What is the definition of cloud computing?

Several Salesforce.com speakers at the company’s Cloudforce conference in Singapore yesterday went to great lengths to define what exactly they felt the term ‘cloud computing meant’.

There is a great deal of debate at the moment within the IT community about whether cloud computing can encompass a variety of platforms — for example, extensible infrastructure hosted within a companies’ own datacenters, infrastructure hosted within an IT services company’s datacenters (for example, Fujitsu or CSC), and then infrastructure hosted within a technology vendor’s datacenters (for example, Salesforce.com or Microsoft).

Many in the industry are also interested in defining the term ‘private cloud’ in this context.

Salesforce.com executive vice president for the Asia-Pacific region and Japan, Lindsey Armstrong (pictured), referred to what she called “cloudy” or “ghost cloud” for solutions that didn’t go to the level of software and hardware abstraction as Salesforce.com’s — which are hosted entirely within its own datacenters.

“Private cloud to me is just a datacenter, re-branded,” said Armstrong.

The executive added that the term ‘private cloud’ was really more towards the ASP model that received quite a degree of hype throughout the 1990s and earlier this decade.

Referring to cloud computing solutions that were on customers’ own premises, Salesforce.com director of Platform Research Peter Coffee was even more blunt.

“If someone shows up with a large truck and says ‘I have your cloud here’, contradiction alarms should ring,” he said.

Coffee also took a stab at Microsoft’s rival Azure cloud computing solution, which he said had “finally” arrived this year, “after a year and a half of it being discussed as a brand”.

In general, Coffee is a strong evangelist for cloud computing. He said he was “happy to be challenged over dinner” by anyone who could find an example of where something couldn’t be done in the cloud. “I’d be very happy to find you an example,” he said.

You can view the full video of Armstrong’s presentation — which also included details of Salesforce.com’s APAC financial results for the first quarter of 2011, below.

It matters when we care about helping others

When I arrived in Singapore last night to start blogging for Salesforce.com’s Cloudforce initiative, I was surprised to find that one of the items the company had put in its welcome pack for journalists was a book.

It was entitled The Business of Changing the World: Twenty Great Leaders on Strategic Corporate Philanthropy, and was put together by Salesforce.com chairman and chief executive Marc Benioff with the assistance of Carlye Adler.

Last night and this morning I took a little time out to check out this tome, and learn a little about the corporate philanthropic activities of Salesforce.com (they go right back to the foundation of the company, even when it was a tiny startup), as well as other massive tech giants such as Intel and Dell and even non-technology companies like Starbucks.

What I found surprised me. It seems that even when executives like Benioff and Dell were pursuing radical shake-ups of the world’s technology markets, they had an eye for doing good. Salesforce.com uses a model which it calls ‘1/1/1’ – as a company it devotes 1 pecent of its time, equity and product to increasing the effectiveness of non-profits in pursuing their social missions.

And this morning at a press conference we had a chance to see some of this change in action, with the company announcing a partnership with Singaporean philanthropic house the Lien Foundation that will provide technology solutions to Singapore’s non-profit pre-school sector (further details about this initiative will be online tomorrow).

Now it would be easy to write off Salesforce.com’s efforts in this vein as just your normal corporate charity work – many companies contribute back to the community, and it’s almost expected of large corporates these days.

But what struck me about the announcement was not what was announced, but how.

As Salesforce.com’s executive vice president for Asia-Pacific and Japan, Lindsey Armstrong, revealed the details of the plan and took questions from the press, it was clear she had personally invested some effort into this one and felt quite passionately about aiding Singapore’s pre-schools to get better access to technology.

(As several speakers pointed out, many of the pre-schools have almost no technology support at all – or it is very rudimentary).

Lien Foundation’s chief executive Lee Poh Wah also clearly felt very strongly about the ability of technology to improve things, and this shone through in the energetic way he approached the subject, waving his hands around, his eyes flashing and enthusiastically taking questions.

When you see people passionate about a subject like this, the enthusiasm spreads and it can’t help but catch fire in your mind.

All of this led me to thinking about how I should approach philanthropy in my own company. If Marc Benioff insisted on integrating philanthropy into his business right from its beginning, why aren’t we all?

I don’t have the answers just yet, but it’s something I will keep thinking about.

In the picture, from left to right: Nadhira Koyakutty, head of Early Childhood Education at Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (PPIS), Salesforce.com executive vice president of Asia-Pacific & Japan, Lindsey Armstrong, Lien Foundation CEO Lee Poh Wah, Presbyterian Community Services executive director Laurence Wee.