In this potted history we explore some of the key enabling technologies and economic concepts that underpin cloud computing.
Cloud computing may not be for everyone or for everything, or even cheaper than on-premise, in some cases. Also there are many thorny operational and legal issues to consider. But it represents a "big shift in the way things are done in the IT domain," David Bradshaw, a cloud computing specialist at the analyst firm IDC, told us in 2011. “It might be slow at the start but in 10 years’ time, we’ll look back and see that it has transformed everything. It is at least as big a shift as the switch to client/server computing."
1960s John McCarthy
Many of the key concepts of Cloud Computing are rooted in the early 1960s and the trailblazer was John McCarthy (above), the celebrated computer scientist, who is best known as the father of Artificial Intelligence. He devised the notion of timesharing, enabling organisations to simultaneously use an expensive mainframe. This cut computing costs and is described as a significant contribution to the development of the internet, and a precursor of cloud computing – a method of storing data on a remote server accessible via the internet.
Before the PC: IBM invents virtualisation
1962 Intergalactic Computer Network
JCR Licklider, DARPA's first head of research, is hailed as the first person to grasp the notion of the computer as a networked communication device - not just a mathematical machine for speeding up computations. In 1962, 'Lick" wrote a series of memos to his colleagues introducing the "Intergalactic Computer Network". He envisioned time-sharing applications networked across many computers.
Internet Hall of Fame Pioneer: J.C.R. Licklider
Early 1960s Packet Switching
Watch the Video on YouTube
So 'Lick' had devised the application: computer networking. But how to build it? Help was on hand from colleagues and other computer scientists, who were working on the revolutionary concept of packet switching.
In this video, UCLA's Professor Leonard Kleinrock, pioneer of mathematical theory of packet switching, discusses the differences between circuit switches and packet switching and the early history of the Internet.
In his research in the early 1960s, he explored the "principles of resource sharing on a demand basis". The outcome - "a surprise result, actually," Kleinrock says was that the "larger the system, the more efficient the system works".
"On the evening of October 29, 1969 the first data travelled between two nodes of the ARPANET, a key ancestor of the Internet." So begins the Computer History Museum's celebration of the 40th anniversary of its birth.
Funded by the US Department of Defense's DARPA research wing, ARPANET initially linked four computers at four US universities, and developed into the first successful large-scale packet-switched network.
October 29, 1969: Happy 40th Birthday to a Radical Idea!
The Birth and Development of the ARPANET
The Rise And Fall of the ARPANET (1969-1989) in One GIF
1997 Here comes the cloud
The first known academic usage and definition of the term Cloud Computing seems to be by Prof. Ramnath Chellappa of Emory University and University of Southern California, in a talk titled Intermediaries in Cloud-Computing, presented at the INFORMS meeting in Dallas in 1997. His definition? A “computing paradigm where the boundaries of computing will be determined by economic rationale rather than technical limits alone.” This is a key foundational concept for cloud computing.
The 10 laws of cloudonomics
Bangs for bucks: The Register's lightning tour of cloudonomics
VMware was founded in 1998, and "until the launch of its eponymous product the next year, the PC’s x86 architecture had been considered to be impossible to fully virtualise," writes The Register's Liam Proven. Although virtualisation had been around for years on IBM mainframes and on Sun and IBM's big Unix servers, VMware's arrival marked the rapid advance of the virtual data centre, built on commodity hardware. As such, virtualisation is key technology enabler for cloud computing.
Simon Wardley: Why the term "Enterprise Cloud" can be so misleading
The first significant software as a service vendor Salesforce.com was founded by Oracle exec Mark Benioff. By delivering its customer relationship management software over the web at monthly per-seat prices, Salesforce made enterprise applications affordable for the first time to smaller and medium-sized businesses.
Report: Cloud could slash biz software energy use by 87%
2002 Amazon Web Services
Today Amazon is the cloud computing giant that hardware vendors fear most. But it kicked off Amazon Web Services, with some modest storage and compute services. It also offered human crowdsourcing piecemeal work through the Amazon Mechanical Turk – still going, although we have no idea how a big a deal this is.
Amazon cloud threatens entire IT ecosystem – report
2006 Elastic Cloud
In 2006, Amazon launched three web services aimed at developers: the Simple Storage Service (S3) offering unlimited internet storage, the Simple Queue Service for reliable message delivery, and the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) that enabled companies to create and manage virtual server instances on a pay-as you go basis. On-demand usage and elasticity - compute can contract and burst as required, are key concepts of cloud computing economics.
