Is the 'Cloud' just a marketing buzzword?

I wonder if you guys can help me understand the ‘Cloud’ a bit better?

I’m a simple guy. I know that my sites are hosted on a computer somewhere, along with a bunch of other sites. It’s a pretty simple formula I’ve been using for a long time.

Nowadays, we’re offered ‘cloud hosting’ and ‘cloud storage’. It conjures nice images of our data hovering up in a purer, safer zone, far removed from the mess down here on earth—failure-prone machines, nasty hackers and so on.

In reality, of course, your cloud-hosted data is still stored on the same grunting, nuts-and-bots machines down here on earth. So is cloud hosting anything more than a marketing buzzword? It’s certainly a clever, feel-good concept. But I’m struggling to work out what it means.

Some prominent members of the Web community have already made up their minds, mocking the ‘Cloud’ by recommending we replace the word with ‘Moon’ or ‘butt’—even writing a browser add-on to convert every instance of ‘Cloud’ to ‘butt’, and an app that repalces the word ‘Cloud’ with ‘bullsh——’. (Try it if you don’t believe me!)


On a more serious note, such people argue that the concept of ‘the cloud’ is harmful, as it creates a false sense of security and ‘clouds’ the real nature of web hosting:

‘the cloud’ is a term that sets out to deceive from the outset, imbued with the same Lakoffian toxicity as ‘downsizing’ or ‘friendly fire.’ It is the internet equivalent of miasma theory. — Jeremy Keith

But still, I’m open to other views. Does cloud hosting involve anything substantially different from regular hosting? There’s a couple of things I can think of:

  1. A different infrastructure? Is cloud hosting about a different kind of hosting setup? For example, is it different in that it involves networks of computers, making your data safer because it’s not just stored in one place?

  2. A different pricing model? With traditional hosting, you pay for a fixed amount of storage, bandwidth etc. over a fixed period of time. Cloud hosting, on the contrary, often involves paying as you go, for the resources you actually use. However, I’m not really convinced that a different pricing model constitutes a different kind of hosting. This same model could be applied to traditional hosting, couldn’t it?

I wonder what you guys think. At the moment, I’m inclined to believe that ‘the Cloud’ is nothing but a marketing term, but I’m open to being set straight on that! It’s just that every time I read about the subject, I’m overwhelmed by all the swanky jargon associated with cloud hosting—all of which feels more a smoke screen than an explanation.

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Breaking down what “the cloud” represents from a technical perspective requires understanding these things: SaaS (software as a service), PaaS (patform as a service), IaaS (Infrastructure as a service), and DaaS (desktop as a service). “The cloud” is a term used to describe those things. So no it is not really *just a marketing buzz word.

Thanks oddz. Definitely those things appear a lot in association with cloud hosting, although I still wonder why the extra word cloud is needed to describe them, when they seem to describe themselves. Aren’t they just web hosting options?

I’ve noticed that even some standard shared hosts have started to slip the word Cloud into their site copy and marketing (whether legitimately or not I can’t really tell).

I have a clear opinion about “the Cloud” and “cloud computing” and they aren’t the same.

The Cloud is simply… the Internet.

Cloud Computing, on the other hand, is a new way to build software and services on top of software controlled Internet infrastructure. I just happened to write a blog about that same subject.


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Hey @s_molinari, thanks for posting that. That’s by far the clearest writeup I’ve seen, so well done. I guess leaving aside the word Cloud itself (and how appropriate a choice that is), you do draw a clear (and much needed) line between “cloud” and “cloud computing”.

As someone still stuck in the old, standard hosting mind set, I’ve now and then checked out cloud computing options as an alternative, but always hit up against a lot of jargon that I don’t understand. Would you mind if I picked your brains a little on some of the concepts surround cloud computing?

For example, I’m still not sure if cloud computing is really much use for a standard, small-ish business website. From what I can tell by sifting through the details of each cloud service, it sounds like it’s not worth setting up a site in this way. Yet, according to the basic idea of cloud computing, it should make sense.

