Why are we still talking about the Cloud?

With a nod and a wink to my marketing colleagues in Silicon Valley, and their seemingly endless inclination to re-package the Old as New, I’m compelled (after one too many questions from investors and coaching clients in the past few weeks) to state the obvious: 

The “Cloud” is neither a new advance in technology nor an architectural transformation.  Rather, it is another way of marketing an infrastructure and application paradigm that’s been with us for more than a decade and can no longer be considered “cutting edge.”  In fact, it is standard fare, something that everyone does, with minimal risk, a library of “best practices” and little that is truly “new” besides the term itself.

Before we moved “to the cloud,” we heralded a new generation of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS, think Salesforce.com) and before SaaS, we applauded the ingenuity of Application Service Providers (ASP) which, from my point-of-view*, was just another way of describing a “hosted” application, which was really little more than a new way of talking about distributed computing.  Yes, ten years ago, as Jamcracker’s CIO, I was traveling the country as a champion of the “next generation” of software provisioning, but even then, was it dramatically different than dialtone telephones with local devices connected to “someone else’s infrastructure?” Not really.

Yes, there have been improvements in the architecture, the protocols, and certainly in the adoption of user-centric design (i.e., a good UI) but the real change in the past ten years has not been in the technology, but in the general population’s willing adoption of the model. 

So, the next time an entrepreneur (with all the energetic sincerity that such courageous souls bring to any conversation) asks how to “sell” a cloud-based platform or product, give them the answers that have been true for as long as “Silicon Valley” has been in our geographic vocabulary:  Does the product solve a problem? Is it easy to use?  Is it modestly priced for the features it delivers? Is there exceptional Customer Support for problem resolution

Living in the Cloud does not preclude these important considerations, it’s just another way of saying that the physical location of the software is not the same as our access to that software, something that’s been true (for most of us) as long as our use of email or http.  Even when the next wave of marketing terminology (post-Cloud names in lieu of actual innovation) appears early next year, look past the fancy words and you’ll see the same architecture we’ve been selling since the early 90’s. 

The key selling point, as always, should be about value.  ( The old adage “Location, location, location” is just that, an old adage from the time when having an actual storefront with steady foot traffic was actually a business imperative.)  As for me, I’ve adjusted my internal taxonomy, and moved “the Cloud” terminology to my Who Cares? repository.

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