• Dr. Timothy Smith

The Cloud in 500 Words

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tech buzzwords fly around the media in swarms, and none could be buzzier than “cloud computing”. Cloud computing, summed up by Microsoft, is, “A delivery model for computing resources in which various servers, applications, data, and other resources are integrated and provided as a service over the Internet (MS Azure). Telecom networks and the internet have been referred to as the “cloud” since the 1990s, but the term “cloud computing” appears to have been coined by two computer entrepreneurs from NetCentric and Compaq Computers in 1996 (MIT Technology Review). In essence, cloud computing is a synonym for internet computing.

Another way to regard cloud computing is that what was once old is new again. As computers began to enter universities, businesses and the government back in the 1950s, they were large, expensive mainframe machines that took up whole rooms, even floors of buildings. Users would access these computers via dummy terminals with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. The mainframe computers may have had tens or even hundreds of keyboards attached to them from which users would type in their code and execute programs. The big computer did it all; it included all the hardware, software, and memory needed to do the computing functions. The terminals were only for entering or receiving information. If a thief were to cut the cable and steal the dummy monitor and take it home, they would soon find out there was no computing without the mainframe. However, all of that changed when in the 1980s along came Microsoft, Apple, Compaq, and others with the introduction of the personal computer or PC. The PC took all the components of the main frame computer, miniaturized them and packaged them in a portable device. The PC had its own processor, hardware, software, and memory. In short, all the computing is done in the PC without the need to connect to some central computer. The software such as a word processor, spread sheet or game ran directly on the PC, liberating the user from the terminals connected to the mainframe at work or the university.

By the 1990s, the internet began to reach the mainstream, and both mainframe computers and PCs began to connect through the World Wide Web (Internet Society). People and computers used the web to interact, share information and to distribute computing efforts. Internet service providers offered a host of services such as content streaming, website hosting, and email support that did not have to be owned and maintained on an individual’s PC, which made life easier for PC owners who would not have to purchase and maintain all of these services. Rapid improvement in computer technology and the falling price of computer hardware has led to the rise of cloud or internet computing. Just like back in the days of the mainframe much of the computing needed to stream movies, manage document storage, play games and more now gets processed in the cloud at large computer centers accessed over the internet from our personal computers.