Cloud Computing: History and Future

Andrew McLaughlin, who heads public policy and government affairs for Google, described the use of cloud computing as “one of the most important transformations the federal government will go through in the next decade,” noting the cost advantages of cloud infrastructure (Miller, 2009).  Cloud computing is a concept that involves distributing computer power across remote computers and doing computations outside of the local area of a user.  Cloud computing is a concept that will revolutionize human interaction in both the world of computing as well as the normal interactions of people, industry and governments; the cost savings, ease of implementation, interactivity and overall mobility afforded users outweigh any possible drawbacks.  The fact that there is support across the computer industry and that there is new focus on Web 2.0, which encourages user interaction and ease of use will push cloud computing to the forefront of computer systems.

Cloud computing is a very popular term that describes several types of shared distributed or grid computing.  The book Tomorrow’s Technology and You describes “grid computing isn’t about sharing files; it’s about sharing processing power” (Beekman & Beekman, 2009, p. 306). In the early days of internet usage it was used as a connection between private networks.  It was common for the connected networks to be quite large networks run by institutions, schools, governments, and research centers.  Each network had network engineers that were responsible for the configuration and maintenance of the private network; which included creating graphical representations of the network.  Many network engineers of the day did not understand how to accurately depict the journey of a packet across the internet so it became common practice to use a cloud as the internet.  As the use of the cloud became accepted as a representation of an unknown network outside of the private network people were working with it came to be known as the cloud, or computing in the cloud, or cloud computing.  Cloud computing therefore can refer to any computing that occurs outside of a private local network.

 As more people became comfortable with the data changes that occur in the cloud there occurred a fundamental shift in the way people viewed the internet.  The internet was no longer just a connection between large institutional intranets but it became a direct connection between individuals.  Cloud computing now means that instead of data simply being transferred through the cloud data is being created and changed inside of the cloud.  This paradigm shift will serve as the basis of the next evolution of both computers and mankind it will create one of the most significant market opportunities since the explosive growth of the Internet itself. While writing about cloud computing James Urquhart stated in an article for CNET that “I’m not dealing in hyperbole here; I honestly believe that there is a clear evolutionary step to the cloud occurring well after stand-alone self-service clouds are mainstream (which they arguably are today) that will inspire massive innovation.” (Urquhart, 2008).

There are several differences between computing of the past and the way cloud computing is structured:

1.    Users of cloud computing generally do not have to own many of the hardware components required of conventional computing.

2.    Software in cloud computing resides in the clouds with shared programs not installed on users computers but maintained on central servers.

3.    Software in cloud computing is usually provided on a subscription basis with users paying a monthly fee instead of an larger one time fee.

4.    Resources in cloud computing are delivered over the web instead of being contained on local computers.

5.    Users of cloud computing interact with other users in two way conversations as opposed to traditional software which usually limited users to strict rules of one way interaction.

The benefits of cloud computing are wide reaching and are the reason that the shift to distributed computing ideologies such as cloud computing.  Cloud computing offers users a highly automated platform for software updates, always giving users the most up to date software.  Flexibility of access is another benefit of distributed cloud computing; allowing users to access files and data from different types of devices such as laptops, home computers and mobile devices.  Mobility is one of the greatest advantages of cloud computing services since services are not tied to a local network users can be in almost any situation and participate in the computing process.  Cloud computing also helps corporate and individual users reduce costs.  Computing in the clouds tends to be much more interactive for users as opposed to more traditional software.

There are many reasons that cloud computing has not become the defacto standard for all computing.  One issue that faces distributing computing is the question of how to enforce privacy guidelines on the remote service.  For many users the challenge of finding sufficient bandwidth to successfully implement computing in the clouds is a major hurdle.  Depending on the application and type of data being manipulated cloud computing can have performance issues such as lagging and lack of responsiveness.  A common issue raised regarding cloud computing that can be used as both a positive and a negative is that a local support team is not needed which can reduce overall cost but also means any repairs or programming must be outsourced.

Commercial implementation of cloud computing is being developed by most major computer companies such as International Business Machines, Intel, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and others as shown in Figure 1.  The other players in the growth of cloud computing come from not only traditional software and operating software companies but also from hardware providers and companies that are new to the private computing market.  An investigation of the concepts being offered as well as those that are being planned in the future will show that cloud computing is the direction that personal, industrial, and governmental computing is being driven.

Figure 1 illustration of providers of cloud computing resources.


One of the most aggressive providers of cloud computing is which provides sales and contact management based entirely in the cloud.  Founded in 1999 by Marc Benioff who was formerly with Oracle Corporation, was created with a “vision to create an on-demand information management service that would replace traditional enterprise software technology. Benioff is regarded as the leader of what he has termed “The End of Software,” the now-proven belief that multitenant, cloud computing applications democratize information by delivering immediate benefits at reduced risks and costs” (Salesforce: Leadership, n.d.). helped popularize the concept of software as a service or SaaS. allows salespeople in multiple locations to access real time customer and product information allowing them to react instantly to changes.

