Marketing is a mis-understood function.  Sometimes Marketing is the only thing you need to be successful.  Other times Marketing is evil and ruining everything.  Sometimes it seems like both are true statements.

Take cloud computing as an example.  Last week Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle corp. was quoted as saying:

“…we’ve redefined
cloud computing to include everything that we already do. I can’t think
of anything that isn’t cloud computing with all of these announcements.
The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven
than women’s fashion. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what
anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s
insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?

“…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.”

While I don’t think Larry is qualified to comment on women’s fashion, when it comes to technology trends it’s wise to pay attention to his opinion.  Is he right?  Is cloud computing marketing gibberish?

The answer, in my opinion is yes, and no and either way Marketing is responsible.

First you had the cloud computing “platform” vendors such as Google and Amazon.  These folks talked about making a set of interfaces available that allow developers to obtain and configure capacity with automatic scaling and load balancing and “pay for what you use” pricing models.

Then things started to get, um, cloudy.  As cloud computing as a term gained visibility, other companies, not wanting to be left behind, began to try to use the term to their advantage (i.e. “cloudwashing“).  Software as a service?  Cloud computing!  Hosted data?  Cloud computing! The Wikipedia definition of cloud computing is hilarious is its lack of specificity:

Cloud computing is a general concept that incorporates software as a service, Web 2.0
and other recent, well-known technology trends, where the common theme
is reliance on the Internet for satisfying the computing needs of the
users.

Super!  As long as your product uses the internet, you’re in the cloud crowd!  Suddenly cloud computing as a term is meaningless.

Is Marketing responsible for this mess?  Yes!  But not in the way you might think.  I would argue that the folks who adopted the term early (Amazon and Google) have not
defined it clearly and simply enough to prevent other folks from stretching the definition.  Industry analysts all had different definitions from the outset and customers didn’t get it.  If everyone is confused, that means there is still an opportunity to shape the definition.  The companies jumping on the cloud bandwagon are doing just that.

Which brings me back to Oracle.  Although Larry does have a point in that cloud computing isn’t well defined, I’m not so sure his comments weren’t also influenced by his own marketing department.  Some of Oracle’s competitors are arguing that cloud computing is the “next phase of Grid”.  Oracle is heavily invested in Grid as a marketing term and last week announced “application grids”.  Cloud computing is a threat to that.  Here is IDC in the New York Times:

“In some ways, the cloud is a natural next step from the grid-utility
model,” said Frank Gens, an analyst at the research firm IDC.

Statements like that are probably making the Oracle marketing department sweat a bit.  They wouldn’t want Grid to become yesterday’s news while these next-generation Cloud Computing things take over, would they?  So is Larry being refreshingly candid by “telling the truth” or is he simply doing his own bit of marketing by denying the existence of a legitimate threat to his business?

**Update!** This morning, the Free Software Fundation founder, Richard Stallman had this to say about cloud computing in the Guardian, “It’s stupidity. It’s worse than stupidity: it’s a marketing hype campaign.”  it would be easy to predict this stance coming from Stallman.  Cloud computing could be seen as a threat to his mission to get people away from proprietary systems and his opinion on privacy is widely known.  Again, even if it isn’t deliberate, I would argue that everyone is talking about cloud to forward their own agenda at the moment.