Cloud computing reflections of the rich and famous

Editor's notebook: What you find in the clouds depends on what you want to see

A war of words has broken out. Tech titans are fighting over what cloud computing actually is, says editor Steve Ranger.

I've been spending a lot of time in the company of billionaires recently, all of whom seem to want to talk about clouds.

It's not the weather that these IT giants - including Larry Ellison and Steve Ballmer - want to chat about, but cloud computing, which has moved rather suddenly and unexpectedly from overhyped vapourware to CIO must-have - unexpectedly in that it's a transition that has taken place faster than the industry thought it would, even with all its experience of hype curves.

Consequently, now we're in a situation where plenty of people want to buy cloud, and plenty of vendors want to sell it to them - but there's not too much agreement about what it actually is.

As a result, tech company CEOs are waging a war of words as they bid to claim the cloud crown for themselves, even if that means redefining cloud in some strange new ways.

What does cloud computing mean

Vendors are trying to redefine what cloud computing means
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

The first to have a crack was Oracle CEO Larry Ellison who, a little while back at the Oracle Open World event in San Francisco, defined cloud this way: "We believe it is a platform. We believe on that platform you run standards-based software, databases and application development tools. It's a comprehensive development and execution environment that can run all your applications. It has to be virtualised, it has to be elastic, it clearly includes both hardware and software."

Ellison added: "Not only are these clouds going to be publicly available to lots of different customers but we think individual customers will build their own private clouds behind their firewalls."

Unsurprisingly, he was also unveiling a product at the time, which he dubbed "a cloud in a box", that seems to fit neatly with his redefinition of the cloud.

Unfortunately, on hand at the same event was CEO Marc Benioff who was happy to give his view on what the cloud isn't: "Clouds are not in a box and they never will be in a box," he said.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer also took his turn at coming up with a definition when he gave a speech at the London School of Economics recently, saying: "The cloud is just an industry codeword for talking about using the internet and smart devices in new and different ways."

For Ballmer, the cloud is the sum of a series of technology shifts, the change "from things that are either in a PC or a phone to things that are in both; from things that may be isolated, like the TV, to things that can span literally your entire digital life" - think Microsoft's new gaming offering, Kinect.

Already cloud computing, which most would define as an on-demand, pay-as-you-go computing service delivered over the internet, has been stretched into something that may or may not be in a box or perhaps something to do with your TV. No doubt there are plenty more redefinitions of the cloud to come.

It's a strange commentary on the way tech industry ideas develop that already the cloud isn't really a cloud anymore. It's a mirror reflecting what vendors want to see as the future of technology.

Steve Ranger is editor of You can find more of his Editor's Notebook columns here, and follow him on twitter at

By Steve Ranger

Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic. An award-winning journalist, Steve writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture, and regularly appears on TV and radio discussing tech issues. Previously he was th...