Can You Talk the Talk? Cloud Jargon 101 for Executives


Years ago, I was watching The Masters golf tournament on TV and I encountered something unexpected: IBM was running TV ads for IBM Cloud. While I was familiar with IBM Cloud—it’s my job to track these things, after all—I wondered if many of the business executives perceived to be among the core viewing audience segments for the Masters even knew what cloud computing was.

Fast forward a decade. Now, cloud computing is mainstream, no longer the “next new thing.” Every organization larger than your kids’ lemonade stand has a cloud strategy, and more organizations are accelerating their efforts to make cloud a strategic part of their digital transformation initiatives.

That doesn’t mean that business executives are fully conversant in all things cloud. CEOs and CFOs may know that their employees are doing things like storing data in the cloud, doing test and development in the cloud and using cloud as a disaster recovery and failover site. But just like the cybersecurity jargon we discussed in an earlier Security Roundtable article, it’s easy for your CIO, CTO and chief cloud architect to throw around buzzwords without regard to whether business stakeholders, executives and board members actually understand what those terms mean.

So, let’s dive into some of the cloud jargon you’re most likely to hear and become a bit more comfortable in those conversations so you can ask better questions and make more actionable decisions.

Hybrid Cloud: If you master no other term or concept of cloud computing, knowing about hybrid cloud will bring you up to speed on your CIO’s strategy for using cloud. And to be honest, this can be a bit confusing. A hybrid cloud is typically formed by the interconnection of one or more public clouds (such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform) with a private cloud (most often implemented on-premises). Some cloud adherents, however, define hybrid cloud as the mashup of any cloud architecture with on-premises infrastructure such as your corporate data center. In both cases, however, hybrid cloud is the seamless integration and the use of applications and data in both cloud and on-premises architectures.

Multi-Cloud: Using more than one cloud for key applications and business processes is now standard operating system is most enterprises. In fact, research indicates that the average enterprise using around five clouds (which can be a mix of public, private and hybrid clouds). 

Cloud Orchestration: The simplest and most succinct definition I’ve seen of this somewhat nerdy concept comes from “The use of programming technology to manage the interconnections and interactions among workloads on public and private cloud infrastructure. It connects automated tasks into a cohesive workflow to accomplish a goal, with permissions oversight and policy enforcement.” So, it’s one part Business Process Automation, one part Hybrid Cloud and one part Cloud Management.

Multi-Tenancy: In many cloud architectures, multiple tenants (i.e., business subscribers) share space in a cloud environment. It’s reminiscent of mainframe computing principles from decades ago, when companies “timeshared” mainframe computing resources. But don’t worry; the cloud service provider builds in tons of security safeguards, such as access management, authentication, encryption and more to ensure no other tenant is touching your data.

XaaS: This is shorthand for “anything as a service,” the most fundamental manifestation of doing work on a cloud environment instead of exclusively in an on-premises environment. The most familiar and widely used “anything as a service” options include Software, Infrastructure, Platform and Security, although nearly any IT-related function can reside and be accessed in the cloud, including things like disaster recovery and unified communications. 

Availability Zones: Your cloud service providers take extra steps to ensure resilience, security and availability by isolating their own IT infrastructure into different geographic regions. This helps them make sure their entire computing grid—and your services—doesn’t go down in the event of a regional or even national service interruption due to weather, natural disaster, user error or terrorism.

Cloud-Native Applications: These are programs developed specifically for cloud environments, and they are probably the fastest-growing part of the overall application development market. Why? Developing in and for the cloud is faster, more economical and more in line with the core agility requirements for digital transformation. That doesn’t mean that applications no longer are being developed for on-premises infrastructure, because no two organizations are embracing cloud to the same degree or for the same reasons. But cloud-native applications are big because they optimize the many benefits of the cloud, such as flexibility, agility, scalability, management and cost efficiency.

Containers: You may have heard about virtualization, the process of separating certain computing technologies (servers, storage, networks and desktops) from the underlying hardware. It’s simpler to deploy and manage. Well, containers are similar in that “decouple” applications from the environment where they are run, such as a cloud platform or even an on-premises data center. Containers are very popular with cloud architects, CIOs and CISOs because they offer a number of security benefits over traditional application deployment methods. Containers are very widely used for your DevOps activities, where applications are developed by teams from both IT and the business side.

Kubernetes: This is one of the industry’s most widely used container platforms, and has achieved “market-leader” status among applications developers and cloud architects, especially for cloud-native applications. Originally designed by Google, it is now an open-source platform that is maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Migration: How your organizations uses applications and data is not a static experience. Sometimes, you need immediate and sustained access to IT assets, and sometimes you may need intermittent or even infrequent access to data and applications. That means organizations need to be flexible in moving those assets to the most cost-efficient or agile environment on a moment’s notice. That movement of IT assets, say from an on-premises data center to an AWS public cloud to an off-premises private cloud (and then back), is called migration. It’s often referred to as “workload migration,” and it’s a core aspect to cloud computing architectures, particularly hybrid cloud.

Edge computing: Although not strictly for cloud environments, edge computing is a key part of organizations’ ability to create, capture, store and share information at the “edge” of a physical or virtual network. As such, it is highly appropriate for cloud computing environments because of the need to share and process very large amounts of data—a staple of cloud computing. Edge computing also is often associated with the Internet of Things because many “smart devices” such as sensors and many every-day, non-IT-centric are situated at the network’s edge.

Honestly, there are dozens of other buzzwords your technical teams and cloud architects will throw around, and with so many vendors in this marketplace, new jargon is invented all the time. You may not be able to keep up with it all, but it’s a good idea to do a mental inventory of each time you hear a phrase you’ve never heard and do some of your own research if it shows up repeatedly. Or just ask your CIO.

Mike Perkowski, co-founder of New Reality Media, is an award-winning journalist who founded, led, or helped develop some of the most successful and influential high-tech media properties over the past several decades.

End Points

  • Cloud computing is mainstream, but a lot of the terminology used in talking about cloud are arcane and confusing.
  • Hybrid cloud may be the most important concept any business executive or board member needs to know.
  • Cloud-native applications are quickly becoming the de facto standard for new application development efforts, especially among your DevOps teams.