Cloud washing defined: How to avoid this marketing trend

In this podcast with ESG analyst Terri McClure, learn how to identify cloud washing and what your company can do to avoid being misled by cloud claims.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of cloud washing these days.

Cloud technology and cloud infrastructure labels have been slapped on so many data storage advertisements and vendor pitches that it can be difficult to determine whether you’re viewing a true cloud offering or simply a dressed-up outsourcing deal.

In this SearchCloudStorage.com podcast, Terri McClure, a senior analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), explains to Assistant Site Editor Rachel Kossman what the term cloud washing really means and how to analyze the cloud washing phenomenon. Learn what red flags you can expect to encounter if your service isn’t actually based in the cloud, and what characteristics a service needs to be truly considered cloud.

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Cloud washing defined

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SearchCloudStorage.com: Let’s get started by defining cloud washing, a term that gets tossed around quite a bit. What does it mean to you?

McClure: Cloud washing to me means taking technology that was invented five, 10 even 15 years ago and saying “this is a cloud, this is cloud ready, this is a cloud infrastructure, this was designed to support the cloud.” It seems like just about any technology that ever existed right now is cloud something-or-other in the marketing collateral. So I guess if I really had to sum it up, cloud washing is rebranding all your marketing collateral to make sure the word "cloud" is included on every single line.

SearchCloudStorage.com: We hear a lot of analysts say there's no such thing as a private cloud because the private cloud is similar to a traditional centralized IT set up. Some people say this fuels the cloud washing phenomenon. Would you agree with this?

McClure: That’s a really interesting question. I guess I’d agree somewhat. Private cloud is IT, it’s what an IT department does; it provides IT services to the rest of the business. But we can’t ignore that there’s an IT transformation going on right now -- virtualization and some of these new technologies that have developed over the years aren’t giving IT departments the opportunity to transition and leverage these technologies to make more of a service-oriented architecture [SOA], to start looking more like services you could get by subscription, [and] offering storage services and application services back to the business. At the end of the day it’s just IT, but IT is certainly benefiting from a lot of the technology being developed to support highly scalable cloud environments.

There are a lot of service providers disguising classic outsourcing deals as cloud.

-- Terri McClure, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

SearchCloudStorage.com: So what are the characteristics a product or service needs to be truly “cloud”?

McClure: You need to start with a shared infrastructure, because if you’re not sharing you’re running more of a traditional IT infrastructure with dedicated applications, application servers, and some sort of storage bank and infrastructure. It needs, however, to be able to be virtualized and sliced and diced with secure multi-tenancy. You don’t want to buy it in very huge chunks, you want to just pay for what you use. You have to have enterprise-class service-level agreements [SLAs]. I guess you don’t have to have enterprise SLAs to be considered cloud, but for cloud to be useful to enterprises there needs to be robust SLAs that guarantee some level of data availability.

SearchCloudStorage.com: Let’s say you're a storage pro receiving lots of information from vendors who say they have added “cloud” or “cloud service” features to their product. What are some cloud washing “red flags” to notice?

McClure: The first thing you can do is ask the vendors what they mean by cloud or cloud service. When they start talking about that and you start questioning them, you may find out they’re talking about the same thing they were talking about last year or the year before that they were calling something completely different. Are they offering the same thing they were two years ago and just cloud washing it, or is there something new and innovative?

Then start asking the vendors what they’re doing differently to enable this type of cloud service. Is it more of a services-oriented infrastructure? What type of management tools? What type of multi-tenancy is there? If they start saying “We're working on multi-tenancy, were not quite there,” then you can be pretty sure you’re down a road of a cloud washed, older technology that’s not really invented for today’s new paradigm of shared infrastructure service-oriented architectures.

SearchCloudStorage.com: Do you find a lot of people tell you that they’re “using the cloud” when, in fact, they actually aren’t?

McClure: It’s pretty interesting -- you get a mix of reactions to the cloud. I have talked to people that have created what they call a private cloud infrastructure because they’re creating a large shared services-oriented infrastructure based on new types of technology. One customer I’ve talked to is using EMC Atmos as a big, scalable object repository and a private cloud.

When it comes to public cloud we’re actually finding that there’s more adoption than one would suspect, but it’s really in the Software as a Service [SaaS] category. In recent research ESG has done, we found that 34% of the people we’ve spoken with have adopted some level of SaaS supporting one or more of their applications. We’re also seeing that enterprise customers are far ahead of small and medium enterprises, which makes sense because when it comes down to it, larger enterprises have a lot more applications they could turn around and look at as candidates to go out as SaaS.

SearchCloudStorage.com: Which criteria should storage pros keep in mind when defining cloud services for themselves so they can avoid cloud washing?

McClure: When storage pros are looking at subscribing to a cloud storage service, there are a lot of service providers disguising classic outsourcing deals as cloud. You subscribe, but you’re actually getting asked to pay for your dedicated infrastructure and piece parts, and just having someone else run it. That’s outsourcing, not cloud. Keep in mind: Is it a shared storage infrastructure? Am I benefiting from the economies of scale that come from a shared storage infrastructure? Then ask about multi-tenancy and security technology. It’s important that you don’t fall for some of these repacking of existing offerings that may be more expensive for you in the long run because it’s just people calling outsourcing "cloud." When building a private cloud, it’s asking those questions and ensuring the technology you’re talking about is something that can be truly shared and virtualized, and where you can get the economies of scale, as well as the flexibility and fluidity of a services-oriented architecture. If it’s a traditional stovepipe infrastructure, when you’re asking those questions you’re going to find out pretty quickly it’s not capable of doing it and that is truly cloud washing.

This was first published in August 2011
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