[ad] Hey! SaaS! Get off of our cloud!


This article is a sponsored post from our partner Ninefold. Please check out the company’s cloud computing and storage-as-a-service solutions at its web site.

sponsored post Rolling Stones misquotes aside, I think it’s time Software as a Service (SaaS) was politely asked to step off the cloud bandwagon and stop confusing everyone. As if many of us didn’t have enough problems trying to help everyone else understand the concept of cloud computing – while shaking off the ‘slightly odd, socially-awkward geek’ tag that dogs IT – last month saw the launch of Cloud Girlfriend. Yet another SaaS service that manages to perpetuate not one but two unfortunate myths.

Yes, you too can avoid the embarrassment of never getting a date, while showing off a hot girlfriend to all your old high school mates you should never have invited on Facebook. That’s right – you know they were all sniggering at you in their well balanced married-and-mortgaged-with-two-kids lifestyles while your Twitter stream was filled with your World of Warcraft adventures. (“My level sixty dwarf just got wiped by a level ten troll #WTF?”)

Well, that would be the case if we were all basement-dwelling geeks with egg stains on our Iron Maiden t-shirts. But some of us don’t actually have a problem finding a real girlfriend. (It is sadly noted that it seemingly wasn’t deemed necessary to release a ‘Cloud Boyfriend’ alternative. Welcome to 1995.)

Cloud Girlfriend allows you to create your ideal digital sweetheart and then interact with her through your chosen social network. Your friends will see you having conversations with your faux beau, and will even see photos of her, as you lead a fictional long-distance relationship. She will post adoring tweets for you or loving messages on your Facebook wall for all to see. But her entire personality and existence is stored virtually in ‘the cloud’ – apparently. However, the strings to your virtual admirer are pulled by ‘a real girl’ according to founder David Fuhriman on Quora.

So, not really very virtual then. It isn’t made clear how much of the service is automated and virtual, and how much is really just people creating and interacting with fake accounts on your behalf.

Of course, it’s entirely possible Cloud Girlfriend breaches Facebook and Twitter terms and conditions, which may make this a pretty short-run business. It’s almost as if the major social networks had enough foresight to prevent deceptive manipulation of their platforms. Who’d a thunk?

So far, so very silly and mildly amusing in a sad ’what will they think of next’ kind of way. But my issue with Cloud Girlfriend is not merely that it’s just – well – creepy.

Is this really the best illustration of the cloud? Is it really deserving of putting the C word (not that one – the clean one!) in its name? Last week, JP Morgenthal over at Cloud Computing Journal explored the common practice of using Facebook and other popular SaaS offerings to illustrate the concept of cloud computing to non users.

“Software-as-a-Service is merely a consumer of cloud computing and not a component of cloud computing. Or, as we like to say in the architecture world, SaaS uses cloud, not SaaS is a cloud. Hence, the Facebook application is not cloud.”

I happen to agree. Using Facebook to define the cloud is like using your television to define electricity. Although your television plugs into your wall socket, you can’t point at it and say “See that? That’s electricity, that is.” And in his wildest moments, Logie Baird never once considered calling his invention the ‘Electricity Screen’ to capitalise on all that electric hype.

Using SaaS to define the cloud is lazy. It’s a small, inaccurate answer to a bigger question deserving of accuracy. And it only creates more questions later that can bring you embarrassingly unstuck – just like a digital girlfriend.

In conjunction with Delimiter, we’re running a competition on this issue. To enter, simply tell us in 25 words or less how you would define cloud computing to your kids or grandparents and you could win a Ninefold prize pack; including an iPod Nano, a Ninefold t-shirt and $100 Ninefold credit. Don’t take it too seriously – silly and entertaining entries are encouraged. Entries close April 30.


    • Truly — Salesforce.com often describes everything as ‘cloud computing’. They do have some cloud computing offerings, though — but most of their stuff is actually software as a service.

  1. What’s that skippy….. opportunity for partially informed rant.

    [begin inflammatory rhetoric]
    Let’s take this article at face value and eliminate SaaS from our Cloud lexicon. That leaves us with PaaS and IaaS. In PaaS we have MS, Google(kind of), Salesforce and arguably Facebook [challenge please???]. What we don’t have in this space is much hype/attention/interest.

