This past Tuesday I spoke briefly about the topic of “Cloud Computing” at our 16th Annual Seminar on New Media, Technology and the Law at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York. The main point of the discussion was that the term “cloud computing” is a rather ill-defined concept that encompasses many different kinds of “remote computing” technology (to use a somewhat archaic term for essentially the same things). The meaning of the term “cloud computing” varies depending upon the speaker, thus the term is being used refer to everything from data center services (Dell Computing) to hosted application development services (SalesForce’s to Web-based e-mail and word processing applications (a Pew Internet and American Life Project report). And of course, it is used in advertising those services as well.

The discussion at the seminar was planned in advanced, and I felt vindicated on the day of the event when Ben Worthen’s Wall Street Journal Business Blog contained a post entitled Overuse Clouds Buzz Term’s Meaning, making precisely the same point, i.e., that the term is applied in a confusing way to many different technologies.

Well today, Ben Worthen has written of his vindication by no less than Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, who admitted in a meeting with analysts that he doesn’t know what the term means either, referring to the computing industry as “fashion-driven” and the term as “gibberish.” That won’t stop him from advertising Oracle products using the term, though, he allows: “I’m not going to fight this thing. But I don’t understand what we would do differently in the light of cloud computing other than change the wording of some of our ads. That’s my view.”

So, in the midst of all these admissions of confusion, if you wish to get a good sense of the scope of the term, and of some of the specific types of technologies that it may describe, I highly recommend an InfoWorld article published last April, “What Cloud Computing Really Means,” by Galen Gruman and Eric Knorr. The article categorizes and describes that various technologies that may be included in the term, and provides helpful examples of each.

And PS, if you would like to receive an invitation to next year’s New Media, Technology and the Law seminar in New York, please send me an e-mail at jneuburger[at] and I will add you to our mailing list.

Added Mon. 9/23:

And now Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft has jumped in, commenting that a group of venture capitalists were using the term completely differently than he was using it. As quoted by Jonathan Skillings on CNET, Ballmer commented: “I think when people talk about cloud computing they’re talking about taking some stuff, putting it outside the firewall, and perhaps putting it on servers that are also shared–or storage systems–that are also shared, perhaps with other companies that they know nothing about.”