Cloud computing used to be one of those wispy technical phrases that was hard to define. Was it a new name for outsourcing? A different kind of computer network? Or just marketing nonsense?
But the overcast outlook is beginning to clear: Cloud computing is a new business that lets you rent computers by the hour, the way you might rent a fishing boat.
Just ask Jim Graham, a 3M technical manager, who has launched a new software business from his St. Paul, Minn., research lab without using any 3M computers. Instead it lives "in the cloud," which means 3M's software resides on computers in Microsoft data centers around the world.
His reason: Cloud computing is an inexpensive way to launch a new business for which demand is unknown. Rather than commit to buying or leasing computers, telecommunications lines and data storage, Graham rents them.
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