Survey: People fake understanding the cloud (even on first dates)

Could you define cloud computing in, say, 20 words, or 140 characters?

Government agencies have been steadily pushing into the cloud, in accordance with the administration’s Cloud First policy or their known needs to cut costs and increase efficiency, so they’re familiar with the concept. But trying to find a clear definition seems to be, like actual clouds, hard to put your finger on.

Earlier this year, in fact, the term was named by the Global Language Monitor as one of the two most confusing tech buzzwords so far this decade, along with another concept growing in government circles, big data.

The point is driven home further in a recent survey by Wakefield Research for Citrix that found that cloud is basically treated like the latest hip trend: People don’t really know what it is, but they act like they do. And they think everyone else is faking it, too.

The survey of more than 1,000 respondents earlier this month found that 54 percent of respondents said they never use the cloud, although 97 percent of them actually do — however, that 97 percent is based on a broad, loose definition of cloud that includes such things as online banking (65 percent of respondents use it) and shopping (63 percent) that might not always be cloud-based.

But 58 percent said they use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and 69 percent store photos online. (This kind of confusion apparently scales to the enterprise level as well. A TrendMicro survey conducted in seven countries in June found that some enterprises aren’t even aware of when they’re using cloud services.)

On the fakery front, 22 percent admitted to pretending to know what cloud was, with a third of those people doing so at work and another 14 percent saying so during a job interview, according to the survey. Amazingly, 17 percent said they had faked knowledge of the cloud on a first date, which if nothing else shows that cloud truly has made it as a buzzword. It’s one thing to pretend you’re up on the latest cutting-edge cultural trends to make an impression, but cloud computing?

And respondents think most other people are cloud phonies, too, with 56 percent saying other people talking about cloud computing don’t really have a grasp of it. Nevertheless, they believe in it: 68 percent said they recognize the cloud’s economic benefits.

The survey report makes hay of the fact that when first asked about cloud, a majority of the respondents thought of weather and some thought of drugs or toilet paper, but they obviously didn’t know the question was about technology.

As further proof of people’s misunderstanding, the report points out that 51 percent, including a majority of Millennials, said they believe stormy weather could interfere with cloud computing — although that has proved true in at least a few cases, such as when June’s derecho storm in the Mid-Atlantic states knocked out Amazon’s cloud and when a lightning strike in August 2011 took out Amazon and Microsoft cloud centers in Europe.

Even results describing the confusion can get confusing.

Part of the disconnect could be that, outside of network architects and administrators, people might not really care what the cloud is. As long as they can get access from their PCs and mobile devices to apps that work, why worry about where things are hosted? Most people probably couldn’t give a clear definition of TCP/IP either, even though they’ve ridden on it for years.

But another part of the problem is also that cloud has been hard to define. It’s a basic concept — centralizing resources to provide on-demand services over the Internet — that relies on a complex blend of technologies and manifests itself in an alphabet soup-as-a-service (PaaS, IaaS, SaaS, EaaS, etc.)

The National Institute of Science and Technology has put a lot of work into defining a cloud reference architecture and cloud technology roadmap for agencies, but those are long, detailed documents that defy quick summation. Not good fodder for a first date.

And even then, some have taken issue with NIST’s definition.

Maybe there is no single definition, which is why the average person, or even average government employee, has a hard time getting a clear grasp. Which brings us back to the original question: Do you have a good definition? Is so, enter it in the comments box below.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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