There's a new term floating around in cloud computing — in addition to the now popular public, private and hybrid categories of cloud services, this phrase evokes mental images of swaddling blankets, diapers and “binkies.”

But just like the cloud as a whole, professionals closer to IT have to work to figure out what "born in the cloud" means before breaking out the cigars.

Let's take a look at what some analysts and others are using to describe born in the cloud services, and what companies should look for from vendors.

Pure Cloud

One of the defining characteristics of born in the cloud providers is that they're not legacy vendors. Some top experts describe born in the cloud companies as “never having sold a single piece of hardware.” There's the idea that born in the cloud represents a generational change for cloud services, and a new generation of post-millennial companies that have nothing to do with the traditional systems for delivering software applications and services.

In fact, this is one of the Achilles' heels of the born in the cloud movement — the idea that these types of vendors may not be optimal for companies that still need help with migration. However, by and large, some of the pundits most clued in to the world of cloud services are calling born in the cloud the stuff of the future, and implying that those old legacy companies won't really be around much longer.

Born in the Cloud Criteria

To really understand born in the cloud, it's crucial to consider that "not selling hardware" or "not offering legacy services" does not really truly define what born in the cloud is. Most define this category as a special breed of vendors with a pretty distinct criteria. For example, in an April post on GoodData, writer Cole O’Shaughnessy provides these types of criteria for born in the cloud services:

  • Developed specifically for cloud computing benefits, like scalability and elasticity
  • Stacks leveraged for a seamless back-end and front-end experience
  • Constant innovation

Elsewhere on the Web, others are also make the point about agility. On Channel Partners, Khali Henderson breaks down some of the input from Gartner VP Tiffani Bova, in suggesting that born in the cloud providers have to be active in software and applications development, focused on particular results for clients, and able to utilize open APIs and other tools to their own, and their clients’, advantage. Henderson points out that born in the cloud providers can sell their own services or someone else's services — the common thread is the invention of a new sales methodology that breaks through traditional barriers like fee pricing, transaction processing and even that conventional process of vendors talking to their customers. Henderson's article uses the example of a company called Burstorm, which apparently created its own database that can sell products better than people.

In many senses, it's this kind of innovation that defines born in the cloud vendors — and their concrete abilities and advancements are what allow them into this super-exclusive club.

The Wave of the Future

An article on EMC, a global cloud company, defines born in the cloud in a different way, starting with a funny pop quote from Jason Segel and pivoting into a portrayal of a future world of driverless cars, wearable computers and all sorts of other innovations. The writer points out that the applications that will support these technologies will be much more agile than today's software products. This is how many analysts define born in the cloud — citing changes like server-centric backup, changing data center models and cloud-specific methods of data in transit, this article talks about issues of deployment, cross-platform data indexing and the idea that companies need one "master key" for cloud services, instead of an incremental set of services that may be more constrained by information silos.

Stepping back a little bit from some of the jargon-heavy descriptions of born in the cloud services, we can see that applying this label involves more than just listening to a new vendor’s talking points hawking flashy products. It means looking into how a company tackles client solutions, and the driving philosophies behind what it's offering.

Dan Miklovic is an analyst at LNS Research.

Miklovic breaks down cloud services into distinguishing categories: BITC services, he says, exist only for the cloud, and are usually sold by subscription or traded as freeware. By contrast, says Miklovic, “Cloud first but not cloud only” services may have started out as on-premise software, but were redesigned for the cloud. “Cloud also” services, in Miklovic’s definition, are services that can be hosted on the cloud, but don’t take advantage of all of those things the cloud offers, such as scalability, rapid spin-up, high security, easy upgrades, etc.

“Clients that are looking for true cloud-based solutions should either opt for ‘born in the cloud’ or ‘cloud first but not cloud only,’ and avoid ‘cloud also’” says Miklovic. “If they believe they may at some point want to move to on-premise, the best option is ‘cloud first but not cloud only.’ If security is a concern, and seamless and continuous upgrades are a want, then ‘born in the cloud’ will get you there quicker.”

Look for all of this to inform the cloud services industry, a field that started out relatively complex and obscure, and isn’t getting any simpler for neophytes.