Reading David Terrar’s posting on how useful the term “Cloud” is proving to be in the real world, the world where small business owners live and have to make sense of technology, triggered an old memory for me.
I remembered a sales guy coming to my office maybe 10 years ago, I think to talk to me about ISDN telephone lines but it could have been something else – my recollection of the details is not great (I know, it’s an age thing). Anyway, during his pitch he shoved a diagram under my nose to illustrate how the system worked.
We both looked at the picture as he explained “.. so the call goes from your desk phone through your PBX out to the local BT exchange and then up into the cloud ..” Sure enough, the diagram showed my call shooting up from my local telephone exchange into a big, white, fluffy cloud in the sky.
And here’s the important point – neither of us made any further reference to this mysterious cloud, we both just took it as a given that the cloud represented the Internet and some clever technology that neither of us would really understand, or need to understand. The sales guy, and his diagram, simply used the cloud image to mean “let’s not go there, we don’t need to, that it just works is all we need to know for this purpose”.
This, for me, is the power of using the term “Cloud”. It is both a a really useful metaphor and a physical object with properties we are all familiar with. Clouds are just there and we don’t really think about them on a daily basis. When our 6 year-old asks us where lightning comes from we immediately say “it comes from water vapour in clouds” but we don’t really know how the electricity gets generated or why it discharges do we? Unless we are a meteorologist or scientist, we don’t need to know any more. Answer given, father relieved and child satisfied, we can move on to something more important like getting to school on time.
When we do actually spend any time looking at clouds – maybe laid on a beach or in the garden - we have all played the game where we try to recognise shapes in them; “that one looks like a kettle, or that one looks as miserable as your sister” etc. This is a fun way to pass a little time but, of course, we realise that clouds look different to each pair of eyes.
So, David’s article reminded me that there is real practical benefit in being able to use a term like “Cloud”; to allow everyone in the discussion to make a mental note to accept that bit of the explanation as a “no need to go there” and concentrate on the more important stuff.