This is part one of a three part series discussing the evolution of the cloud. It is a continual and rapid evolution —by the time you have read this, the cloud has likely changed yet again. You might be surprised to hear this, but the idea of the cloud is not a new one. The cloud as we know it is actually an ongoing part of the evolution of technology.
As each human generation has its unique traits, each cloud generation takes on unique traits. In this series I’ll share with you the story of the evolution of the cloud as I have experienced it as a veteran of the IT industry.
Once upon a time…
Baby Boomers were happy to have running water and a telephone, the cloud was something rain came from. Computers existed, but they certainly weren’t found in your household — because a single computer was the size of an entire household! Computers were not a part of everyday life or business.
Then Generation X came along and with it a new brand of computer that had a monochrome terminal screen and connected to a single giant computer called a mainframe. The terminals were called “dumb terminals” because they did not do anything but show the information transmitted to and from the mainframe.
The mainframe was a giant that lived in the datacenter (and you thought that was a modern term!). This really was the same concept as today’s cloud – access information remotely from a terminal connected to the main computer. However, the capabilities were limited, the number of software applications were limited and we did not possess the worldwide superhighway known as the Internet to make access so ubiquitous.
(History buffs will be quick to point out that the Internet actually began its birth in the 1960s with ARPANET and became more “Internet-like” in the 1980s.)
In the mid-1990s, the last restrictions were removed from the private Internet to become the public Internet we know today that fully carries commercial traffic. As we all know, the Internet has changed the lives of everyone on the planet.
As Gen Y entered the fold we were in the middle of the 1980s with bad hair and briefcase-sized cell phones. Computers were popping up from IBM, Atari, etc. with names like 8088 and Commodore. Although not used for accessing the Internet initially, things were changing at an exponential pace and it wasn’t long before we had smartphones, WiFi, tablets and the ability to surf the web from airplanes.
Gen Y was truly born with a silver computer in their hand, and they used technology as a natural appendage.
It was during this time some really smart guys figured out how to make a single physical computer (a server) act and run like many virtual servers. Virtualization was here.
This was a major game changer! Now what took millions of dollars and rack upon rack of computer hardware and software could be done with just a few servers running many virtual servers. This virtualization allowed for tremendous gains in efficiencies and greater flexibility and scalability at an enormous level.
Large companies started moving their software into the datacenter to be run on virtual servers and used the more readily available Internet to access those systems. Suddenly company employees around the country and around the world could access software from any computer connected to the Internet.
Gen Xers were now arguing with Gen Yers that this was old news and “back in the day” the same thing was done with mainframes.
It wasn’t too long before entrepreneurs started to see opportunities beyond just large enterprises running their own software.
What if you created software and ran it in a datacenter and offered access to that software to anyone with a device that could access the Internet? By doing so, you not only could avoid having to load software on each machine, you could charge a monthly recurring fee for using the software. Venture capitalists drooled over the possibility of recurring revenue.
Websites started popping up almost daily offering everything from groceries to books. Amazon.com went online in 1995, and we all know the history it has made for itself. Salesforce.com began in 1999 and is now ranked the most innovative company in America by Forbes magazine. When you add the social media sites, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. the names become endless.
So when did the term “cloud” come into play? Well, for years and years, systems engineers made visual network diagrams and a cloud symbol was often used in these diagrams to represent areas outside of their network. At some point, marketers got ahold of the term and used it to generally represent all the software, hardware and infrastructure sold as services “in the cloud.”
As someone who has been in technology since 1990, I don’t see the cloud as a new technology or new product, but rather a new way to describe much of what we were already doing. As with many things, marketers have helped make the “cloud” what it is today.