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Where Does 'Network' End and 'Cloud' Begin?

4/04/2011 8:50 AM

Cloud. It’s everywhere in the intersecting languages of business and tech.

As a person of words and tech, it’s noticeable that lately even “cloud” has lost its participle - like how the British talk about taking someone to “hospital,” not “the hospital.”Example, from a recent batch of notes: “Cloud is a big space, with lots of different players. Cloud isn’t just one particular thing - it’s what Amazon does, yes, but it’s a lot more than IaaS (infrastructure as a service).”

In general, “cloud” is a catch-all term that means services or functions you used to get locally on a fixed machine at your house or workplace, but that you now get from anywhere, in real time, delivered to you over the Internet.

Maybe you’ve experienced what happens when the “in real time” part of “cloud” isn’t there: No connection means no Facebook, no access to the files you stored on SugarSync or Dropbox. (This usually happens when you’re out of town and either bored out of your mind, or in desperate need of your stuff.)

In cable, navigating subscription TV via something other than the remote is a good cloud example. Letting consumers use their gadgets (iPads come to mind) to change channels, set the digital video recorder or stream TV means acknowledging that different screens have different decompression engines, resolutions and communication passageways than set-tops.

So instead of trying to do everything from the set-top, why not use the cloud - the connection - to bridge the differences?

Here’s where I get flummoxed when it comes to cable and cloud: Where does “the network” end, and “the cloud” begin? Lots of people use the two terms synonymously: Cloud is network; network is cloud.

For those of us who grew up in cable knowing “network” as the word that grew up out of “plant” - where “plant” is the connectors, coaxial cable, pole-line hardware, pedestals, fiber, lasers and related headend whatnot needed to move video, data and voice signals from one place to another - the distinction is nebulous.

It’s good, says a cloud-engineering pal, to tease the two terms apart. Part of it involves getting to know the “data center,” a place filled with servers and software that “abstract” the stuff running over a network from the network itself. Part of it, too, involves knowing the difference between “service” and “server.”

More on that next time.
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