Cleaning the Cloud Wash

Cloud washing is the practice of rebranding products to incorporate the term cloud whether or not the product was purpose built for the cloud. This practice makes cutting through the hype and clutter around cloud a nearly insurmountable task. Cleaning the cloud wash starts with understanding what a cloud is and what it isn’t. This knowledge enables senior IT leaders to make informed decisions on the overall IT strategy.

Cloud washing is not a new phenomenon and, despite thoughts to the contrary, it’s often unintentional. After all, marketers are tasked with making and keeping their products relevant in the market. They may be experts in marketing and market campaigns, but few of them are technologists and few of them thoroughly understand the purpose of cloud and the benefits cloud has to offer. Cloud washing often stems from a failure to understand that hosting products in a SaaS environment when those products were built on a traditional client-server infrastructure does not make them cloud offerings. Likewise, running those products in a virtualized environment that is not elastic, shared, on demand or measureable does not result in a cloud offering.

What many companies believe is a cloud environment is, in reality, an excellent virtualized and optimized data center. But it’s still one step short of being a cloud environment. There is nothing wrong with leveraging a highly virtualized environment, as long as it solves the business service needs outlined by customers. At the end of the day, no matter what environment is in place, the most important job of IT is delivering a highly functional business service designed to fit key directives (business, regulatory, security and so forth) to achieve business agility. Keep in mind that if your cloud does not save money, provide faster more agile service or benefit the company in some way, the technology it was built on is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Not everything needs to be in the cloud. Not everything should be in the cloud. Other environments will continue to play an important role in the IT strategy. What’s essential is that your business partners are educated on what they are getting and not in terms of the service they are looking for.

When the term cloud is as prevalent in the market as Kleenex and Coke, how do you clean the cloud wash? You start by clearly defining what cloud is and what it isn’t. Next, you ensure that vendors can pass your cloud sniff test. That involves ensuring that the vendors understand what a cloud is or isn’t.

My recipe for cleaning cloud wash and passing the cloud sniff test starts with asking five simple questions about any supposed cloud solution:

1)    How does the solution provide elasticity or the ability to scale or contract on demand as the service requires it?

2)    How does the solution enable you to pool resources across the stack to lift and shift workloads on demand to reduce hot spots and cold spots?

3)    How does the service access the network and what is the depth and breadth of that network access to create a modular expanded system architecture (MESA) for continuous operations across hardware boundaries?

4)    What capabilities — for example, portals and configurations — are available to enable self-service demand and manage that demand in an automated fashion?

5)    What reports, analytics or capabilities are there to measure the service early and often from the standpoint of security, usage and overall success metrics ratios?

If the solution provider can’t provide succinct and quick answers to these questions, then chances are the offering is not truly cloud based. It may instead be some mix of virtualization, hosted compute or even some cloud integrations.

These questions, by the way, align with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) definition of cloud, which says that a cloud solution must, at a minimum, possess these five characteristics: elasticity, pooled resources, depth and breadth of network, self service and measurability (2011, NIST).


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