Amazon is another player on the cloud computing field.  Calling their entry into the service EC2, which stands for Elastic Compute Cloud, Amazon offers scalable web services for companies.  Amazon’s EC2 website proclaims “Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale computing easier for developers Amazon EC2 reduces the time required to obtain and boot new server instances to minutes, allowing you to quickly scale capacity, both up and down, as your computing requirements change by allowing you to pay only for capacity that you actually use” ( Amazon: products and services, n.d.).  Amazon also offers products for cloud storage that gives users scalable and elastic room for growth as needed.

Microsoft has been pushing the cloud computer market with its version of what it describe as “a flexible cloud–computing platform that lets you focus on solving business problems and addressing customer needs. No need to invest upfront on expensive infrastructure. Pay only for what you use, scale up when you need capacity and pull it back when you don’t” (Microsoft Windows Azure, n.d.).  The newest release of Microsoft’s cloud computing is called Azure.

Even companies that traditionally have provided hardware solutions are poised to enter the cloud computing arena.  For instance, Dell computers has recently announced that they will be providing cloud solutions. “ This web application platform as a service (PaaS) solution is designed to address the key issues around web application development and deployment: unpredictable traffic, the fear of under-provisioning and migration from development to production. The solution will combine Dell cloud-optimized servers and services with fully-integrated Web application cloud software from Joyent, a leader in cloud computing” (Dell Press Releases, 2010).  Dell is positioning itself to be the leader in cloud computing hardware solutions with its PowerEdge C servers that are optimized for Web 2.0, social networking, and gaming.

Apple has announced its newest plans for cloud computing based on its iWork program. The site that Apple has been using in cooperation with iWork allows access to data, contacts and programs all based in the cloud. Although Apple is not launching a platform on its own they are focusing on the personal side of the cloud.  By enabling the new iPhone to use multiple applications and with the extensive applications available for the platform Apple will remain a dominant player in the personal cloud computing industry.

Is the change to cloud computing the future of the computing industry?  Information technology professionals were asked by survey takers at KPMG Netherlands if they though cloud computing was a technology that was here to stay or something that was simply being promoted by vested interests.  As figure 1 shows over fifty nine percent of those asked either agreed or strongly agreed that cloud computing was the way computing was going to evolve.  The importance of how users can interact with each other is driving companies to make the vision of cloud computing a reality (Hermans & Chung, 2010, p. 16).

Figure 2 KPMG survey of IT professionals regarding cloud computing being the future of IT.

 The concept of cloud computing is gaining popularity because of the failure of the current software and internet in connecting people with people and information.  Consider that most computer software in the early days of the internet was written in computer languages and by programmers used to communicate with large institutional networks.  Computers such as UNIVAC or any of the myriad of other first generation computers were not made to be personal or interactive. Figure 3 shows an image from the Computer Desktop Encyclopedia of one of the early computers and just from the numbers of switches, buttons, and gauges it is apparent that interactivity and simplicity was impossible to achieve at that time.  As computers and software have become more adaptable and interactive new ways of connecting were required, which is why cloud computing and Web 2.0 have become so important.

Figure 3 EDSAC computer.

One of the main forces that will continue to drive the move to computing in the clouds is the redefining of the internet and how users make use of web resources.  The new implementation of the web has been called Web 2.0.  Applications that make up the new web are interactive in nature; popular websites such as Facebook which allows users to receive constant interactive updates from other users and YouTube which encourages users to watch and comment on other users’ videos have exceeded the original intent of the programmers. There are many definitions of Web 2.0 however it can be summed up by saying “anyone can create an online publication, photo gallery, movie, music video, radio show, or video podcast” (Beekman & Beekman, 2009, p.242).

Cloud computing will use the advantages that Web 2.0 will provide which are the interaction of users and the contributions of not only programmers but also users that will reshape software.  Cloud computing will shift the power of computing from being centralized in institutional and governmental centers to all of the users of the internet.  Cloud computing is a concept that will revolutionize human interaction in both the world of computing as well as the normal interactions of people, industry and governments; the cost savings, ease of implementation, interactivity and overall mobility afforded users outweigh any possible drawbacks.  The fact that there is support across the computer industry and that there is new focus on Web 2.0, which encourages user interaction and ease of use will push cloud computing to the forefront of computer systems.  The future is going to belong to those that can adapt to the computing power of cloud computing.


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Beekman, G., & Ben, B. (2009). Tomorrow’s technology and you (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.

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Hermans, J., & Chung, M. (Eds.). (2010). KPMG From Hype to Future 2010 Cloud Computer Survey.

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