Some product or technology names, with Apple's iPod being a classic example, come to define a new class of product or technology even though the derivation of the word is, at best, tenuous. Others, however, are so vague and intangible that they cover most eventualities of product type and technology development. These can, of course, be a marketing exec's dream for, as the word gathers a bit of mystical buzz in the marketplace, just about any product can be attached to it in order to get a share of the cake.
Cloud', as in The Cloud, is just such a word. It has the great advantages of being short and easy to remember, as well as seeming to imply much with which any IT vendor in its right mind would want to be associated. It is a marketing exec's dream name—not least because it is almost indefinable and therefore able to encompass just about any IT product or technology that can lay some claim to being 'out there'.
In some ways, of course, the name is perfectly apt. Anyone who has ever been in a cloud will know that you lose all sense of where you are and where you are going. You can emerge somewhere completely different to where thought you'd be. It has to be said that this sometimes seems like the primary goal for some IT marketing execs. But business users of IT want, I suspect, a deal more certainty about what they are spending capital investment dollars on, especially when they are currently so hard to find. For them, being part of The Cloud is an inadequate answer.
All this raises an important point, is there some way of defining The Cloud easily, yet in a tangible form that business users can readily comprehend and identify with? What is needed is something that gives an idea of what is actually on offer for potential users, rather than a word that tells them nothing and leaves them mystified.
That is where Information Exostructure came into being.
What is it? Well, it is a description of one of the primary services that The Cloud sets out to provide—an externally sourced, (and theoretically limitless) seamless extension of an internal IT systems infrastructure that delivers information services.
Externally sourced does mean that this is about outsourcing, and the idea of calling it the equally meaningless and glib 'Outsourcing 2.0' was—for a millisecond or two—quite tempting.
The key to the issue for all users is that their need is for a logical extension of their current infrastructure. However, in practical terms that extension can take a number of forms, depending on criteria such as budget and credit availability, workload changes and agility requirements, growth (or shrinkage) rates and many others. In addition, those forms can and should be as complementary as possible: mutual exclusivity is a definite no-no.
The forms themselves will be drawn from the existing onsite IT infrastructure; co-location service providers (budget advantages in terms of real estate, energy management/consumption and negotiable levels of systems management); remote hosting service providers (operating owned or shared systems resources with full management support); and managed services (where the service provider becomes 'IT' for the user). All of these will be perfect for some users at least some of the time. A flexible mix of them will probably meet most users' needs most of the time into the future.
Users get much more than simple access to additional MIPS and Bytes. In practice, what they get is access to the results of those additional MIPS and Bytes being applied somewhere else—information management as a service, delivered as a logical continuation of the users' information management infrastructure. It is no longer just onsite only, so the infrastructure has now grown to become an 'exostructure' that includes (and by choice or budget this can mean exclusively) third party specialist service providers brought together as needed to support the business of the user.
As it is an exostructure, what the users don't get is the need to purchase the resources, house them and feed them with energy, service them with knowledgeable and skilled staff or any other costly requirement that is not part of their core business. Instead, there are service contracts negotiated on a fee-paying basis with companies whose core business is providing those services.