The other issue I have up front is that is sounds rather complex to host a site in a cloud computing environment. I haven’t seen what I’d call “managed” hosting, for example, in the sense that the software you need is installed and ready to go. Maybe I’m wrong about that, though, and just don’t understand the terminology.

And are there offerings that would be the equivalent of a VPS, where you could host a number of sites on one account?

Sorry if these are stupid questions, but it amazes me that hosts don’t come down to the level of people like me now and then to help us understand what we might be getting ourselves into. :slight_smile:

Absolutely not! :smile:

There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. :wink:

I’ll give you a simple litmus test to tell if you have a cloud computing hosting solution at IaaS level and at the same time, if you really need cloud computing. All you have to do is answer one simple question.

Does your software need to scale at will and can the hosting company offer you an API to do it?

Ok, it is two questions in one, which needs two answers. :smile:

I believe the answer to the first part of the question should be “always” (and I explain that below), though, as you mentioned with the “old, standard hosting mindset”, cloud computing isn’t just “hosting” and this poses the next issue. Software programs (like written in PHP, for instance Word Press), aren’t really built yet for such on-demand scaling. In other words, we are still quite stuck in the “old, standard hosting” paradigm at the software level too.

The answer to the second part takes a little digging, but usually you’ll find really good cloud hosting companies push you towards their API documentation, once you start to “dig in”. You basically can’t avoid it.

The difference to the old, standard hosting now and cloud computing at the Virtual Private Server(VPS) level is small actually. There are even hosting companies out there now, who let you fire up a VPS at will with some back-end administration application. This is still not cloud computing or rather Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), but more a hosting company built on cloud computing.

You see, the core to cloud computing is obviously the compute part. Generating cloud servers, which are just Virtual Machines(VMs) or in old standard hosting terms a VPS. Remember that. VM = VPS.

However, a good cloud computing IaaS hosting company will offer other services to build up and orchestrate other parts of a web server cluster, like databases, block storage for files, load balancers, and more. And these services are all controllable over APIs too.

Another key feature and tell tale sign of a good cloud computing IaaS hosting company is the fact you can utilize the resources at hourly rates. So, say your site gets hit with something like the “Oprah Effect” or it goes viral for whatever reason and over a few of hours you need to add a considerable amount of resources to help serve the traffic, IaaS will let you add it to your system easily (and automated, if done “properly”). And, when the “wave” is over, you can spin down those resources again, and only pay for the few days you needed it.

This ability to “scale at short notice” and “scale down and only pay for what you really used” saves your site from losing business from a very overworked server and helps your business save money, by allowing you to only use what you really needed and have to pay for it. A win-win situation and why I said above, you should always want a site or web application that can scale well.

One might argue that compute costs are a drop in the bucket compared to the overall expenditures and this might be true for a business not dependent on the Internet. But for companies dependent on the Internet, these kinds of scaling and availability opportunities can be life saving. If your business isn’t dependent on the Internet, then you may get away with a non-scaling web site, because you don’t really depend on the Internet for your income. I’d say that is the only exception.

There is also two more “levels” of cloud computing everyone should be aware of. They are Platform as a Service and Software as a Service (DaaS and DBaaS are also SaaS to me, but just specialized services).

Platform as a Service is a level above IaaS and is in all cases a development platform. It allows developers to create environments for SaaS development. That is my simple definition.

And then there is SaaS, which is basically what everyone uses “in the Cloud”. Software, which you need the Internet to run.

I hope that helped more than confused. If you have any further questions, please do ask! :smile: I love the subject.


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Oh, one more note. Once people realize or learn what cloud computing is and the more services are built on it, I think we will see the old hosting paradigm slowly die. This is simply because overall, the economy of scale cloud computing offers outperforms by a landslide the “oversold” computing offered by those hosting companies.

