A Brief History of Cloud Computing

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Cloud ComputingIn 1963, DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), presented MIT with $2 million for Project MAC. The funding included a requirement MIT develop technology allowing for a “computer to be used by two or more people, simultaneously.” In this case, one of those gigantic, archaic computers using reels of magnetic tape for memory and was the precursor to what has now become collectively known as Cloud Computing. It acted as a primitive Cloud with two or three people accessing it. The word “Virtualization” was used to describe this situation, though the word’s meaning later expanded.

In 1969, J. C. R. Licklider helped develop the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), a “very” primitive version of the Internet. JCR, or “Lick” was both a psychologist and a computer scientist, and promoted a vision called the “Intergalactic Computer Network,” in which everyone on the planet would be interconnected by way of computers, and able to access information from anywhere. (What could such an unrealistic, impossible-to-pay-for, fantasy of the future look like?) The Intergalactic Computer Network, otherwise known as the Internet, is necessary for access to the Cloud.

The meaning of Virtualization began shifting in the 1970s, and now describes the creation of a virtual machine, that acts like a real computer, with a fully functional operating system. The concept of Virtualization has evolved with the Internet, as businesses began offering “virtual” private networks as a rentable service. The use of virtual computers became popular in the 1990s, leading to the development of the modern Cloud Computing infrastructure.

The Late 1990s

In its early stages, the Cloud was used to express the empty space between the end user and the provider. In 1997, Professor Ramnath Chellapa of Emory University defined Cloud Computing as the new “computing paradigm, where the boundaries of computing will be determined by economic rationale, rather than technical limits alone.” This somewhat ponderous description rings true in describing the Cloud’s evolution.

The Cloud gained popularity as companies gained a better understanding of its services and usefulness. In 1999, Salesforce became a popular example of using Cloud Computing successfully. They used it to pioneer the idea of using the Internet to deliver software programs to the end users. The program (or application) could be accessed and downloaded by anyone with Internet access. Businesses could purchase the software in an on-demand, cost-effective manner, without leaving the office.

The Early 2000s

In 2002, Amazon introduced its web-based retail services. It was the first major business to think of using only 10% of their capacity (which was commonplace at the time) as a problem to be solved. The Cloud Computing Infrastructure Model gave them the flexibility to use their computer’s capacity much more efficiently. Soon after, other large organizations followed their example.

In 2006, Amazon launched Amazon Web Services, which offers online services to other websites, or clients. One of Amazon Web Services’ sites, called Amazon Mechanical Turk, provides a variety of Cloud-based services including storage, computation and “human intelligence.” Another of Amazon Web Services’ sites is the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), allowing individuals to rent virtual computers and use their own programs and applications.

In the same year, Google launched the Google Docs services. Google Docs was originally based on two separate products, Google Spreadsheets and Writely. Google purchased Writely, which offers renters the ability to save documents, edit documents, and transfer them into blogging systems. (These documents are compatible with Microsoft Word.) Google Spreadsheets (acquired from 2Web Technologies, in 2005) is an Internet-based program allowing users to develop, update, and edit spreadsheets, and to share the data online. An Ajax-based program is used, which is compatible with  Microsoft Excel. The spreadsheets can be saved in an HTML format.

In 2007, IBM, Google, and several universities joined forces to develop a server farm for research projects needing both fast processors and huge data sets. The University of Washington was the first to sign up and use resources provided by IBM and Google. Carnegie Mellon University, MIT, Stanford University, the University of Maryland, and the University of California at Berkeley, quickly followed suit. The universities immediately realized computer experiments can be done faster and for less money, if IBM and Google were supporting their research. Since much of the research was focused on problems IBM and Google had interests in, they also benefitted from the arrangement.  2007 was also the year when Netflix launched it’s streaming video service, using the Cloud, and provided support for the practice of “binge-watching.”

Eucalyptus offered the first AWS API compatible platform, which was used for distributing private Clouds, in 2008. In the same year, NASA’s OpenNebula provided the first open-source software for deploying Private and Hybrid Clouds. Many of its most innovative features focused on the needs of major businesses.

In 2011, IBM introduced the IBM SmartCloud framework, in support of Smarter Planet (a cultural thinking project). Then, Apple launched the ICloud, which focuses on storing more personal information (photos, music, videos, etc.). Also, during this year, Microsoft began advertising the Cloud on television, making the general public aware of its ability to store photos, or video, with easy access.

Oracle introduced the Oracle Cloud in 2012, offering the three basics for business, IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service), PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service), and SAAS (Software-as-a-Service).

What to Expect

A customer using a Public Cloud service can have three basic expectations. First, customers rent the services, instead of purchasing hardware and software to accomplish the same goal. Second, the vendor is responsible for all the administration, maintenance, capacity planning, backups, and troubleshooting. And finally, for many business projects, it is simply faster and easier to use the Cloud. It comes with huge amounts of storage, the ability to handle multiple projects, and more availability to a variety of users, simultaneously.

There are essentially two kinds of Public Clouds. One serves individuals for personal use, and one serves businesses. Cloud Computing storage for personal use allows easy access and file sharing. Data stored on the Cloud, such as photographs and music, can be shared with friends using a smart phone or a friends laptop, while protecting personal data from loss and damage. The services offered by the business Cloud are quite different, and fall into three basic categories of service:

  • IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) deals with raw computing capacity. IaaS is the most basic service, and provides a server, or servers, in the cloud, along with storage. IaaS customers are often tech companies that typically have a great deal of IT expertise. The goal is to have access to computing power, without the responsibilities of installation or maintenance.
  • PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) supports writing software for computer systems that need it. This Cloud-based service lets businesses write software for integrating existing applications, or develop custom applications. PaaS environments are equipped with software development technologies, such as .NET, Python, Ruby on Rails, and Java. When the code is finished, the service provider will host it, making it available to other internet users. Currently, PaaS is the smallest part of the Cloud Computing market, and has been used by businesses wanting to outsource part of their infrastructure.
  • SAAS (Software-as-a-Service) provides software. This part of the Cloud is the largest and most developed. It is a program, or a suite of applications, available within the Cloud, rather than a computer’s hard drive.


By 2014, Cloud Computing had developed its basic features, and security had become the primary focus. Cloud security has become a fast-growing service, because of its importance to customers. Cloud security has advanced significantly in the last two years, and now provides protection comparable to traditional IT security systems. This includes the protection of critical information from accidental deletion, theft, and data leakage. Having said that, security is, and may always be, the primary concern of most Cloud users.

Private Clouds

Currently, businesses can develop a Private Cloud system, designed for their particular needs. These Private Clouds store, and can share, sensitive data. Staff “can” also use, Public Clouds, or a combination of the two, called a Hybrid Cloud. Much of the modern business consumer market relies on Cloud services. Private Cloud Computing is currently used for email, to log-in on online gaming platforms, and for Facebook.

These Private Clouds are basically data centers, using many of the basic Cloud technologies. Private Clouds offer all the advantages of a Public Cloud, but have the advantage of controlling security and privacy concerns. The situation, however, leads to a bit of a dilemma.

Over time, Public Cloud Computing companies, who are intensely competitive, will expand their scalability and lower prices. Many Private Cloud owners will probably not be able to keep up, after having invested a small fortune in their own system. One must also add to the equation the Amazon Web Services “Cloud outage,” causing client websites to become inaccessible, or difficult to work with, for several hours. It must also be understood a Private Cloud could suffer the same kind of problem, quite possibly with a longer outage.


Photo Credit: deepadesigns/Shutterstock.com

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