Buck Woody’s Cloud Howlers

We asked Buck Woody to come up with his favourite 'Cloud' Howlers. After 'Howler' monkeys, we are faced with Howler letters. Buck dreams of sending Howler letters to the folks who dreamed up the marketing hype around 'cloud' services, who misunderstand services, who don't prepares applications for distributed environments and so on.

A Howler is a magical letter in a red envelope which enchants the written message into the writer’s voice, usually at a very high volume. The physical temperature of the Howler begins to rapidly increase upon delivery, and it will explode if left unopened for too long. This mechanism ensures that the recipient will open the Howler, even though he or she knows that it contains an unpleasantly loud message. Once the message has been received, the envelope bursts into flames leaving only ashes. The purpose of the Howler is to deliver a message expressing anger or great displeasure in a manner which standard writing cannot adequately convey. (http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Howler)

You’d better open it, Ron. It’ll be worse if you don’t. My gran sent me one once, and I ignored it and – it was horrible.

-Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J. K. Rowling.[src]

I’m a very patient person. I listen to long presentations that have only seven minutes of useful content. I nod politely at parties when I have no interest in the topic of the gentleman with the little crudité plate rambles on about whatever it was he was saying. I have children.

But there are some things that cross the line. Go beyond the limit. Stretch the paper- thin fibers of my very last nerve, and then walk across them in football cleats (the American kind of football). I’m sure you have the same items of annoyance as I do, so in the spirit of sharing and making things better for us all, I thought I might cover a few of the egregious assaults against logic and give you some ammunition for that next party when some poor misinformed bore spouts off inaccuracies. For your convenience I have organized them in order of importance and frequency of misuse.

The use of the word “Cloud”

Let’s start with the most horrendous of mistakes, which, as they usually do, started with the Mordor-like department of any company: marketing. It’s the use of the word “cloud”.

Cloud: Noun, English: 4 – something that obscures or blemishes <a cloud of ambiguity> Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cloud

Computing technology is bound by several well-known scientific principles, including electricity, logic, and the peskiest of all concrete concepts, math. Applying a term that by definition describes something with no permanent structure to a concept which by definition is based on some pretty solid science is something that only the twisted mind of a marketing “professional” can do. You and I might only ever aspire to this level of misnomers.

What makes this howler the worst, and thus placing it at the top of our authoritative list, is the fact that the weaker minds in marketing (that description may be redundant) are influenced by the stronger minds in marketing (that description might be an oxymoron) to spread the misnomer faster than mono at a high-school prom.

Recently I saw an advertisement for a hard drive that was “cloud-enabled”. I assumed that meant it could be used in some sort of computing device hooked to the Internet.

The Proper Response to this Error:

The primary way to combat ignorance is with education. Since I’m a patient man, I take however long it takes to explain to the crudité-plate man that it’s technically Distributed Computing. And then I go on to explain what that means.

Distributed Computing simply means that some or all of the computing components for a system are located somewhere else. Often, these components – say, storage for instance – are also maintained and operated by someone other than you.


“Come on out, you Three Marketeers! Cloud-ready?
You are under arrest for abuse of the language”

This simple definition is far more accurate, and encompasses almost all of the concepts currently used by the Marketeers. (That’s a new term I created – “Marketeers”. It’s like “Mousekateers” (tm Disney) except without as many cool hats, but aimed roughly at the same mental age and with more dancing.)

Once you’ve explained this information to the offending party, if you get a blank stare and the munching on the celery-stick stops, just say “Yay, Cloud!” and crudité-man will blank out the explanation period and just keep using the word “cloud”. But you’ll feel better, having set one more little part of the world right.

Ridiculing the AS’s

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the “The-80’s-called-and-wants- its-T-Shirt-and-Pony-tail-back- you’re-not-really-original-all-Silicon-Valley-self-centered-praise-junkies-are-like-you” über-geek will explain (impatiently) to you that explaining anything to do with Distributed Computing should never be described as “As a Service”. This usually follows a presentation (by you) where you use the following sensible, accurate, easy-to-remember acronyms:

IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service. This means you make a Virtual Machine and host it somewhere. When you host it in your own datacenter, Crudité-man will use the term “private cloud” and when you pay someone else to host it, he’ll call that “public cloud”. See howler 1; or give up and realize you’re not going to fix the “cloud” thing. Just go with it. You know the right term. And that’s enough for you, right?

PaaS – Platform as a Service. This means you write code, deploy it to the PaaS, and it runs. Crudité-man won’t know what this is. Odds are, über-geek won’t either. It’s OK. Soon it will be the way everything runs. über-geek will by then be retired to an emu-farm he bought when his vapor-ware online game platform got bought out by some firm that got a hot tip from Crudité-man who heard about “as a Service” at a party he recently attended.

SaaS – Software as a Service. This means you don’t install anything, you just use it. Like a web-based mail service or search. This is the normal level of engagement for Crudité-man, although he simply refers to this as “the web”.

The Proper Response to this Error:

Keep using the terms. They are as accurate as they need to be, and have the added benefit of further angering/alienating both über-geek and Crudité-man.

