Cloud is just someone else's computer. Really?

A lot of small businesses are still hesitant when it comes to using cloud services. If we ask 10 different business owners we may get 20 different opinions on what cloud is and what could go wrong is it.

Throughout my professional career I have worked for several companies and talked to a lot of different people that all had their own definition of cloud computing. It still seems like “cloud” is just a marketing buzzword that help marketers creating brochures without real content. Something like “We use innovative, next level smart cloud solutions to help your business with digital transformation.”

But even with IT professionals it doesn’t get much better as the following quotes show:

“We are doing cloud because we install NextCloud on our customers root servers” “We are using modern cloud based applications (A LAMP setup running on a single EC2 instance)” “I know cloud computing because I have used Azure AD” “We want to use cloud to hand over the responsibility for our applications to someone else.”

While each of those definitions scratches the surface none of them gets to the core of it.

The best definition so far I have ever heard is “There is no cloud, it is just someone else’s computer”. This is a common phrase and typically it comes with a negative connotation. It implies that we should not use it because we hand over responsibility to someone else.

While that is an important point it is somewhat biased. Let’s think this through with an open mind:

Do we know who that “someone” is? Sure, because in order to use their computers we have some kind of contract with them. Do we have to trust them? Of course. Do we know where “someone else’s computers” are located? Yes, we know in which data centers they are located.

The alternative to using “someone else’s computer” would be to use “our own computer”. But in order to make an application available to the world we have to put “our own computer” in “someone else’s data center”. And in order to do that we need “someone else” that manages both hardware and software of our servers.

Do we know who that “someone” is? Sure, we have to have some kind of contract with them. Do we have to trust them? Of course, because they have access to our computers Do we know where “our computers” are located? Yes, we know what data center we put them into

So is cloud computing really that different from hosting your application on your own servers? In both cases we have to trust someone else. Our whole human society is built on trust. But we are the ones that are responsible for deciding whom we trust. Cloud providers spend an incredible amount of money in regards to establishing trust. They know that their entire business models are based on that trust.

Really, cloud is simply someone else’s computer. But it is our decision whether that is good or bad. Don’t be biased about that.