A Brief History of Cloud Computing

“It’s in the cloud.” If you’ve been paying attention at all, you’ve heard this notorious buzzword thrown around quite a bit in the last few years. The cloud — that nebulous collection of networks and servers — lets you to do everything from stream Netflix to access your list of shows to collaborating on work documents with office colleagues.

But where, exactly, did the cloud come from? It may seem like the cloud sprang up out of nowhere, but like most technological advances, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. The origins of the cloud go way, way back — long before anyone could imagine having a computer in their home, let alone watching TV on something called the Internet. Learning about its evolution will give you an understanding of just how powerful an idea can be. The invention of cloud computing seems like an inevitability, in retrospect. Here’s how it all began — and how we got to where we are now.

Cloud Computing: An Origin Story

Like the best myths, everyone has their own version of where and when the cloud originated. Many put the date all the way back to 1955, when the idea of computing timeshares emerged. In those days, cutting-edge commercial computers, like the IBM 702, took up roughly the square footage of a roomy Brooklyn apartment — and cost just about as much to rent. Leasing one of these monster computers could run a business around $200,000 a month in today’s dollars. As you might imagine, this made them inaccessible to your everyday company. But smaller organizations still wanted to leverage the computing power of these early machines — after all, computers saved enormous amounts of time on routine business functions like accounting and record keeping.

To make it more affordable, computing “service bureaus” were launched. These bureaus allowed multiple businesses to share the same central computer, similar to a vacation timeshare. Service bureaus did the work of managing and scheduling users to make sure everyone got fair use. In the 60s and 70s, these bureaus realized they could allow two or more people to access the mainframe computer at the same time by setting up dumb terminals for each user. Each terminal had access to a selection of hosted applications and used an assortment of protocols to keep users from getting in each other’s way. These protocols looked a lot like the ones that govern traffic on modern cloud servers today.

The Rise of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and the Evolution of the Cloud

Now let’s jump forward a few years to the 1990s, which is when some people believe cloud computing truly began. Back when Madonna was topping the charts and crimped hair was all the rage, telecommunications companies began offering their clients virtual private networks (VPN) as an alternative to point-to-point data circuits. This allowed companies to securely — and remotely — access servers without a huge infrastructure investment. To maximize network bandwidth, the telecommunications companies began switching traffic, balancing server demand like a modern cloud network.

Of course, not long after, the world wide web and its first browsers made the Internet available for commercial use — and the web as we know it was born. Toward the late 1990s, the Internet boom had exploded, so rapidly that far-seeing companies started to realize how powerful it might be to move their services from licensed software to software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. One of the major players in this evolution was Salesforce.com, which began to allow users access to their enterprise applications from an online website in 1999. That move triggered a host of other online applications from all kinds of companies. Now, companies that don’t offer SaaS applications are the exception, rather than the rule.

The Amazon Web Services (AWS) Launch and the Rise of Web 2.0

The next major breakthrough in cloud computing happened when Amazon launched Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2002. At that time, Amazon didn’t expect AWS to become the huge product it is today. In fact, they mostly considered their branch of cloud services a side business. Essentially, AWS was created as part of an effort to clean up Amazon’s e-commerce service, Merchant.com, sorting it into a set of dedicated APIs. As they worked on this project, it became clear that Amazon had a scale problem. Internal developers were struggling to effectively launch applications, because every time they started working on a new one, they had to configure a brand-new database or storage component. To make development faster, Amazon executives decided to create shared infrastructure that could be accessed by any team, any time.

Eventually, the head honchos at Amazon realized that they’d just built a necessary commercial commodity, one that many businesses would be all too eager to pay for. So in 2006, they began to market their services as the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud. Now AWS has a run rate of over $10 billion — but it didn’t happen overnight. Many businesses sensed the inherent risks in cloud integration and feared jeopardizing their work and sensitive data. However, some of those fears were assuaged when large, successful businesses like Google launched 100% online applications, such as Google Docs. “Killer apps” like these helped assure business owners that cloud networking could be stable and reliable. These days, it’s difficult for many companies to imagine doing business without it.

Now it’s time to talk about the future — specifically your future — in the cloud. Migrating to the cloud can make you more competitive, delivering more flexible, faster client solutions and setting you on a course for the next iteration of digital services. If you think it might be time you capitalized on the advantages of cloud computing — or you just want to upgrade your existing infrastructure — Taylored can help. We offer cloud-based hosted networks, storage and virtualization, plus top-shelf IT security to keep your data secure. Just imagine where it will take you in the next 50 years!