One important note not mentioned anywhere really about the differences between the two, is also the proper spreading of responsibilities across the “levels”. Think about it, unless you have a costly managed VPS, you as the “renter”, are responsible for the security and the actuality of your software and the server itself. These are responsibilities, which you shouldn’t really have and with proper cloud computing service, you won’t. :smile:


That was well worth the investment in time taken to read it. The only question I had after all that was “What are some good examples of companies that meet the assessment criteria you set out?”. The only one I’m really aware of is the EC2 service from Amazon that you mentioned. Care to name-drop a few more?

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Some of the bigger IaaS hosting companies are mentioned in this article.


That was interesting. I should have known about Rackspace really given I have one of their t-shirts (a sxsx freebie), and I had no idea CSC were playing in that area - odd really, as I’ve worked with them regularly for nearly 20 years - they support the parent company back in the UK.

Actually, I went looking for CSC’s APIs and couldn’t find any. So, I’d question CSC being a true IaaS, in terms of cloud computing. They offer what looks like a comprehensive back-end, but I am not sure applications can speak to the Infrastructure through an API. That puts CSC’s offering back to a (very intricate) hosting solution on cloud computing infrastructure.


It’s really interesting to read all that. Some of it is still over my head, but as long as something is learned … :smile:

I suspect IaaS is geared more for people/companies running a fairly significant web application—something like CodePen—than something like a simple, static site, or even a small site built on a CMS. Still, there’s always the Oprah Effect to consider, so I’m still wondering if there’s a viable option in the cloud for, say, a small static site. You mentioned companies “who let you fire up a VPS at will with some back-end administration application”, who are really offering a service “built on cloud computing”. So maybe that’s what someone with a static site should be looking at. But still, would that include the following?

  • some kind of simple interface like CPanel, with FTP facilities etc.
  • a pay by the hour structure, for just the resources used?

Sorry to take this down to such a basic level, but I’d rather start right from the bottom, as there’s a huge conceptual disconnect between old-fashioned hosting and the next level of cloud computing.

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A small static site? Is there really a site like that out there today? LOL!: I know there is and IMHO, they are way behind the times. :wink: But yeah, that is what I meant with “if your company isn’t dependent on being on the Internet”. Most likely, that is the kind of site they’ll have and thus, they won’t need cloud computing at all.

As for “are there any options available”, I would guess you mean to serve up a simple website that might go viral and a service that will cover that surge. Although the goal is to aim a lot higher than a static site, the goal of being “scalable at a moment’s notice” is something we are working on with Skooppa.

If your application or “your system” can’t automatically scale out for you, it isn’t really a cloud computing solution. So, no. That wouldn’t really fit the description. That is basically hosting, which you can use for shorter periods of time.

No problem at all. Actually, this kind of education is necessary for my project to ever gain traction. Most people will equate what we are doing with, say, something like Wordpress’ hosted offering. But, we are coming in at a totally different angle and if customers do not understand the very important differences, it makes Skooppa very hard to sell.


OK, but if a cloud solution doesn’t include familiar things like some kind of CPanel-like interface, how does it work?

I know the philosophy behind software technologies is just to dip in and learn by trying, but I reject that point of view. I like to have a sound conceptual idea of how something works before messing with it. (Why would I want to pay for it otherwise?) I’ve read quite a bit on cloud-like infrastructures, but I still can’t quite get my head around how they work. The art of teaching is to understand where your audience is in its understanding of something and take them from there. But there are so many aspects of cloud hosting that I’ve never been able to form a conceptual understanding of.

It’s a bit like Git. No matter how many questions I asked, I still couldn’t get a concept of some of the basics. But I kind of like to push people to explain things from a noob’s point of view, as I think it’s an important skill.

I’ve read and listened to a lot of hosting-related things lately, hearing about multiple boxes, cloud infrastructure and all that, but there’s never an entry point to those discussions for an outsider, so I just have to listen on in perplexity. :smiley:

My starting point is that you can pay for space on a single machine somewhere, with some software on it that enables it to receive requests and serve up files stored within it. You upload files to your bit of ‘web space’ via an FTP program.

