HP Forgot to Put the 'Cloud' in MagCloud

HP’s MagCloud is pretty cool, as services go. (Even the New York Times seems to like it.) For only 20 cents per page, it lets small-scale magazine publishers with no use for traditional, large-scale printing services create their own high-quality magazines. The MagCloud site also serves as a virtual newsstand where HP handles everything: customer buys a copy, HP outsources the ad hoc print job, and printer ships magazine to buyer. All the publisher has to do is create and upload the magazine.

However, while involving the web and a pay-per-use model might put MagCloud “in the cloud” in the most liberal interpretation of the phrase, it is far from a cloud service. HP should leave MagCloud in its printer division and save the cloud talk for something involving, well, an actual cloud. Vendors who stand to benefit from the cloud (HP, for example) are in serious jeopardy of stretching the already-overdone “cloud” label too thin — and MagCloud is a particularly egregious case in point.

Here’s why:

1. There is no computing being done in the cloud. You can’t say something is “in the cloud” if there is no computing being done on a cloud. If there is no unique software involved (other than InDesign or QuarkXPress, maybe), nothing dynamically distributing load across a collection of machines, it cannot be associated with cloud computing. Is MagCloud a service? Yes. Is it a cloud service? No. At this point, it appears to be little more than CafePress for magazines.

2. It’s not multi-tenant, and it can’t scale. In a cloud, one virtualized box can handle the work of numerous users at once. In MagCloud, it appears that one printing press can handle one job at a time. Traditional printing operations are hardly analogous to the cloud, but, like multi-tenant cloud architectures, they at least achieve economies of scale. And scale? If a publication takes off thanks to MagCloud, it’s “Goodbye, MagCloud. Hello, traditional printer.” The price would overwhelm the publisher, the volume would overwhelm the printer, and the sales model would make the MagCloud marketplace obsolete.

3. It requires an expensive, special-purpose piece of hardware on the backend. But the cloud is the anti-mainframe. In cloud environments, you buy commodity hardware. If a box breaks, you simply replace it. If we stretch the definition of a cloud service to cover anything where both the Internet and some sort of service are involved, the necessity of the Indigo press still makes MagCloud unworthy of the label. If a machine in this “cloud” goes down, it takes half a million dollars to replace it — and I’m guessing more than a few minutes. This collection of digital presses is no Google infrastructure.

The IT world has been pretty accommodating to bending definitions of “cloud,” but there has to be a connection beyond just the web. HP is making some legitimate efforts around cloud computing, including its SaaS-y new Cloud Assure, but MagCloud is not one of them.