A timely reality check -- excerpts:
Cutting-edge technology is notoriously difficult to explain, but the term "cloud computing" has a whimsy about it that makes it instantly accessible. More importantly, the term makes one feel that it's OK not to fully understand the details: The computer processing takes place in this thing called the cloud, and as long as it works, no one really needs to know any more about what goes on there.
With the term's meaning broadening, no one in the tech industry wanted to be left behind. These days it's hard to find a tech company that isn't pushing its own brand of cloud computing. Online software? That's cloud computing, as are services that let people store data on the Internet. Virtualization software that lets multiple applications run on a single server? That's cloud computing, too, because it makes leasing server space possible. Oracle Corp. on Monday announced a version of its database software for cloud computing. Dell Inc. recently tried to trademark the term because, the company argued, none of this would be possible without the servers it makes.
So the term has become almost meaningless, though companies continue to use it. "We're in that nutty stage," says Billy Marshall, CEO of rPath Inc., which says it makes technology that enables, you guessed it, cloud computing. "It's absolutely too broad right now."