Don't you just love buzzwords?

At least, don't you love the way that buzzwords shape a vendor's product policy. Take the way that cloud computing has penetrated public consciousness in the past few months.

In the last week, we've seen Microsoft announce plans to develop a cloud operating system and just a couple of days ago, we saw IBM release a handful of products under the catch-all 'cloud computing intitiative'.As our sister title Network World, has pointed out, many of the products released as part of that initiative are old products that have been rebadged as 'cloud computing', an insight into the power of a buzzword.

But what got me thinking is just how quickly the phrase has entered our consciousness. A quick search on Google Zeitgeist reveals that, prior to mid-October 2007, mentions of the phrase were statistically insignificant for Google to register them. The phrase then disappeared for a while, made an impression on Google stats in mid-December, disappeared again and then re-emerged in January. I'm desperately trying to think of an example of an IT concept that has been so quickly adopted by the community and where it's so pervasive, that leading players are having to set out their 'cloud-computing' strategy or look like they're falling behind.

The only case that I can think of is when ATM (asynchronous transfer mode, not automated teller machines or Adobe type manager) first started to be talked about as the next step for Ethernet. Within a few months, every hardware networking company had ATM products or a roadmap to ATM (one company even told me it had a strategy for an ATM strategy). IBM even had an additional ATM technology ATM-25, produced by no-one else and which quickly died a death, Of course, once Gigabit Ethernet was ratified it was rapidly adopted and ATM, which was a telecoms technology that was being shoe-horned into the enterprise, was never heard of again - at least, not as a LAN technology.

I'm not suggesting that the same thing will happen to cloud computing. ATM wasn't just about a buzzword, it was about a technology that wasn't suitable. In the same way, it's clear that there are some very good reasons to adopt the cloud model and some users will undoubtedly go down that route but what's really interesting is that 'cloud computing' has caught the mood of the community whereas 'application service providers', 'on-demand computing' and 'software as a service' have not really caught on.

However, it's one thing to penetrate public consciousness, it's another to sell products. If it's really true that 70 percent of users are going to go down that road, then the IT industry is in for a complete overhaul. If it's not and vendors have been repackaging froth, courtesy of their PR departments, then do we wait for the next convenient phrase or accept thaty IT managers are not going to give up their domain so easily.

Interestingly,  a brief check on when the phrase was first used revealed that it could have been first used by a New York Times writer, John Markoff way back in 2001 but I'm not claiming that is the definitive answer - anyone got an earlier use of the phrase (and not in the sense of the Internet cloud, I mean the actual phrase 'cloud computing,).

There's bound to be a bright spark who informs us that Alan Turing mused on the idea between cracking Enigma cracking sessions or perhaps Charles Babbage discussed over port and cigars after Royal Astronomical Society meetings, but surely someone used the phrase before 2001.