Confusion in the Cloud – and a Small Thing You can do to Fight It

By Chris Bucholtz

Let’s face it – most people have but a passing notion about the cloud. That’s thanks to marketing people, mostly, and their nearly pathological need to take today’s hot buzzword and attach it to whatever it is they’re selling.

This is not exclusive to technology; five years ago, the real-world analog was the word “extreme,” which started out as a prefix for things like snowboarding, base jumping and street luge. Soon, we had extreme soft drinks, extreme down pillows and extreme pencil erasers.

The difference here is that “extreme” has no real definition in this context, but “the cloud” does. Even so, thanks to marketing mammoths like Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle and others, the term “the cloud” has been slapped on many non-cloudy things to the point where the average SMB user – ostensibly, the fellow who could benefit most profoundly from cloud computing – is at a loss as to what it actually is.

I liken the cloud marketing tragedy to the metaphor of the blind men feeling the elephant – each describes an animal very different from what’s really in front of him based on the unique body part he’s feeling – trunk, tusks, tail, feet and so on. In this case, however, the companies doing the feeling can see just fine, but they choose to describe the cloud based on the one aspect that they are “feeling” – and usually, it’s the part of the cloud that makes them money. Some companies contend the software’s the cloud, others say the hardware’s the cloud, still others look at the services that ties things together as the cloud.

None of them are “the cloud” by themselves. Some aren’t cloud at all (I’m looking at you, ad agency who threw together Microsoft’s TV commercials). Some are cloud-like, but are really traditional distributed SaaS vendors. We’re planning to help define for users what the cloud – and especially the public cloud – really is, and what a modern cloud-based application looks at. To do that, we’re enlisting a lot of our friends among the expert community, starting with Esteban Kolsky. And, we’re enlisting you.

To get the ball rolling, and to set a baseline for our understanding of the cloud in a CRM context, we’re polling our readers to see where their understanding of the cloud is, and to get their takes on some cloud-related issues of business value and perception. It’s just nine questions long, and once you’ve completed you’ll be among the first people to see the new white paper on the cloud by Esteban. To take the survey, go here;  I’d appreciate it if you could click the boxes and help us understand how well the cloud is understood.

One of the key features of this survey is that we’re asking users, pundits and deployment partners the same questions. I suspect that there will be some questions where the different groups will give very different answers – those areas of divergence represent opportunities to further educate CRM users about the cloud.

It’s an exciting opportunity – and one that should have been seized upon long ago. I’m still looking at you, Microsoft’s ad agency.