How you get from that simple scenario to some kind of ‘scalable infrastructure’ (one of those unexplained technical terms) kind of beats me. :slight_smile: I sometimes feel like a 5-year-old who’s completely baffled by what the adults are talking about. I desperately wish some kind soul would kneel down to my level, and explain it all in concepts I can understand. “Now, you know when you are playing with your toy computer—you know, that Apple thing …”


@s_molinari love skoopa’s youtube videos

Could you please direct me to the person that did the animated videos for u guys?

Thanks for the compliment. I actually did the videos myself. I used a SaaS video creation software from I also bought the music on I also mixed the music, my (not so professional) vocals and the sound effects together with Reaper (which is quite a powerful DAW for free use). I basically made the sound track first and then made the video to match it.


You made the note earlier about cloud computing being more for “a bigger” business. I think that might also be a good point. Cloud computing is a B2B type of commerce, for the most part. I think the reason why you don’t see more consumer oriented “cloud computing” as hosting is because the first level IaaS, is like a huge construction machine (application service infrastructure) with handles (the APIs). If you ever got into the driver’s seat as a “normal person”, you wouldn’t know at first what all the handles are for and can’t run the whole machine. You might get the engine started and you might know where the throttle is, but the rest is pretty much a mystery.

Now, imagine you could install software that could run the machine for you. Let’s call it an autopilot. There are back-end software, which are like autopilots, but they are aimed at businesses too, which run other software through the machine. An example of such a software is Scalr, which we will also be using.

Now imagine a whole bunch of construction machines, working together, but can be used “at will” at any time and the number of machines you can use can grow and shrink at any time too. You can construct things with those machines. That is PaaS.

PaaS, I believe, is the most unknown service in the cloud computing scene currently and what Skooppa aims to be at its core. Our direction is a bit different though than the PaaSes on the market now, like Pagodabox or Heruku. They are still very much aiming directly at developers, so any extra knobs or switches that are there to turn to make the autopilot work are still cryptic to the “normal, just want to build a website, Joe”. We are also aiming at developers, but we want a system, which will also let the “owner” or the “business side” of development have direct activity in the system too, in order to be able to help and better formulate the business domain objects (like certain content types for building a website). In other words, making the “creations” won’t be up to the developers alone on Skooppa.

And then there are the “creations” themselves, made by the people, telling the machines to go left, right, up and down, push this there and pull that over there. This is SaaS. Whether the creation is a plain old website or some very specialized application, what cloud computing should let you do is create anything you want and not worry about security and actuality of the underlying platform or infrastructure or about scaling. The security and actuality is taken care of by other people who are very specialized and the scaling is taken care of by the built-in autopilot for the machinery. All this is in the background. You, as Joe, will never see it.

A well running cloud computing system, from the infrastructure to the applications, is a huge symbiosis too. The success of one part is always dependent on the other. One can’t forget that. And yes, there is an amount of lock-in too. That also can’t be ignored. But, you have to weigh in the conveniences and cost savings and basically, there is no way you could do your own comparable system better with less money, because cloud computing takes huge advantage of economies of scale and this is the main reason why it is going to win in the future.


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Thanks or the long explanation, Scott. Your posts make interesting reading. :slight_smile:

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Hi Ralph,

A lot of good explanations here. Here is a view regarding ‘Cloud’

non-business users make use of cloud applications every day. Google automatically backing up applications, photos … Apple doing the same.

Most of the time clouds feature clustering technology that allows for superior load balancing and lack of slow response times. Most software as services like the big API’s and Content Deliver Networks use a combination of caching and clustering. If not clustering then some type of hardware load balancing is used.

Ubuntu Cloud has a fairly easy to understand approach, see here:

Really the cloud can be any API, Service, Storage or Web Platform that affords the users not having to manage these things locally. However not all Cloud services are apple to apple comparision because vastly different technologies can be employed and branded ‘cloud’

I hope you are well!


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And BTW, OpenStack is the first OSS that let’s you (and other big names) build a powerful cloud infrastructure platform (including the APIs I spoke about). It is the core to, for instance, Rackspace’s “cloud computing” infrastructure and they are heavy contributors to the project (they were basically co-founders of it).

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