Have you ever heard about the cloud but had no idea what “the cloud” was referring to? Chances are you’re using cloud software and services all the time: Flickr, Google Drive, even your own email. What all these services have in common is that they can store information via the Internet. This means that you can access them from virtually anywhere in the world as long as you’re connected to the Internet. This also allows for multiple users to view and edit information simultaneously. Group projects are no longer limited to being in the same place at once. The system enables connecting information via Internet is what we refer to as “the cloud.”
The concept of the cloud began in the 1950s when scientists would share CPU (Central Processing Unit) time on a mainframe. This would later be known as time-sharing, allowing multiple users to essentially “share time.” J.C.R. Licklider was a computer scientist who had a vision for the world to be connected by accessing data from any site, from anywhere.
The Enablers: VM, Internet, and Bandwidth
In the 1970s a new technology that was critical to shape what cloud computing looks like was born. IBM created an operating system known as a virtual machine. Virtual Machines (VMs) are virtualization software where it became possible to use one or more operating systems simultaneously in an isolated environment. This allowed multiple, distinct computing environments to reside on one physical environment. This means that every individual user could have their own machine with its own memory and processor, but many users would share the physical resources such as the monitor and computer.
For about 15 years, even with the rise of virtual machines, cloud computing didn’t take off. Computers were still an uncommon technology in the workplace, and more so in the home. They were simply too expensive for companies to outfit their entire staff and they were still too slow to persuade companies to make a significant change. So the cloud revolution had to take a backseat until engineers were able to advance technology to make computers both fast and affordable.
The concept of the cloud did not actually gain traction until the 1990s when faster Internet bandwidth and virtual machines became more commonplace in larger companies. For example, telecommunications companies who previously offered point-to-point data circuits, now offered VPN (virtual private network) services. This was a good alternative to their corporate IT system in place. One distinct advantage was that cloud computing where computer resources were shared was much more cost effective.
In the 2000s, Salesforce.com was the first company that really paved the way for the concept of delivering elite applications on a simple website, what is known as SaaS—Software as a Service. Salesforce is a SaaS company that relies on customer relationship management.
Another company that pioneered cloud computing is Amazon. Most of us refer to Amazon as the site where you can shop at the convenience of your home. However, in addition to being an e-commerce giant, it is also a key player in bring the cloud to the masses. In 2002, Amazon began to offer their web services to the public. This allowed users to access storage, apps and computational solutions through the Internet. They built further upon their website in 2006 when developers could rent out space on their computers to store and develop their own apps.
Here is a list of key milestones in the evolution of cloud computing:
- Grid computing: Solving large problems with parallel computing
- Utility computing: Offering computing resources as metered service
- SaaS: Network-based subscriptions to applications
- Cloud computing: Anytime, anywhere access to IT resources delivered dynamically as a service
It’s difficult to image our lives without the cloud today. It’s thanks to the cloud that we can network and connect people from all over the world. The evolution of the cloud has allowed companies and businesses to grow at a record pace, maximizing resources and knowledge.
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