You can always tell when a technology has the industry rattled. The top vendors rush to market with new ideas and new systems, but none of them can quite explain what they are trying to accomplish.
So it is with cloud computing, which this week saw Sun Microsystems throwing its hat into the ring with a clear vision of how it will not pursue a cloud strategy. The company's vision clearly does not encompass any of the Network.com services, which have been up and running for about a year trying to get enterprises to buy into the idea of purchasing data center resources by the hour.
That endeavor will now be handled by the new Cloud Computing division, which, according to company briefings, will try for a "one-service-fits-all" approach featuring self-provisioning and elasticity to allow customers to draw only what they need.
The company will also foster "hybrid" clouds, made up of its services and those made available on internal enterprise clouds, most likely based on the xVM hypervisor and a set of APIs designed to convert Microsoft and VMware virtual machines into Sun-friendly formats. How, exactly, this will all come together is still an open question.
Compare this stance to HP's, though, and you'll see why so much confusion reigns in the cloud. HP has been busy dismissing much of the cloud talk of late as so much hype, even though admitting there are kernels of the technology that could serve some useful functions down the road. What's really getting HP's goat is that no two people have the same definition of the cloud, so vendors of all stripes can roll out innumerable services and technologies with the cloud label and no one is the wiser as to whether any of it makes any sense.
And then there's IBM, which has been highly aggressive at pitching the cloud of late, arguing that, if done right, enterprises will see substantial improvements in everything from productivity and collaboration to energy savings and capital expenditures. The company has established 13 cloud computing delivery centers across the globe and is busy retooling practically its entire product line in anticipation of internal, external and hybrid cloud environments.
If you ask the most aggressive cloud proponents what it is and what it's all about, you will most likely get a very well-worded vision of how it will all come together in the end. And then you ask another person what they think and you'll get an equally confident answer that may or may not jive with what you've already heard.
Clearly, at some point, at some time, the cloud will come in to view and its benefits (and costs) will become clear. But at the moment, the cloud is anything you want it to be, so tread carefully.