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Monday Musings: Clear as Gravy

Back in the early nineties, PepsiCo came out with a product called Crystal Pepsi. By all accounts, it tasted the same as regular Pepsi cola, but it had the added attraction of being clear. Coca-Cola quickly introduced Tab Clear, in case this “clear” thing caught on. (Wisely, they decided not to experiment with their flagship product yet again.) This clash between two marketing juggernauts launched a short-lived “clear craze” that swept through the marketplace like an invisible fire, spawning odd products as diverse as transparent deodorant sticks and clear beer (remember Zima?). The public recognition of “clear” as a ridiculous fad came when Saturday Night Live produced a commercial parody for “Crystal Gravy“.

The sad part about the clear craze was that none of the products were enhanced (or even substantially changed) by being made transparent. It seemed an attitude sprang up overnight that “clearer must be better”. I see a similar trend developing with “the cloud”.

Microsoft, who actually does have some serious cloud-based offerings is not helping with their annoying “To the Cloud” advertisements. In one ad, they have a mother—who can’t get her children (or husband) to sit still for the ten seconds necessary to snap a decent picture—swapping heads on family photos using “the cloud”. Aside from the fact that the ad says more about these folks’ lack of parenting skills than anything, I have several problems with it. First Microsoft is confusing a whole lot of people into thinking that The Cloud™ is some sort of product they’re selling. Second, the thing she’s actually using is a feature called Photo Fuse, found in Windows Live Photo Gallery. Aside from the fact that Photo Gallery is downloaded from the Internet, there’s nothing “cloud” about it. Photo Fuse works regardless of an Internet connection.

With everyone jumping on the cloud (Now there’s an odd visual.) how is a business owner supposed to know what the cloud is or what it isn’t, and more importantly, what it can do for them. You have to weigh the risks and rewards on a case-by-case basis. Will this process or operation be substantially improved by moving it to the cloud? Will I increase or decrease my risk? Can I avert enough capital expenditures to justify raising my operating expenses. You may need some additional IT expertise to answer some of these questions. You may need a trusted adviser, because sometimes those answers are crystal clear, and other times they’re clear as, well, clear as gravy.

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