    That leaves the vast majority of attention these days on the IaaS model. What is IaaS? Outsourced servers. And how long has that model been around? A very long time. Locally IBM GSA has been doing it for well over a decade or more. So why is it different today? The answer to that is price. Improvements in technology such as multi-core, virtualisation, metering and segmented storage have brought economies of scale to the vendor’s infrastructure and dramatically lowered the price to the customer.

    So now the old outsourced server model of one box for one customer and one service is dead and vendors can now deliver an attractive business proposition. Happy news, but hardly exciting. Entering the marketing teams. Yup the same guys who gave us “Web2.0” are back on the case telling us about the brand new “Cloud”.

    And oh how we listened.

    Now my beef here is not with IaaS providers, who by and large offer excellent services at amazing prices. Customers do win out of this.

    My beef is with “Cloud”.
    A new coat of paint, slapped on an old idea and beaten into C-Levels on a global scale.

    The problem is, its now reached a critical mass, where if you don’t use the term, you’re seen as behind the times. That sucker is now self-fulfilling.

    It’s like the Rebecca Black of the IT world.
    What….was that the line whizzing past me???


    [end inflammatory rhetoric]

    I had a bit of fun writing this.
    I hope it’s not taken toooo seriously.
    No doubt Renai will move/delete/kickban if I’ve really crossed a line in a sponsored post.


    To finish up though, I’d say that Cloud services are of intense professional and personal interest to me right now and I truly welcome informed de-bunking of any spurious claims in the name of my education on the topic.


    • Ah, but it’s a rant I’m particularly familiar with and largely agree with. ‘Cloud’ as a term has become overladen with marketing baggage (see my various blog posts passim). But, as you say, it has become a double-edged sword in the nomenclature of virtualised technologies.

      In fact, there was a short period when creating the Ninefold brand that we toyed with avoiding the C-word altogether – opting for pure descriptions of virtual servers and virtual storage, etc. But, sadly, the necessity of matching our language to the key search terms of our customers meant we had to drop the idea in favour of actually attracting customers.

      This is the tug-of-war challenge that will eventually define the term – the tension between customer usage and marketing usage.

      I would challenge Facebook as even a PaaS as my understanding is they still operate from a traditional data centre model, not a virtualised one. In fact, I would challenge any definition of cloud that doesn’t involve virtualisation as, increasingly, that is where the definition seems to be moving amongst those ‘in the know’ (IT customer usage) – even if the wider non-technical market is still confused by the whole shebang.

      However, SaaS completely muddies the already murky waters.

      • Bravo for even considering removing the C word.

        It would have been incredibly ballsy and probably commercially suicidal.

        I genuinely believe that this technology will lead to a generational change in IT. The high cost of infrastructure has been a barrier to entry and inhibited the scalability of much of IT; particularly in web based B2C services and applications.

        Ironically todays start-ups are at a massive advantage over established players who are encumbered with product tied to their own data centre and hardware. Build a well-structured app, packaged for cloud deployment and cookie cutter it into wherever your customers happen to be. By the way, here is our service and support fee…. cha-ching.

        Once again I’m over simplifying things, but not by much.

  2. Yes good rant, even if I’m bit late catching up with it. I hope my Twitter buddy Kimota doesn’t mind me saying that while he is on the ball with his analysis I his objective is never going to be achieved. Having a business which helps software companies understand and implement the *business* of SaaS I tried to hold out on the same argument with my staff up until last Q 2010. By then they convinced me I was showing my age and losing the battle against the simplicity of the catch-all cloud and the hype and marketing.

    So we now label things we do as cloud, yet we actually help people with the business of SaaS!

    Personally, while I appreciate the details, I think that Facebook is a great example of “cloud”. It’s far better than “Hotmail” or “Gmail” or “Dropbox”. As to whether cloud is simply IaaS and that is simply “servers for hire” – I don’t think that’s the case at all. It’s a very common argument that this is all old stuff rebranded. It’s not, and making that mistake could put you out of business or your job. But I’m also not totally convinced by the “if it’s not virtual it’s not cloud” argument – that would not only rule out Facebook but all of Google’s apps – are none of those worthy to be called cloud?

    I think there is a reasonable argument that a huge cloud data centre running a single instance e.g. Facebook, is not cloud. Because of the single instance. But how many people really want to care about this? Few. For now it’s cloud and make the most of it as you will.

    Walter @adamson

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