With the announcement by Intel this month that it has created a cross-industry steering group of top European brands to try to hammer out a concrete definition of cloud services, the debate over the development of outsourced infrastructure services seems to have reached a new stage.

Research suggests there is a large amount of confusion over where cloud services begin and end. CIOs are viewing the deluge of marketing material suppliers are sending out with increasing scepticism, especially when vendors appear to be bending the definition to fit conventional services that still reside within the organisation – so-called on-premise or private cloud services.

As a result, Intel's efforts have been applauded IT bosses that answered a call by CIO for their views on cloud services.

One IT leader in the public sector, who wished not to be named said: "There is currently certainly too much ambiguity at this time. [cloud is] predominantly sales vapourware selling the emperor's new clothes – existing IT capability repackaged to take advantage of the hype, with little or no standards. There is definitely a prize to be had here – for all parties – however if we're not careful it will be like Unix Open Standards all over again."

Others were more sanguine about the power of a steering group to nail down a hard definition for cloud services. What is more important for Matt Ballantine, head of IT for branding specialist Imagine is making sure the safeguards are in place to guarantee service levels from providers.

He said: "Two things are vital. Exit strategies from as-a-service services are vital, and a body of common, industry-wide standards are going to be crucial. Of course, much of the emergence of the Cloud has been as a result of such standards through the establishment of Web protocols, so this probably isn't going to be too hard for the industry."

Of much greater importance, though, is for IT leaders to understand what it is they are looking for when pushing services out. For me, as-a-service offers the opportunity to purchase services provided on shared infrastructure of a scale that would be completely uneconomic for my organisation to provide in its own right. That becomes a very attractive proposition whereby we can operate with our large enterprise clients on a level playing field."

However other IT bosses doubt cloud services can ever be defined in the same way as conventional IT architectures.

Denise Plumpton, Director at Centro (part of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority) notes that at the simplistic end of the spectrum, cloud just a new word for outsourcing. But it also refers to a sliding scale of managed services.

She said: "A cloud service, being an infrastructure service, is, by definition, ambiguous. If you ask 50 CIOs for their definition of infrastructure, you'll get at least 50 different answers; the same is true of cloud."

Therefore, Plumpton is wary of trying to lock the term down.

She said: "We need the flexibility to procure the type of service that supports us and gives us best value. There may be some merit in having some common definitions within the overall service, so that it makes it easier to compare offerings from vendors when you're considering responses to your invitation to tender, but that's as far as it should go."

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