Is the Cloud term an asset, or just marketing hype?

A few things came together for me this week around the Cloud term.  I spent time with one of my best customers discussing online accounting, what we should do to improve the product we represent in the UK, and how we should position to beat the incumbent in the small business market, Sage.  But the first thing that Philip Woodgate told us was how useful the Cloud term is for the clients and business people he deals with.  These are business from small, to medium to International where he struggled explaining SaaS 3 or 4 years ago when he started promoting the concept.  He thinks the Cloud term makes it much easier to "get" for the average business.  

The next thing was this post on ReadWriteCloud with Wordpress.com founder Matt Mullenweg suggesting the Cloud is marketing speak.   Matt was explaining how a recent outage in their service occurred.  Alex William's wrote in the article:
"The cloud gets blamed for almost any online outage these days. It used to be that we'd just say the service went down and there was a failure at the host or the data center.   Sure enough, the Wordpress.com outage is not a cloud disaster. Instead, it's what happens when failover does not work in a data center."
He went on to ask Matt if Wordpress.com  is hosted through a traditional data centre or if it is on a grid, and so would that qualify it as a cloud computing environment?  Mat's response was:
"That's a silly question, like asking whether Facebook is a cloud computing environment. Most 'clouds' besides Amazon's are just marketing BS.  WordPress.com is a collection of many physical servers across multiple datacenters to create a scalable, resilient environment for our customers. You could call it a grid, or cloud, we just call it service."
Alex's question is the problem.  It reminded me of the debate on terminology we had between vendors at the very first EuroCloud UK meeting.  It reminded me of last year's Cloud Computing World Forum, where almost every vendor pitch on the day started with a definition of the Cloud to make sure their particular solution was in "the cloud club".  It reminded me of the January 2009 research paper by Luis M. Vaquero, Luis Rodero-Merino , Juan Caceres, and Maik Lindner called "A Break in the Clouds: Towards a Cloud Definition" which listed 22 different definitions, that was picked up by the likes of McKinsey last year.  By the way, this year's Cloud Computing World Forum will make sure it avoids this definition debate by making sure no one prefaces their pitch with explanation number 23 or 24.

Of course the Cloud term gets caught up in marketing BS.  The industry and the average CIO needs to spend less time worrying about definitions and terminology and more about business benefits and use cases.  Sadly, we technology vendors and advisors have been prone to that problem for every evolution I've lived through over the last 30 years (and before).  I've fallen in to the trap many times too - 4 or 5 years back I was arguing about, 1 to many, "pureplay" Software as a Service solutions compared to webified client/server apps that were being hosted somewhere and accessed through a browser (and completely forgetting that my company motto is think Business, not Technology).  I better hang my head in shame.

However, I go back to the experience Philip is seeing with his clients, and what I see with the business people I talk to, and what Matt means when he says "we just call it service" - the Cloud term simplifies things and collects together a comprehensive set of technologies in to a sensible package, so we can move on and focus on the value it delivers.