Thinking there is only one way to do things

Resistance to new things is something technical professionals mistakenly believe they are immune to. After all, didn’t they stand in line overnight to await the latest telephone that plays music? Don’t they have a remote that locates the TV remote?

So when they hear the words “cloud computing”, the marketing filter engages. When you explain what “cloud computing” really means (see howler 1), the I-fear-change filter engages. Standard-geek has seen these marketing hype cycles before. “N-Tier programming”, “e- (or i-) in front of everything” and flying cars are to Standard-geek the same thing. This Cloud thing will surely pass in the same, whimpering manner.

This is a form of cognitive dissonance. If it is real, and it works, and it’s dramatically different than what I already know how to do; then it threatens me. In fact, it may be a form of outsourcing – and nobody (other than managers) likes that.

The Proper Response to this Error:

No, it won’t go away. This is the way computing will happen, just as surely as companies no longer having large telephone switchboards in the basement. Change is inevitable. You’ll need to find a way to explain this to Standard-geek such that he/she doesn’t begin to hyperventilate excessively. Bring a paper bag.

Explain the process of deep, calming breaths. Explain that everything changes. Explain that this same chain of events happened when we had the last Distributed Computing change – the mainframe era. We are in the start of the next era, and that ain’t Marketeer-speak. It’s real – it is ignored at your own peril.

The most effective way to ease the mind of the overworked, hyper-caffeinated IT professional is that Distributed Computing is merely another way to do something – not necessarily a replacement.

Stuffing what you have today into a distributed environment

Once back from the Yoga class, the Standard-geek will accept his/her fate, and decide this Cloud thing (you may have to repeat howler 1 here) isn’t so bad. In fact, some of them get on board so quickly they take everything they have on-premises (it’s on-premises, y’all, not on-premise – that’s something else) and pile it into one of the three AS’s, considerations notwithstanding. Hilarity (to the outsider, anyway) ensues.

The Proper Response to this Error:

We’ve spent some 20 years getting rid of the mainframe, our first form of Distributed Computing. Change will not (and should not) happen overnight. The proper way to transition is to learn about the AS’s (über-geek just decided to post another acidic response to this article) and then to learn about the business your company does, in addition to your regular job and keeping up with terms like “Cloud” (see howler 1).

Yes, that’s right. Standard-geek is going to have to learn business. ROI’s. Balance Sheets. SALES. Because we technical professionals will no longer be allowed to simply be the magical forest folk that run the little black boxes that steal your soul – nay, nay. We will have to provide actual value – and by that I mean something the pointy-haired C-level folks can grok. And by the way, nobody but us uses the word “grok”, so you may want to drop using that term in e-mails to anyone else.

If the Standard-geek will try to understand a little more about the business, it will be like when you learn French for that trip to the Continent you’ve been planning. Sure, you’ll still get it wrong (you’ll always get French wrong when you’re in France) but the locals might have a little pity on you for trying and actually speak English to you like they could have at the outset, and why do they just try to make you feel uncomfortable just because you’re American?

Where was I going with this – ah yes. Business. You’ll have to learn what your organization does because that way you can apply the right technology mix to the problem at hand. Remember – it’s Distributed Computing (see howler 1) so only one component at a time need be considered to be handled as a service. Since you’ve taken the time to understand both the benefits and costs to both the business and the IT department, you’ll be a trusted resource. But you won’t retire to an emu-farm, because you don’t make that kind of money and you have to pay for a wedding simply because you had a girl. But you’re not bitter.

Refusing to learn

I debated putting this at a higher level, but if someone refuses to learn, they probably stopped reading when they ran into my description of Crudité-man (“I LIKE crudité’s, you jerk!” they are thinking) anyway so it wouldn’t have worked out.

Oddly, I run into this howler all the time. Even with “smart” folks. In fact, “smart” folks are some of the worst. They have been lulled into believing they know what they are doing because their past actions have resulted in some sort of success.

“I don’t need ‘the cloud””, they say (see howler 1) “because of latency/security/vendor trust issues.” In their mind, the conversation is over.

It may come as a shock to these folks, but all knowledge is not final. Things change, evolve, advance, and twist. Distributed Computing is one of those changes.

The Proper Response to this Error:

It is said that many people were quite intimidated by Benjamin Franklin. Not because of his large physical presence, or the fact that he was a better-known scientist than politician. No, it was because in many arguments, he didn’t argue. He asked questions.

Franklin was fascinated by early hot air balloons and carefully observed their launches. When a skeptic asked him “what is the use?” Franklin replied, “What use is a new born baby?”

When someone is smarter than me (which is most everyone) I tend not to make direct statements. I ask questions. If they are smart, their own answers usually bring about the logical thought I’m trying to convey. Also, if it doesn’t, I haven’t made a statement and can thusly change my thoughts to better ones. All for free.

So we start with Marketeers, and end with smart people. I think that’s a decent progression. Just like the Cloud (see howler 1).


“How exciting, it is a Howler letter from that nice Mr Woody. I’m afraid it is for you. Another crudité dear?”