Let’s be clear: cloud computing is not a fad. It’s decades old. In fact, the adage “what’s old is new” applies particularly well here, so a little history might help those who aren’t familiar with its origins before we get to the nub of the current situation. Wash away those doubts and you might find it appealing.
Credit (or blame) the telecommunications industry in the early 1990s when “cloud” and “computers” were first combined in a single sentence. Presenters frequently drew whiteboard diagrams with cartoon-like looping lines around connected regional carriers to show those intederminate places where operators were standing by to take your call. The depiction – and some say the hazy, undefined nature of contents inside the squiggly line – appeared cloud-like, hence the name “the cloud.”
As the blur between computers and telephony progressed, the cloud naturally included computers and their various integration schemes all along. Today, when the cloud is mentioned, most people think of swarms of linked computers, probably at some unknown location.
Considering that linking remote computers – usually mainframes – and software have been part of the technology landscape for decades, it’s only fitting that those computers would eventually gang up on us in a sort of high-tech conference call. However, before the machines could rise to their current status, they had to broaden and refine their skills.
Later, when the IT world was preoccupied with staving off the impending Y2K cataclysm and managing static web pages, some enterprising sorts thought the Internet thing might also be a good way to serve application software to client desktops. They called themselves Application Service Providers or ASPs. They’re still around and they’re part of the cloud continuum. They help people get up and going with high-powered hardware and software, often on a subscription basis at far lower costs than buying and implementing there own. Those who prefer more modern, stylish terminology call themselves Software-as-a-Service or SaaS providers.
At the turn-of-the-21st Century, there were early entrants in the Web-delivered IT services game who lacked a catchy name or acronym. They performed tasks like enterprise infrastructure monitoring and management. They, too, still exist and still lack a catchy name – unless you think “hosted services” or “web services” is in any way clever (or even easily defined).
Around 2001, many an experienced web surfer first did a double-take when they saw suspicious-looking URLs with “akamai” in their browser status bars. Web servers and “edge” servers, closely related to hosted services providers, emerged around 2001. They typically host graphical and audiovisual content for websites, taking advantage of multiple locations scattered across the content to speed up viewer downloads of kittens playing with string. We should be glad because now we can actually stream video presentations and download real movies, too.
Fast forward to 2013. The nation is criss-crossed with fat pipes – fiber optics – and blanketed with wireless broadband. Computers just get smarter and more capable. Some folks with the savvy and simoleons build and operate their own clouds on-site. Admirable, absolutely. Necessary or advisable? Like buying a Ferrari to haul fresh produce, perhaps not.
Enter Big Data Analytics, perhaps the single most powerful processing capability cloud computing offers. Its ability to aggregate and sort unstructured data from multiple platforms, then turn it into actionable information is unmatched. You could try doing it on your own, kludging servers, PCs and gaming systems into massively parallel arrays, but that’s not a good use of time or resources when optimized systems with multiple kinds of experts behind them are out there waiting to take on your biggest Big Data Analytics challenge.
Today, there are all sorts of reasons for choosing cloud computing as the answer:
- Secure, offsite data backup – The gateway drug to daily cloud use
- Remote access to data – Anytime, anywhere access to information
- Collaboration tools and services – Anytime, anywhere engagement and interaction
- Security – Single-source policy enforcement for ensuring privacy and controlling access.
The funny thing is, if you can come up with a way to use IT, chances are you can find it in the cloud. If not now, then soon. Cloud computing will always be around. And if you don’t like the weather now, wait five minutes. It’ll change.