook would regard everything they do as ‘cloud’. Pick any definition you like and I’m reasonably sure that Facebook would fit. (I’m also quite prepared for this to be a misquote)

In my experience most terms loose most of their meaning when they become popularised. It’s the principle of entropy again. When something is new it has very little that describes it so a new set of definitions are created. In the creation process the terms come to have form and meaning as they are honed and understood by those in the initial phases of the new thing. As the terms is used by more and more people it’s clarity dissipates much like heat.

Cloud is the term we’ve got and it’s the term that will carry on being used, but it’s meaning will be dissipated. Perhaps we’ll eventually get to replace it with the more meaningful term – utility.

Why is IT changing? Why does it have to change?

One of the topics I repeatedly come back to on this site is that of change.

A Walk Aroud WrayPeople love it and hate it all at the same time, it all depends upon what the change is and where it’s come from. There are many people within the IT industry who regard it’s current construct – servers in data-centres – as being set in stone. But there are huge changes undergoing across the industry, changes that are so significant that it will radically change the way that we think about IT provision.

Some people predict change by applying well known trends and lifecycles to an existing situation. That’s exactly what Simon Wardley has done. If you really want to know what is driving change in the IT industry you should watch this video, but more than that, you should think about all of the other situations where these principles apply.

Having been in the position where people have wanted to drive an innovation process at me on more than one occasion I can definitely relate to the situations that Simon describes.

And, like Simon, I don’t see this change reducing the need for IT skills, or of making things cheaper. It’s just different – different skills, different cost profile. There is so much latent demand in every business that cost is still going to be a significant issue.

If that has got you thinking, perhaps you’d like to give some thought to the concept of Shadow ITthey already exist somewhere in your organisation. Are they a problem, or are they an opportunity?

Concept Entropy

I’ve witnessed the entropy of many a fine concept in my time.

For those of you who have forgotten your schoolboy physics a quick reminder on what entropy is – and there are a lot of fine definitions, but I want to focus on a simple illustration. Entropy is what happen to your kettle after you have turned it off – it cools down until it is at room temperature. All of the heat dissipates until the temperature of the kettle is no different to everything else around it – well almost.

Within the IT arena we come up with all sorts of good ideas, but I’ve seen many of these ideas go through the same entropy cycle.

  • The cycle starts with an idea.
  • The idea warms up things around it as people subscribe to the idea and see it’s relevance.
  • The idea gets developed into a concept and a way of thinking beyond the first idea.
  • Thought leaders start to understand how the concept could be applied within their context – whether that’s a business, an organisation, or from a personal viewpoint. These thought leaders make the best use of the concept and it makes a real difference to their context.

At this point the system is still being heated up – the concept is still cooking, but entropy is about to kick in.

  • The concept starts to enter the mainstream.
  • Consultants start to see the concept as a way of generating more work by helping organisations to apply the concept to their environment.
  • Product companies see a whole new revenue stream from delivering products targeted at delivering the concept.
  • Because it is something tangible the products become synonymous with the concept in the minds of those that use the product.
  • The products enter the mainstream and become the concept and consulting review from the concept starts to decline.
  • At this point the consultants start to look for the next concept to jump onto leaving the old concept to the product providers.
  • The concept entropy is complete.

SOA is the last years concept, Cloud is this years. SOA has just finished the cycle, Cloud is on it’s way through the products phase.

I said at the beginning that a kettle cools down until it is just like everything else around it – well almost – and it’s that well almost that is important. The extra heat that the concept has generated doesn’t die – it’s just been dissipated throughout the other systems. The products that get delivered to enable a concept still live on making a difference to the way that organisations work. The products aren’t delivering the concept, but the residue of the concept that lives in the products is making a difference to systems around them.