Collecting Underpants in the Cloud

The technology world is all aflame about “cloud computing”, and how businesses are supposed to move all of their stuff into the cloud, or die. Or something. In my eyes, “cloud” is simply a different name for the internet, and cloud computing is simply a different and fancier name for what most internet users have been doing for ages.

Even Wikipedia doesn’t really seem to have a clue as to what “cloud computing” actually is, and its definition is just a different way of describing the use of web applications – something we’ve been doing for a long time, with online mail clients, Facebook, and even things like Bittorrent and peer-to-peer networks. With all the talk of cloud computing, I can’t help but see the similarities between the cloud hype and the dot-com boom. In other words, the classic Southpark underpants gnomes still apply.

Australian website Technology & Business got to interview Microsoft Australia’s Director of Developer and Platform Evangelism, Gianpaolo Carraro, about cloud computing and Microsoft’s upcoming Azure platform. I thought, here’s the chance for Microsoft to explain what, exactly, this whole cloud thing is, and what makes it different from all those things we’ve been doing for ages with and on the internet.

They failed.

The interview delves deep into what Azure actually is, and I can’t shake the feeling that there really isn’t anything new in there, nothing that makes me go “Ah, so that’s the cloud!”. From what I can understand, Microsoft will build a number of datacentres around the world where developers of web cloud applications can rent server space to host their applications. Imagine, if you will, Facebook dismantling their own servers, and renting server space at Microsoft. While this could be very handy for those of us with a great web app idea but without space to run a server farm, it’s hardly revolutionary, nor does it explain what sets “cloud computing” apart.

And, well, that’s about all the interview makes clear about cloud computing. The rest has more to do with the technical aspects or Azure; for instance, while Azure infrastructure is built around .Net, people are free to use Java or PHP as well. We also learned that it will take about 12 months before Azure emerges out of beta.

I’ve read quite some articles on this whole cloud computing thing already, but I simply don’t see how it is anything other than a new buzzword to describe something we’ve had for ages: applications that do not run on your desktop, but on a server somewhere. That’s something we’ve been doing for ages, but I guess the marketing value of the term “web application” ran out.

Carraro states that “there is no doubt that Microsoft is a big believer in the cloud”. That kind of makes sense. Microsoft completely missed the internet and web 2.0 train, and now sees an opportunity to grab a piece of that pie now that its name has changed.



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