What cloud computing got right

Posted by s.hettrick on 24 November 2010 - 10:12am

KingCloud.jpgCloud computing is, in my experience, a subject that creates excitement and scepticism in equal quantities. My introduction to the subject came courtesy of a presentation by Werner Vogels, Amazon's Vice President & Chief Technology Officer, on Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud. It was a fascinating presentation, but it was even more interesting to hear the passion behind the questions that followed. I’m not going to focus on the technical side of things in this post, because what interests me is the way in which cloud computing has grasped the public’s attention.

Unlike Grid computing, which is part of the same family of technologies, there has been a been a lot of public interest in cloud computing. It’s been featured on the TV and radio. I was even amazed to find an overview of cloud computing in the local magazine that’s distributed in my hometown (it was a woefully misrepresented introduction, but an introduction nonetheless). Okay, there might not be a particularly deep understanding - people may think that Saas, Paas and Laas are finalists in the Swedish version of the X-Factor – but there is knowledge of the concept. That’s important and its the result of good marketing. And that’s no surprise, cloud computing is being promoted by the big hitters like Amazon, Google and Microsoft. This also means that many people started using clouds without being aware of it, simply by signing up to Googlemail or buying something off eBay.

I came across further evidence of the popularity of cloud computing this week at the NGS-organised Innovations Forum. David Wallom, Technical Director of the NGS, gave an overview of a cloud-computing pilot that they had completed. This pilot gave organisations the ability to use two clouds set up in Oxford and Edinburgh. Despite having been publicised only on the NGS website, the pilot gained 20 sign ups during the first week of its release and had notched up 70 users within three months. That’s an impressive statistic for a small programme, especially when David explained that the signups weren’t just NGS old hands, there were many fresh users too.

What can we learn from cloud computing? When it comes to publicity, don’t overlook the power of the name. Cloud Computing simply sounds interesting – even to the uninitiated. It’s futuristic, friendly and a little whimsical. The mainstream media can tend to present technology stories in a slightly threatening way, they can often find a scary aspect in even the most benign innovation. In my experience, that’s not the case with cloud computing. After all, how could a cloud be threatening?

Another important factor is that cloud computing makes the life of the sub-editor very easy, which removes a barrier from gaining column inches. Getting a good image for a computing story is notoriously difficult. Must we use another photo of a datacentre? No! With cloud computing, sub-editors are given carte blanche to use photos of cloud-swept landscapes, computers close-focused in front of a cloud-specked sky, and people whooping for joy, laptop in arms and backlit by clouds. Titles are easier too. As a simple experiment over the next couple of years, I’m going to keep a record of the number times I see the title ‘A head in the clouds’.

Even the most esoteric technology can be presented in a way that captures the public imagination. It’s certainly not easy, but cloud computing shows that it is possible.