Is cloud computing the future of IT? It has plenty of roots in the past. Precursors to cloud computing include application service providers, SAAS, grid computing and utility computing. However, the modern cloud has some advantages.
computing may be the next big thing, but it didn't happen overnight. Its genealogy
goes all the way back to time-sharing, a practice dating to the 1960s in which
a mainframe computer was accessed simultaneously by multiple terminal users in
different locations via telephone lines.
computing also resembles the ASP (application service provider) phenomenon,
which cropped up a decade ago as the Internet and Web were taking the world by storm.
ASPs were quickly joined by a host of other Internet-based services, including managed
service providers, storage service providers and other "XSPs" that went
through a rapid boom and bust cycle.
ASPs such as Salesforce.com began calling themselves SAAS (software as a service)
vendors, which some analysts include in the cloud computing universe.
addition to its flagship CRM service, Salesforce.com recently launched a cloud
offering, Force.com, that the company calls PAAS (platform as a service).
Force.com provides a platform for application development on demand.
ancestor to today's computing clouds is grid computing, a model in which large
numbers of servers are linked together in a kind of fabric in one or more locations.
Some clouds use grids to deliver their services, while others do not. Sun Microsystems,
for example, has been offering up CPU cycles for computing-intensive tasks on
its servers through its Sun Grid Compute Utility and Network.com Web site for
several years at the rate of $1 per CPU per hour.
IBM has been touting "on-demand"
computing and Hewlett-Packard has been offering "utility" computing
services since the early 2000s. Both models are geared to augmenting data
center needs of large companies with off-premises capacity.
computing is the next big label for something that's been going on for a decade,"
said IDC analyst Frank Gens. "There
seems to be critical mass building right now for this phenomenon. This has been
an ongoing development of IT offerings, business services and consumer
key differences between these various precursors and today's clouds, observers
agree, is a self-service Web customer interface, combined with the ability to
rapidly add or subtract computing capacity.
previous services, such as those from Sun and IBM, usually required some
handholding for a customer to get started, most cloud services can be fired up
by a customer wielding a credit card in a matter of minutes from a browser
the ability of cloud services to expand or contract quickly and with little or
no notice is typically enabled by virtualization technologies, which can create
any number of virtual machines as needed.
cloud computing does take off, it may prove a theory propounded by controversial
industry observer Nicholas Carr, whose most recent book, "The Big Switch,"
covers the emergence of Internet-based computing services, including clouds.
previous volume, the widely disputed "Does IT Matter?" laid out his
theory that corporate computing is rapidly becoming a generic commodity, much
one time, businesses generated their own electrical power with their own
equipment. Over time, electrical power became a generic commodity accessed, as
today, over the power grid. So, Carr contends, cloud computing is a natural
evolution from premises-based IT operations, and, over time, nearly all our computing
services will come from a cloud.
think it carries out my thesis," said Carr in an interview. "I do
think it's the next big thing-it's where the innovation is today in computing.
More and more, what used to be done in-house will shift to the cloud. That
doesn't mean it will happen in one, two or five years. For big companies, it
will take a long time. It does seem to be playing out the
way I anticipated. In the past four years or so, I've been surprised at how
quickly things have moved forward."
IDC's Gens agreed regarding the long-term
significance of the cloud phenomenon. "Cloud-enabled computing is the
model for the next 20 years of the IT marketplace," he said, "but it's
not here yet. Timing will be everything."
Stan Gibson is Executive Editor of eWEEK. In addition to taking part in Ziff Davis eSeminars and taking charge of special editorial projects, his columns and editorials appear regularly in both the print and online editions of eWEEK. He is chairman of eWEEK's Editorial Board, which received the 1999 Jesse H. Neal Award of the American Business Press. In ten years at eWEEK, Gibson has served eWEEK (formerly PC Week) as Executive Editor/eBiz Strategies, Deputy News Editor, Networking Editor, Assignment Editor and Department Editor. His Webcast program, 'Take Down,' appeared on Zcast.tv. He has appeared on many radio and television programs including TechTV, CNBC, PBS, WBZ-Boston, WEVD New York and New England Cable News. