How to explain cloud to your spouse


rental car cloud computingI love my wife, but sometimes she drives me crazy.  She is an elementary school counselor with a Master’s degree, so you know that she is a good listener, is intelligent, and is also very patient. Yet somehow when it comes time for me to talk about my day or what I work on for a living, that patience and those listening skills suddenly diminish.  So when I sat down to write a blog today, I thought to myself, “What could be a better topic than explaining something from work in a way she could more easily understand?”

Whenever I try to explain a new topic to someone, I like to use analogies.  In this case, I chose rental cars. I’ll spend the rest of the post describing the four ways that rental cars are like cloud computing in a way that even my wife would be willing to read.

(Related: Cloud computing basics)

1) Rental cars are available when and where you need them.

When we fly somewhere to go on vacation, we usually rent a car. It is very easy to do, and in most areas in the United States, you need a car in order to get around. When we go skiing in Colorado, we rent a car. When we go to Michigan in the summer, we rent a different one. It doesn’t matter if the cars are provided by different rental car companies; they serve the same purpose and are designed to do the same thing. Very similar in cloud computing, we can access the computing resources we need when and where we need them.

2) When you rent a car, you pay only for the time you use it.

When we travel to these various cities, obviously it doesn’t make sense to buy a car in each one of them. We don’t need the car all the time, so we don’t want to own it all the time.  When we have these temporary needs, we rent a car for the location and time that we need it, without being required to buy and maintain it permanently. In a typical cloud computing environment, it works the same way; companies pay only for what they actually use. Instead of saving the cost of buying and maintaining a car, they are saving the money required to buy large computers.

(Related: How does cloud computing work?)

3) Booking a rental car is easy to do by yourself.

Before we go on a trip, we never actually call and talk to a person at the rental car company to reserve a rental car. All of the rental car companies have websites designed for you to enter the type of car you need, where you want to pick it up, and for what time period you want to use the car. This same self-service method is used for cloud computing. Companies can log into websites to request the specific computer resources that they need.

4) The rental car company has a large number of vehicles that it can rent, and can buy more cars to rent if there are consistently many requests.

Car rental companies have many types of cars that they rent out, but effectively, the cars all serve the same purpose: they get you from point A to point B. However, there is a difference between a compact car and a luxury SUV. To account for this, rental car companies have the flexibility to offer various prices for various car sizes. They also have the ability to provide a higher class car than reserved. This allows them have a smaller total number of cars than what would be needed if they had to keep a specific number of each class of car. This practice is like grouping a large number of computers together to form a cloud. The computers might be different models or have different sizes of hardware, but when you group them all together into a resource pool, you ensure you have enough power to go around.

I’m definitely going to try this analogy on my wife; perhaps her reaction (or lack thereof) will be the topic of my next post.  If you try this explanation on your spouse, I’d love to hear about it.  Let me know @TalkToErik.

(Check out Part 2: How to explain cloud to your spouse)

Learn more about cloud basics in our series: Cloud 101

What is cloud computing?

How does cloud computing work?

Cloud computing basics

What is platform as a service (PaaS)?

What is infrastructure as a service (IaaS)?

What is software as a service (SaaS)?

What is hybrid cloud? 

Top 7 most common uses of cloud computing

Is cloud computing secure?

What is dynamic cloud?

How to explain cloud to your spouse

What is mobile cloud computing?

Comments: 28
Erik Anderson

About Erik Anderson

Erik has been with IBM for over eleven years, most recently as the Senior Architect for Worldwide Technical Sales Demo Strategy within Cloud & Smarter Infrastructure. In this role, he looks at the strategic aspects of how to better create and deliver compelling demonstrations to the field and improve the products in the process. Prior to that, he spent several years in Enablement shaping the technical enablement strategy and structuring the cloud curriculum. He also kept his technical edge by developing technical training for many of the different C&SI cloud solutions for a wide range of audiences. Previously, he worked in support on some of the most challenging issues and critical situations around the globe. He is a veteran speaker at user groups and conferences, has co-authored a Redbook, published patents, and authored certification exams. He is also ITIL certified and an Open Group Master Certified IT Specialist. Find him on Twitter @TalkToErik.
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28 Responses to How to explain cloud to your spouse

  1. Thiago Viola Thiago Viola says:

    Sometimes to explain to my wife and other non-TI friends it's complicated, but That is the better explanation that I've seen before, and I'm gonna to share !! :D

  2. @adamcboggs says:

    Great post Erik…I'm still waiting till our cars are automated, traffic data, engine speed, routing, driving habits all through the cloud.

    • @TalkToErik says:

      Thanks Adam! If I sit back and think about how technology has changed the way that we live and work even in the last 10 years, it's almost mind boggling. It's pretty exciting (and almost scary) to think about what the next 10 might bring. There are already cities around the world using things like variable rates for tolls on congested roads to reduce traffic. Maybe we are closer than we might think.

  3. Paul Grolla says:

    So your bio says "recently he has moved into the SmartCloud". Does that mean you are "available when and where" needed?
    I too like a good analogy. I usually think of the cloud for storage for my small needs but this does help explain cloud computing a bit better. Good luck up there in the cloud.

    • @TalkToErik says:

      Thanks Paul! I certainly sometimes feel like I'm up in the clouds… and with all the travel I'm sometimes called upon to do, I am more often than you'd think. Glad to hear you liked the analogy.

  4. @muindichris says:

    Thanks Erick
    As Thiago said elaborating how cloud works to non IT pros is quite a task but it gives me a good feeling when they get the concept…..will definitely try out this approach and see how it works

    • @TalkToErik says:

      I couldn't agree more. I initially wrote this with my wife in mind, but then realized there were several people (friends, my parents, etc.) that also had no idea about what I did or what I work on. I hope it works well for you!

  5. @DigitalDruid0 says:

    Point Four can be expanded for use in "Fit for Purpose" and workload thinking…

    You will most likely rent a different vehicle (4×4 SUV) to go skiing than you might if you wanted to cruise to Key West (convertible).

    You will also most likely rent a truck if you need to move your household goods.

    So, similarly, the work you need to get done and how you need to get it done (NFRs) drive the selection of a particular HW platform and SW stack "in the cloud".

  6. Larry Dial says:

    Great analogy.. and a great article Erik.

  7. Simon says:

    Great post Erik – another good point would be 'Disaster Recovery' – If you rental car breaks down or you have an accident then the rental company will replace the car – or provide roadside assistance – DR in the cloud works much the same way – if your production machine fails then you have a 'backup' ready to take over and get your business up & running. In fact DR in the cloud is the number 1 adoption of the cloud technology so far!

    • @TalkToErik says:

      Thank you Simon! The more I think about the example and more people share these other aspects to how it fits, the more I like it. Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

    • DonM says:

      Plus, general maintenance… like a rental car, you are not responsible for fixing problems or general up-keep. You don't need to know how to fix it yourself or hire a specialist/mechanic to repair it.

  8. great explanation Erik!!

  9. @rhtraining says:

    A really good explanation, something I can use. thank you Erik

  10. jerryhumble says:

    Great analogy Erik. I'm going to try it tonight. BUT what if they then ask me, OK, i get the rental cars but what is a 'private' cloud, vs. 'hybrid' cloud vs. 'public' cloud?

    • @TalkToErik says:

      Thanks Jerry! I hope it went well for you. I think after all the interest in this post I might need to write some follow up articles. Maybe next time I can tackle this one for you. :)

    • jwc says:

      Private cloud would be the car that our family rents for the vacation. Only our family gets to use its services. A public cloud would be the bus that we use to get from the airport to the rental company. Finally, a hybrid cloud example is the integration between the bus and the cars, without both, your rental experience would not be of the same, high quality experience.

  11. Vicki Flaherty says:

    Simple. I like that! Analogies work wonders and you did a great job picking one. Thanks!

    • @TalkToErik says:

      Thanks Vicki! I'm thrilled that this post has received such a positive response. Now all I need to do is write my next post. I've been thinking about other topics that would be useful to explain to "my spouse."

  12. @TalkToErik says:

    I just wanted to let everyone know who might stumble across this blog post that "Part 2" in the series is available here:…. Let me know what you think!

  13. @TalkToErik says:

    If you want to find out more about what is cloud computing, check out my latest post here:

  14. leslie bridges says:

    There is a fundamental problem with this analogy. And I strongly believe that a solid analogy is necessary to help people grasp the value of the cloud. For the small business marketplace (read: cost sensitivity) – we all still buy cars rather than rent them because in the long run it is perceived to be less expensive. Do you have thoughts about how to help a cash-strapped small business get the idea that on-premise is more expensive?


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