What started me thinking was a sponsor message this morning on National Public Radio that promised improvements in business by taking advantage of "the cloud."
Mmmmm... what a lovely image. Light drifting shapes that appear and vanish all by themselves, with no intervention or control by those of us who live on the Earth. Who made the clouds? Nature. Who controls the clouds? Thermal currents, winds, humidity, terrain. Some might even attribute clouds to the benevolent Hand of God. Farmers and their crops depend on clouds. The utility businesses of our cities and towns rely on clouds to supply drinking water and light.
But listen more carefully to the use of "the cloud" when it comes to computing. Folks, the computing cloud is anything but light drifting shapes beyond the control of those of us on Earth. In fact the computing cloud was built and continues to be maintained by some of the biggest and most important companies in the world. Each of those links between servers, between your computer or smartphone and "the cloud" were built at great expense by telecommunication companies, some of whom rose and fell during the dotcom boom of the late 1990s.
What does that mean in this world? It points out the difference between those who use the network (the Netheads) and those who built the network... the Bellheads. Google, Apple, and others are building by attaching devices and services to either end of The Cloud but have little responsibility for the creation and maintenance of The Cloud.
Google and Apple can't live and can't thrive without The Cloud. Will they someday compete with and even replace the companies that provide The Cloud? I have my doubts. I think the Nethead business case falls apart when the realities of the enormous capital and operating costs (as well as the pressures of providing world-class quality-of-service) is factored in.