Seventh heaven on cloud nine

By | 16th November 2010

What have the following in common?

  • A 1987 album track by George Harrison
  • A song by Bryan Adams
  • A 1969 album by the Temptations
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • A mobile phone company based in the Isle of Man
  • A crime novel by James M Cain
  • A skyscraper and shopping mall in Shanghai

The answer is that all of them use the concept of Cloud Nine in their name or title! Where does this expression come from?  The International Cloud Atlas produced in 1896 defined ten types of cloud. The ninth cloud was the cumulo-nimbus rising to a height of over 10 kilometres which is as high as a cloud can be. Others have suggested the origin lies in sources as diverse as Dante’s Divine Comedy or Buddhist and Christian folklore whereas the American Dictionary of Slang published in 1969 suggests that the term cloud seven was in use rather before the now generally accepted cloud nine was defined as a state of blissful happiness.

As the amount of data in the world continues to increase and businesses struggle to control it and store it, the concept of cloud computing has become a familiar one. Not being entirely sure what to make of it all, it was with some relief, therefore, that I was alerted recently by Ed Savory of US law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius to an article on the subject: CLOUDBURST: WHAT DOES CLOUD COMPUTING MEAN TO LAWYERS?  [Journal of Legal Technology Risk Management, Fall 2010, PDF]

The article is written by Matthew A Verga, an associate with Morgan Lewis’ eData practice Group and an attorney specialising in e-discovery admitted to practice in the District of Columbia. He raises three important issues about cloud computing: what exactly is cloud computing, how do the services and technologies differ from their predecessors and what potential legal issues are raised by cloud computing?

Matthew’s conclusion is worth reproducing in full:

Fundamentally, cloud computing is the use of a pool of configurable computing resources via network or internet connections, typically managed by a third-party service provider. The ascendancy of cloud computing is a paradigm shift away from the use of decentralized systems and back towards the use of powerful, centralized infrastructure. This paradigm shift raises potentially serious legal issues related to where data is, who can access it, and who is responsible for it. It will be crucial for lawyers to keep these potential issues in mind when counseling clients about any transition to or use of cloud computing, and it will be essential to investigate thoroughly the technical realities and operating procedures of any selected service provider so that the potential pitfalls described above can be avoided.

Add to that the statistics he quotes from the Economist of 27th February 2010 in an article entitled “Data, Data everywhere” and you will readily see how important this subject will be. The Economist claimed that between one billion and two billion people access the internet at present. Networking company Cisco has predicted that by 2013 (that is barely more than 2 years ahead) the amount of traffic flowing over the internet annually will reach two thirds of a zettabyte or 667 exabytes. Mind boggling stuff when you remember that one exabyte is equivalent to one million terabytes or, if you prefer, 10 to the power of 18 or one with 18 noughts after it!!

A state of unalloyed bliss? Not necessarily, so cloud nine may be a misnomer in this context. Perhaps some will prefer seventh heaven!