Businessweek, Nov 2006: Jefo Bezos' Risky Bet
Five reasons why you'll take your storage to the cloud- and five reasons why you won't
2008 CAPEX vs. OPEX
One underlying idea of cloud computing is that it removes the need for upfront capital expenditure - if you’re renting applications and infrastructure in the cloud. It can be run out of operational expenditure without any capital expenditure commitments.
In 2008 Gartner, the technology consulting firm, sees opportunity for cloud computing "to shape the relationship among consumers of IT services, those who use IT services and those who sell them".
"Organizations are switching from company-owned hardware and software assets to per-use service-based models" so that the "projected shift to computing ... will result in dramatic growth in IT products in some areas and significant reductions in other areas."
2008: Gartner says cloud computing will be as influential As E-business
2011 NIST publishes cloud computing definition
After 15 drafts and years in the making, the US's National Institute of Standards and Techology published the standards definition of Cloud Computing. This lists "five essential characteristics of cloud computing: on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity or expansion, and measured service. It also lists three "service models" (software, platform and infrastructure), and four "deployment models" (private, community, public and hybrid) that together categorize ways to deliver cloud services."
As Reg contributor Danny Bradbury writes, rapid elasticity enables customers to "quickly scale up services as needed, while self-provisioning portals let them access those services quickly and efficiently, without having to go through a central administrator. The measured service aspect of cloud provisioning includes metering capabilities that let customers understand exactly what they are using, and how much it costs.
"Behind that customer facing functionality lies an efficient, well-managed infrastructure that makes use of virtualisation, automated server management, and resource pooling. This builds greater flexibility into a service provider’s infrastructure, while also making more efficient use of it."
Final Version of NIST Cloud Computing Definition Published
The Register guide to the Private Cloud
Trevor Pott's guide to pricing up the cloud
2013: NSA, PRISM and data sovereignty
OK, so the cloud works for you financially, but security considerations may be a headache. What about the sovereignty of the data you hold, for yourself or your clients? How do you ensure that you comply with data protection laws, when the US's National Security Agency (NSA) rides roughshod over ISPs, cloud computing firms, mobile phone networks, as whistleblower Edward Snowden's PRISM leaks reveal?
Here is some advice from Reg sysadmin columnist Aaron Milne.
- Go local when and where you can. For some countries this will be a difficult proposition. But it’s getting easier as cloud services trickle down and your local vPosse will be able to help with recommendations.
- When going global, maintain data sovereignty awareness. Sometimes, you just can’t go local. Read the EULA and do your homework.
- Make your clients aware of potential issues with data sovereignty. Get liability waivers signed by the client. Even with the current absence of law, they should be enough to save your ass.
World+Dog hates PRISM: Cloud Security Alliance
Sysadmins: Keep your data away from NSA spooks
NSA Prism: Why I'm boycotting US cloud tech - and you should too
2013: The public cloud giants
Gartner forecasts Worldwide Public Cloud Services Market to total $131bn, up 18.5 per cent on 2012, with IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) the fastest growing market service.
Early days yet, but three companies have already emerged as the major public cloud companies: Amazon, Google and Microsoft. IBM with its acquisition of Softlayer in 2013may have the muscle to form a fourth big competitor, but El Reg's Jack Clark is dubious. The big three have a major consumer internet presence and a willingness to cut prices. IBM has neither, he writes.
Gartner public cloud market forecast for 2013
Cloud computing will be the dominant IT trend - but not ubiquitous. Some mission-critical enterprise apps will not lend themselves to cloudification and security concerns for some will trump cost considerations. But why would you not use cloud versions of software such as CRM, email, billing and office apps?
The transition to cloud from 2013-2020 will be messy. Already hardware vendors and web hosting firms are seeing their businesses cannibalised by bigger cloud platform vendors. Many lower-end IT jobs are being lost too, as companies automate and orchestrate more apps. But cheaper compute and storage costs will enable a new breed of IT vendors to develop applications and services atop this cloud infrastructure. And commodity IT services and apps in the cloud will enable customers to reduce IT budgets, or spend more on apps that add value.
The upshot is that cloud computing could contribute up to €250bn to EU GDP in 2020 and 3.8m jobs, admittedly with some policy interventions, according to research conducted by IDC for the European Commission.
EC: Quantitative estimates of the demand for cloud computing in Europe and the likely barriers to uptake
All hail our cloud computing overlords