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Consumer Cloud Is Killing Enterprise Cloud
Richard Stallman's Recent Comments Illustrate the Problem

Richard Stallman's recent characertization of the impending Google Chrome OS as "careless computing" brings the careless use of the term "cloud computing" into sharp relief. Stallman says that the term "is devoid of substantive meaning," and thereby prone to uses that are less than un-evil.

I agree with his sentiment but would argue that the opposite is true: there is too much substantive meaning in the term "cloud computing." It is an umbrella term that covers everything from free email and Facebook to software applications delivered from the sky to the very serious business of enterprise-grade resource consolidation and provisioning. The end result of this: Consumer Cloud is killing Enterprise Cloud.

A Scrutable Term
Cloud computing is the first non-inscrutable IT term I can remember. It doesn't conjure up the sheer geekiness of SOA, Ajax, object-oriented programming, the Java/Javascript confusion, the PHP/Perl/Python triplets, RAID, SATA, LANs, or even the minor shoptalk inherent in terms like USB or Flash drive.

"The Internet is the Cloud, and Cloud Computing comes from the Internet" is all you have to say. Your average 6-year-old or Senator can understand it. You might even be able to teach it to goldfish or Dogs Watching TV.

Therein lies the problem. It's mildly annoying when the term is appropriated by every technology company on the planet to mean precisely what that company has been doing for years. For example, I was talking to a software CEO the other night whose company really does offer Cloud Computing, and asked him about his recent appearance at a Cloud event in Asia. "I was really annoyed by many of my fellow presenters, who just use the term 'Cloud Computing' to describe whatever it is they do," he said.

Well, we should be used to that now, whether we're being sold the old Lotus Notes as new cloud computing, or a big local data center as "cloud in a box," or dumbed-down, decades old desktop apps as Office365.

The Enterprise Cloud
I appreciate a good joke as much as anyone, and it's enjoyable to watch the mad marketing scramble for the cloud stratosphere. In the end, the pitches mean nothing if customers don't want it. Use of the term "Cloud" might get your foot back in the door, but the deal won't close until you jump through the same hoops you've been jumping through for years.

But all this jollity refers to enterprise cloud computing: IT guys buying stuff, and deciding how much of it (if any) they want to virtualize, how much (if any) they want to locate off-premises, and whether the perceived benefit of minimal upfront cost trumps their concerns over long-term costs and security.

Here Comes Trouble
The real trouble starts when the term Cloud Computing refers to consumer computing. The Cloud takes a different, malignant new shape here. Riding the analogy, it's as if all those beautiful puffy cumulus clouds in the shapes of faces and lambs and rabbits suddenly turned into a large, threatening, anvil-headed thunderstorm.

Weather people use the term cluster to describe a group of these storms; it seems appropriate to much of Cloud Computing discussion today.

What's the big problem, and why is this distinction between enterprise cloud and consumer cloud so important? In a word, "privacy." 
Privacy is not a concern with enterprise cloud computing per se. Security and data integrity are, to be sure, and privacy of company information is the highest priority, more important than any performance consideration.

Yet these concerns revolve around whether or not a cloud computing solution--whether hosted onsite or offsite--will be leakproof and hackproof. There is no question of whether a third-party host will try to invade the company's data privacy.

On the other hand, privacy is the alpha and omega of consumer-cloud concerns. We've known for years that our web surfing has been tracked (and who knows to what degree actively monitored). We know that anything we send via Yahoo mail, gmail, etc. can and will be read by the Feds if they think--or want others to think--that we're up to no good.

Here Comes More Trouble
Meanwhile, half a billion people have guilelessly put their life stories onto Facebook, often allowing anyone to peer in. Does no one realize there are sexual predators, Feds, and other creeps who like nothing better than to snoop around? Is no one aware that a Michael Phelps bong-hit incident could easily lie in their future (for the small percentage of people who are inclined to such activities)?

Many influential voices have already raised hackles about the Cloud. John C. Dvorak, for example, called users of cloud applications "suckers" back in 2008, then promised not to complain about the Cloud anymore. His most recent complaint was published just this November,  in a column in which he noted, rightfully, that a very bad thing about the consumer cloud is that cloud companies can disappear--and with them, all the data they've been safekeeping.

He used as the example. He could have been writing about blog hosters that went kaput, thereby tolling the bell for brigades of earnest writers. Maybe someday he'll be writing about the demise of Facebook, or YouTube, or Twitter (oh wait, the Library of Congress is cataloging that one, thank Buddha).

Meanwhile, shopping online has grown, as far as I can tell, to about $200 billion annually in the US alone. This number is roughly the size of the entire economy of Malaysia, approaching that of Portugal. And this is Cloud Computing, folks.

Concerns a decade ago about giving up our credit-card numbers online have been replaced by a faith that the banks and stores--whatever their faults--are not unduly invading our privacy. The fact that each of us leaves a digital footprint as obvious as size-13 bootprints in soft mud outside an unlocked window doesn't trouble those "who have done nothing wrong."

Nothing But Trouble
But here's where two things converge: less reliable companies and a more intrusive government.
Facebook and Google don't pretend to be interested in your privacy. They're hardly alone, as evidenced by increasing numbers of websites who encourage you to sign in via Facebook--thereby sharing your information with them.

Meanwhile, Google continues to map every block of the world; I hope it doesn't catch me peeing on a wall outside of a bar in, say, Dublin or Indianapolis in broad daylight some day, as that would be bad for my career.

I consider this abject privacy invasion to be in violation of the Fourth Amendment; maybe some lawyer will take me up on this some day, as I'm too busy and too dim to go to law school.

The more intrusive government aspect doesn't need much elaboration. Let's just say that the US government feels free to touch your junk, whether real or virtual, at any time of its choosing.

The Patriot Act meant that my local librarian couldn't remind me of which books I read. I consider this to be a violation not only of the Fourth Amendment but every principle upon which the US was founded.

Sadly, I expect more of the same from the US government and others, as they strive to "protect our freedoms," just as I expect more of the same from companies interested only in "improving the customer experience."

This "Free" Thing Bugs Me
I think a large part of the problem lies within the idea that most things on the Internet should be free. This mindset seems to be killing newspapers. It also makes so many people quite willing to trade in their privacy for free stuff.

But nobody thinks enterprise cloud computing should be free. Less expensive, yes. Free, no. Nobody is worried about Cloud providers snooping on company data, although I'm guessing there will be emerging concerns about the government's ability to do so. 

There are many advocates (including me) who do believe the enterprise cloud computing has the potential to revitalize the world's large, moribund economies, and catalyze growth in developing nations.

I do hope all future, thoughtful discussions make the distinction between Enterprise Cloud and Consumer Cloud. The difference is as big as the difference between that fluffy white kitten in the sky and that nasty storm that just tore the roof off of your house.

About Roger Strukhoff
Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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