Can You Define the Cloud?

Can you define the cloud? Have you ever had a conversation with family or friends who do not work in technology and tried to explain or define what you do? Better yet, when you’ve had these kinds of discussions, have you asked what the other person thinks the cloud is? What kinds of answers did you get? “The Cloud” is one of the biggest marketing terms used in the twenty-first century, so shouldn’t everyone have at least a basic understanding of its definition?

One thing I have learned over the years is that outside of the people who work in technology, most do not really have a desire to understand the marketing terms with which they are bombarded. Instead, they are quite content with having the ability to repeat those technology marketing terms in a sentence that gives them the appearance of understanding the terminology. There’s nothing wrong with that for people who do not work in technology, and you have to give them credit for at least trying to understand.

However, when you read articles on the Internet from technology-focused sites, you do not find such a blatant misuse and misunderstanding of the terminology. Here is my case in point: I was reading the post “The rise of the cloud administrator,” which was published on the website on July 22. Now, I understand the point the author was trying to make, but in my humble opinion, he missed the mark in trying to ensure he could write something about the cloud.

In the article, Lawrence Garvin makes the point that because of cloud computing and software-defined infrastructures, the normally separate roles of system administrators and network administrators are converging into a single role, with administrators now performing both functions. While I get what Garvin is trying to say, I find it to be far from what I would consider reality in a twenty-first-century data center. Let me explain why I think he is wrong by being too simplistic and what I think is a more realistic point of view.

The convergence I believe Garvin refers to is more than a convergence of just system administrator and network administrator. In fact, converged systems require a combination of system administrator, network administrator, and storage administrator. Why? Because of the converged infrastructure that combines all of these technologies together. In the article, Garvin asks readers to consider the fact that applications are more critically dependent on network performance and reliability than ever before. However, that is only a small piece of the puzzle: just as much consideration should be applied to I/O, resource contention, and overall network performance.

According to Garvin:

“These days, living in a silo is simply not a functional choice, at least not for IT pros who expect to be gainfully employed in the industry for the next dozen years or more. The roles are merging, and quite likely at some point in the near future we’ll all just be known as ‘cloud administrators,’ with no real distinction between systems and networks.”

Now, I completely and totally disagree with that statement. Well, maybe not completely when it comes to smaller companies and smaller infrastructures. However, let’s be honest: the smaller companies are not running their infrastructure in a true cloud computing infrastructure, but rather in a virtualized environment. Even if you consider the companies that are running most applications in a public cloud, the true administrative tasks of the cloud administrator are done by the staff of the public clouds themselves. Let me be quite clear in my definition: what makes an infrastructure a true cloud computing platform is the automation that removes the need for administrators to be overly or directly involved with day to day operations and customer requests. This is done by providing a self-service platform that the customer is able to take advantage of without needing to involve the administrators.

If you wanted my opinion on what the tools of the trade are for cloud administrators, I would suggest things like JavaScript, PowerShell, C#, and other development tools used to build the automation. To reiterate, it is automation that makes a cloud a cloud computing platform. Without the presence  of automation, you have a virtualized infrastructure that can take advantage of technologies like software-defined networking, but it is still just a virtualized environment, not a cloud computing platform.

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I actually read the Informationweek article and commented on it. I think even in IT the cloud means different things to different people, which is why you see businesspeople asking for “the cloud” and cloud services.

Until IT can decide on its own exactly what the cloud means (as you hint at above) we’re going to have issues with users, the business and IT.