Competing definitions of the much-hyped concept of cloud computing are creating confusion in the IT industry, according to Gartner

The analyst company defined cloud computing as "a style of computing where massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided 'as a service' using Internet technologies to multiple external customers." But the phrase cloud computing "is being loosely applied and defined differently, and it's creating a lot of confusion in the market," said Gartner.

Seemingly every IT company is using the word "cloud" these days, whether they are describing hardware products, software-as-a-service (SaaS), or virtualization technology. VMware CTO Stephen Herrod recently remarked that the cloud "might be the most abused phrase since virtualisation."

Gartner divided the various definitions of cloud computing into two categories: one focusing on remote access to services and computing resources provided over the Internet "cloud," and the other focusing on the use of technologies such as virtualisation and automation that enable the creation and delivery of service-based computing capabilities.

The first category would include SaaS applications such as CRM and payroll services, as well as vendors that offer access to storage and processing power over the web (such as Amazon's EC2 service.)

The second interpretation, according to Gartner, "is an extension of traditional data centre approaches and can be applied to entirely internal enterprise systems with no use of external off-premises capabilities provided by a third party."

Both approaches to the cloud are valid, but must be clearly separated from each other in order to avoid confusion, Gartner says.

"Gartner recommends that users clearly separate the consideration of cloud computing and cloud computing services from the use of cloud computing-related concepts and technologies for the creation of internal systems," the analyst firm said. "Both perspectives [services and technologies] are valuable and should be pursued; however, they are two separate but related initiatives."

Gartner will provide more analysis on cloud computing and other key IT topics during its Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando the week beginning 12 October. Gartner also released a series of research papers on cloud computing in June, comparing cloud-computing delivery methods to the Industrial Revolution because of their potential to change the way IT services are delivered and acquired.

"Cloud computing has become the latest in a series of popular industry terms and, as such, is used in many contradictory ways," Gartner said in a report titled Key issues for cloud computing. "Underneath the fog, there are trends - such as global-class architecture, Web platforms, massively scalable processing and the Internet - that are converging to fuel the cloud-computing phenomenon. The platform angle, in particular, will enable composite applications and composite businesses, and has the potential to have a profound impact on IT and business. Organisations must evolve to deal with the changes, and understand what hype is safe to ignore."