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Opinion: Our New Year's resolution? Make some damn sense of the cloud

Cloud computing is difficult enough for customers to understand without being, well, clouded by business jargon. Providers that perpetuate it don't do themselves any favors.

We all have a love-hate relationship with business jargon. We snicker and roll our eyes when we hear colleagues say stuff like, "Let's roll up our sleeves and take the thousand-foot view of our synergistic value proposition before we get down in the weeds and talk about how we're going to grab this low-hanging fruit."

But then the dreaded moment comes when a sentence like that tumbles out of your own mouth in a meeting, and you cringe and think, "Did I really just say 'paradigm shift'?"

In light of this pain point that requires us all to push the envelope and think outside the box, networking guru Ivan Pepelnjak recently linked to an awesome blog post from the Harvard Business Review that tackles this topic. Its apt title: I Don't Understand What Anyone Is Saying Anymore.

Customers are genuinely confused about and wary of "the cloud," and cloud providers aren't doing themselves any favors by using vague business jargon and doublespeak.

The message is applicable to any industry, but we all know the tech world is seriously addicted to meaningless business jargon. I don't think it's unfair to say the cloud computing industry (buyers, sellers, journalists, bloggers) is particularly afflicted with jargonitis.

But it's not entirely our (collective) fault. The closest thing we have to a standard definition of cloud computing is the one provided by the U.S. Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Some may argue that its wording may still be open to interpretation -- if your service meets only three or four out of what NIST lists as the five "essential characteristics," is it not a true cloud service? The fact that the market is still in the early stages of its evolution doesn't help matters, either.

These factors lead people to talk about cloud computing in abstract terms and use metaphors in hopes that it will save them from having to understand and articulate the messy, confusing details of exactly what cloud computing is and possibly isn't. Sometimes I wonder how many people truly know what they're talking about in this market. Are we all parroting the same misinformation to each other, just hoping that soon clarity will strike?

This column isn't just a quibble about language from a professional word jockey. Customers are genuinely confused about and wary of "the cloud," and cloud providers aren't doing themselves any favors by using vague business jargon and doublespeak. Cloud providers must be transparent and unambiguous about how they define, design, build, secure and support cloud services.

So, in the spirit of our ongoing series of interviews with cloud providers about their New Year's resolutions for their cloud services in 2012, I'm going to make one for that, like most New Year's resolutions, I'll probably live to regret. But here goes: Enough with the marketing buzzwords! We've got to stop drinking the Kool-Aid and be thought leaders if this is our core competency because, frankly, I don't have the bandwidth to do this brain dump anymore.

I know it's unrealistic to say that our news, technical features, expert tips and various other cloud provider resources will never again be marred by meaningless business jargon and clichés.

But I'll be damned if we don't try.

It's up to you to keep us honest, though. Let us know how we're doing. Drop me a line if the phrase "cloud stack" makes your eyes cross, and if you come across any egregious cloud jargon, please share. We'll kick the tires if we're not out of pocket and try to make value-added sense of it for you. Happy New Year!

Jessica Scarpati is the site editor of

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