These days, people are constantly talking about “the cloud”, as in cloud computing. It turns out that a lot people don’t understand what the cloud is or why it’s important. I first realized this a few months when I saw a surprising stat and I was prepared to make up my own number to share here because I couldn’t remember the source. That’s how you do it these days. But instead, I Googled the phrase: “% of people who think weather impedes the cloud,” and got the answer. Helpfully, Citrix had already made up a number for us.

According to Google and Business Insider, Citrix surveyed 1,000 people and 51% of them think that bad weather affects cloud computing. These same people can vote.

Anyway … did you ever wonder why they call it the cloud? According to Wikipedia, the origin of the term is unclear but they cite two possible sources dating to either 1977 or 1981. Since I joined a team that was using this term daily by 1982, I’m virtually certain that I have the answer. Even if one of my teammates wasn’t the originator, we must have been just few steps removed from the person who was.

I signed on at Bell Labs on June 1, 1982, joining the team that was responsible for designing and planning AT&T’s digital signaling network (AKA data network) to connect AT&T’s new digital telephone switches (computers with names such as the 1A Electronic Switching System or 1A ESS for short). In this job, we drew computer network diagrams every day.

Back then, the most interesting thing about a network was the devices or people that were being connected, the “endpoints” as it were. The specific topology of the network was usually not important. As such, we’d select icons to represent people and devices at the endpoint locations and then show them connected via a cloud. The exact paths used to cross the network were not relevant. In fact, we sometimes referred to the network as FDPs; fat or fast, dumb pipes. In 1982, there was little intelligence in the cloud.

In the network shown below, notice that we didn’t position the cloud as if it were in the sky. That’s not the way to think about it. And no, weather does not affect the cloud.


Today, computer networks contain far more than fat, dumb pipes, but as in 1982, the exact location of Google’s or Microsoft’s or Apple’s servers still don’t matter to most people. As such, we still use the paradigm of “the cloud” for our computer networks.

In business, why should you care about the cloud? Well, unless your core business is Information Technology, you’re not an expert at IT. So maybe you have “a guy” who attends to this black magic on your behalf. Here’s my question: Who knows more about IT security, system redundancy, disaster recovery, uninterruptible power and such, your guy or the entire cloud computing team at say Amazon or Rackspace, or any given cloud computing provider. And if you need one server most days, but need five servers tomorrow for an hour, can your guy make that happen without buying four new servers?

Someone once said, “It’s impossible to optimize a solution when the ideal answer threatens your job.” Actually, I just made that up, so worst case, I said it. But now it’s in writing so it must be true. Maybe that’s why your IT guy hasn’t been recommending that you move to the cloud.

When you choose the right cloud partner, you no longer need to worry about:

  • Hardware or software purchases and upgrades
  • System back-up and restore
  • Redundant power
  • Military-grade encryption and state-of-the-art security
  • Redundant network connectivity (side note: next time you see a backhoe tearing up dirt, be assured that someone’s telecom access is about to be disrupted)

Perhaps more importantly, you get universal access and can collaborate in new ways. You pay as you go (as you derive value) rather than having to make a big capital investment up front. And you get the economies of scale, benefiting from a volume of millions instead of a one-off solution.

I used to run QuickBooks on a PC in my office. Now I use QuickBooks Cloud, which means that I can issue an invoice when I’m the office or on the road, and I can do it not just from a PC but also from a Mac, or an iPad, or …

I used to run Excel on a PC in my office. Now I use Microsoft Office 365 on the cloud. Not only can I access my spreadsheets from anywhere using anything, I can collaboratively edit with a team of people seeing collective changes in real time. It’s amazing.

For the best in sales and marketing systems, the cloud gives us and Hubspot, respectively. For the best in personal and professional social networking, the cloud gives us Facebook and LinkedIn.

It’s time to do an honest TCO analysis (total cost of ownership). If you do, 98.6% of the time the cloud will win. But your IT guy would tell you that just 32% of the time. So now you know.

By the way, I speak to more than 100 groups every year, about social media strategy, mobile technology, and leadership lessons from Steve Jobs. Learn more about how I can help your group or organization by clicking here: