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Cloudwashing – A Rose by any Other Name

The white-washing of cloud computing remind us of the evolution of decades-old rightsizing and client-server technologies.

Did you see the Dilbert cartoon in this weekend’s paper? In the strip, Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss tells his engineer employee to move some of the company’s function to the Internet, but call the Internet the “cloud.” When asked why, the boss simply notes that no one “will take us seriously unless we’re doing something on the cloud.”

Apparently, cloudwashing is nothing new. Last year, Apririo – a cloud IT services company – toasted the winners of “The Washies.” This is a “tongue-in-cheek award given to the worst cloudwashing offenders.” Past winners have included Oracle,, and Microsoft.

But let’s take the observation of Dilbert’s boss one step further. To do this, we must step back in time to the last millennium, roughly around the mid-1990s. Back then, the big network buzzword was “rightsizing” – a term used to describe the balancing of functionality between the client (PC) and server systems connected via the Internet. Sound familiar?

At best, cloud computing is the next generation of client-server technology. At worst, it’s cloudwashing. For an interesting comparison of the two, check out this discussion thread on Stackoverflow: “Cloud computing over Client-server: differences, cons and pros?” I’ve mentioned the Stackoverflow site in an earlier blog.

Here, the story gets personal. Back in the 1990s – together with my friend and colleague, Dr. Gary Ray – I co-authored a book called, “What’s Size Got to Do with It?” (Can you recall what Tina Turner song was popular at that time?)

Our book explained the systems engineering of client-server systems, both hardware and software. Please don’t rush out to buy it, as the book is hopelessly outdated with references and case studies based upon now-antiquated operating systems and network implementations. But the systems-engineering approach remains valid.

A younger writer at his first book-signing event at Barnes and Noble, 1998.

My point is that from an architectural standpoint, very little has changed in the last 20 years. It’s certainly true that processors and throughput have gotten faster, thanks largely to the relentless push of Moore’s Law. Software development has also improved to make better use of client-server environments. And new applications (applets) have emerged by the thousands. But little has changed in the actual workings of what we now call “the cloud.” Instead, the old client-server model has simply become more personalized and accessible to the average person. This is the general trend of everything on the Internet.

For those of you with copious amounts of free time, I’ve included a link – What’s Size-Ch.01 - to the original galley proofs of the first chapter of our “rightsizing” book. In this introductory chapter, you’ll notice that we used the technology of the day (20 years ago) to basically describe what is happening in today’s cloud environments.

It truly seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same.


3 Responses to “Cloudwashing – A Rose by any Other Name”

  1. ommageek Says:

    This reminds me of when the kids picked on those amongst them who found that a new Toyota car was far better than a used Lexus. Since Lexus was the “cool” name for “reliable transportation” then the Toyota owners were publicly berated for making the choice to having made the right choice for themselves.

    Cloud is a fancy name and encapsulation for services already available under the traditional names (until we reach the point when software defined networks are ubiquitous).

    So, Maybe “Whitewashing” is the equivalent to applying Lexus markings to the excellent Toyota that exceeds most requirements.

    Get over your new fancy name and stop assaulting those who do not agree that it is right for them.

  2. Hamilton Says:

    I believe Microsoft’s proposed solution at the time was Wolfpack. It reminded me of VAX workstations which everyone seemed to have forgotten about. Texters might be disappointed to know that that ‘revolutionary’ technology was built into the Unix boxes of the time as well. That’s a great book signing picture!

  3. John Blyler Says:

    Hi Hamilton. Ah, the VAX workstations – and the mini-VAXs. Remember the “Talk” utility?

    “So how did engineers, the pioneers of social media, communicate on the early Internet? Let’s say you wanted to tweet a friend, i.e. send him/her a one sentence message.. You simply used the “Talk” utility on your DEC VT100 terminal and typed in your message: @TALK (Chris) Where are you going for lunch? Instantly, the message would appear on your friend’s screen. Each message was limited to 80 characters, whereas today’s Twitter is limited to 140 characters.”

    The above is from a story I wrote several years ago, most of which is still relevant: Engineers and Social Media – The Untold Story

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