Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Green Clouds and Other Sickening Stuff

Last week I rented a car from Hertz that was supposed to be a “Green Collection” car. Since it was a Ford Fusion, I assumed they meant the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Hybrids are green. This car, however, was not a hybrid. It was a plain old Ford Fusion. I read the fine print and discovered that Hertz defines green as “ fuel efficient, environmentally-friendly cars”. The cars are all EPA rated at 28 mpg but no one gets that with normal driving. Now, a mid-sized sedan that got 23 miles to the gallon on average doesn't seem all that green to me. My fairly large crossover does better (and is rated better ) than that.

Which brings me to my latest pet peeve - meaningless and overused marketing terms that appear to have real meaning. Like “lite”, both green and cloud computing are overused and under defined. Both have come to mean almost anything some slick Willy marketeer wants them to mean.

Green, in the case of Hertz cars, doesn't mean really environmentally friendly. It means not as unfriendly as some other cars. Sort of a “we stink less” kind of promise. That's not what most people understand green to mean. Ask anyone what green is and they will tell you that it somehow helps or enhances the environment, like clean energy.

And all you computer geeks out there should not get too uppity since we have the same problem with cloud computing (and green computing for that matter). Steve Duplessie of ESG has the best definition of cloud computing that I have seen to date. He described it as a strategy for utilization and purchasing. That sentiment is a good description but drives product managers apoplectic. When you sell servers, storage, or software (or increasingly all three) you can't get people to buy a strategy. You need customers to buy stuff. Real stuff. Stuff that can be shipped in a box. You can't ship strategy.

So the response is to slap the word cloud on everything from hardware to software to services. Like green, it's meant to make people feel virtuous about buying something. I buy some VMWare software and slap it on a “cloud capable” server and I doing the cloud thing! Aren't I smart. I buy some offsite storage like Amazon S3 or rent a piece of software from Google instead of buying it and I'm the cloud king! Woo hoo!

There are two outcomes for this type of overheated terminology. One, sooner or later folks wise up and start to get annoyed at the labels, even when they are useful labels. Second, they get confused and stop buying the stuff we need to sell to stay in business. We came perilously close to that with SAN and NAS ten years ago and “Web 2.0” almost became a dirty word. Everyone get hurt when we do this sort of thing.

Here's my rules of thumb regarding marketing terms:

  1. When one term can mean many different things, it's a bad term.

  2. If you need white papers to simply describe what you mean, it's a bad term.

  3. If you start to see a term everywhere even where you shouldn't, it's a bad term. Or at least has jumped the shark.

  4. If you ask five people what something means and get three different answers, it's a bad term.

  5. If VC's are investing in something with that term, it's a bad term. Just kidding about the VC's. We love you guys. Give us money!

What I'm waiting on now is Pond Computing. You know, green and cloudy.

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