Cloud Computing: A Short History

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Cloud computing is still a young technology. To some, it may seem to have materialized out of thin air in the last few years. In reality, this now-ubiquitous technology has a fascinating history.  Explore the history of the cloud and learn exactly what it is and where it came from.


Cloud computing as we understand is hasn’t been around for long, but it has origins dating back to the early days of modern computing. In the 1950s, when a mainframe computer occupied an entire room, not many users actually needed to draw on the full power of the computer. There was plenty of demand for a mainframe computer’s power, however, especially in collaborative environments like universities and laboratories.


The solution was to allow multiple users to interact with the mainframe via several dumb terminals. Multiple users operating simultaneously on one piece of hardware was one of the earliest activities that can be linked to modern cloud computing – albeit with none of the remote access or fancy software platforms we associate with the modern cloud.


As computing began to take off in the 1970s, the concept of the virtual machine became popular. This was the idea that two distinct computing operations could exist simultaneously on one piece of hardware. This early form of virtualization was a driving force in modern computing, and in its modern form is a key to cloud computing.

The Proto-Cloud

The 1990s and consumer access to the internet ushered in an unprecedented age of technological development. Software as a service (SaaS) changed the way consumers viewed software purchasing. Rather than pay for perpetual software licenses and install programs on a computer from a disc, consumers could purchase a month-to-month subscription to access programs in their browser. Adoption of this model was fairly slow at first, but it has been picking up in recent years. By now, you’ve probably taken advantage of SaaS in your professional or personal life. Examples include Microsoft Office 365, the Adobe Creative Cloud, and more recreational utilities like Netflix, Hulu and Steam. All of these programs utilize cloud computing to its full (current) potential.


The commercialization of the cloud was actually born from crisis, however. After the dotcom bubble burst at the turn of the century, some companies began renting out server space for a monthly fee in order to stay alive while they planned their next move. When this proved successful, the giants of the tech world began to consider the long-term viability of such a business model. Amazon began offering web services to businesses. Google and Microsoft followed suit, with Microsoft as the biggest driver of the “cloud” moniker, a marketing term. Apple was a bit late to the party, but has successfully woven the cloud into nearly all of its platforms. As the cloud expanded to include a variety of functions, the traditional storage options that kicked off the movement returned in the form of services like Dropbox, Box, OneNote and Carbonite.

The Modern Cloud

The cloud as we currently understand it involves the storage, access, and processing of data using remote servers rather than the capabilities of your local devices. This has nearly limitless applications. Storages and virtual workspaces are probably the most common. Cloud services like Google Drive allow the storage of a wide variety of files in Google’s extensive global network of server farms. Users can access, edit, and share these files without ever actually downloading them to their personal device.


It’s nearly impossible to escape the cloud in your day to day activities. iPhone users are constantly reminded of their need to upgrade their cloud storage capacity (and the savvy ones listen to the regular alerts). Gamers rely on the cloud to save precious space on their consoles. Whether you want it or not, the cloud is becoming an integral part of the way you interact with the world.

The Future Cloud

It’s impossible to divine the future of the cloud, given the exponential growth of technology. There are several trends that could help business owners discern the impact cloud computing could have on their business in the near future, however. Most businesses are moving to a multi-cloud model in which they work with multiple vendors to create hybrid clouds that offer multiple levels of security and redundancy.


Cloud computing is becoming a security solution in addition to its current role as a workflow solution. Decentralizing your data is one of the best ways to protect it from disasters and malicious parties. This is especially true thanks to the complex and secure infrastructure of the major cloud providers.


In the near future, businesses could begin to operate in an entirely virtual workspace in which their devices are little more than portals into a vast global infrastructure. It would be a fitting modern parallel to the old dumb terminals used to access house-sized mainframes.