When you think about it, “cloud computing” is not that easy to define, but to me the key things are that (a) there’s a utility model involved for provisioning, as you would get with electricity or water, (b) other people deal with all the technological details, maintenance, etc., and © nothing lives at, or comes from, any particular place. If I wonder where my Dropbox data is, nobody knows offhand; if I wonder where my Windows installation is, I can point to its physical location. To sum these criteria up, I guess I would say metered use, virtualization, and dispersal.

When I hear about services like Storably, which lets you rent small amounts of storage space from perfect strangers, I start to wonder about whether we are setting up a “physical cloud”. Storably sort of fits all the criteria I listed above: you pay for as much space as you need, you don’t have to worry about the details of the space, and while it is true that you’d know where your stuff is, you wouldn’t know or care in advance (compare this to using a storage facility, where you pick from a finite number of large, defined storage warehouses).

Another example would be AirBNB. It’s “metered use” in the sense that you pay for just the space you use - there’s no subscription fee or anything like that, you just pay for as much AirBNB space as you might want in a given month. Again, you’re not worrying about any of the details of the space (maintenance, monthly rent) and you don’t know in advance where you’re going to be. Other examples of this model are TaskRabbit and its competitors, and ZipCar.

I’m not sure, I may just be taking the metaphor too far. But I wonder what other “physical cloud” services we could come up with, or what services might already constitute the “physical cloud”? Is IKEA “cloud furniture ownership” because IKEAs are everywhere, and IKEA furniture can be easily and cheaply replaced?