When is a #cloud not a cloud?

The growth of cloud computing has lead to the conflation of a number of terms.

Today, we generically talk of cloud services – it’s convenient shorthand for a wide range of service, products and capabilities. But perhaps it’s worthwhile digging a bit deeper into this.

We used to talk about managed telecoms services, which typically meant a service that was delivered with secure access, guaranteed performance or bandwidth, by a telecoms service provider across a fixed or mobile network. We can include Centrex in the category of managed services, as it was typically a telco service, backed by telco service and performance guarantees.

The term cloud doesn’t necessarily imply any degree of management, security or reliability: it simply refers to services that are hosted by third parties and accessed via remote networks, typically the Internet. It’s worth differentiating between different kinds of cloud services, then, as some clouds are much more remote than others.

Data backup, photo libraries and the like are not necessarily real-time, business critical applications, but are still offered as cloud services, which makes perfect sense, particularly given the need to shift enterprise costs to OPEX and away from CAPEX. But, there is a difference between a cloud service that stores something and something which delivers a real-time service, particularly voice communications. Centrex is one of the earliest forms of what we now call cloud services, but it is a real-time voice communications application and has different requirements.

Centrex services are accessed via fixed or mobile connections, managed by telecoms network providers, usually with performance and service level guarantees. They may be classed as cloud services, but they may well be more substantial than other services that are included in the same category. And, they have different needs and subscribers have different expectations from them.

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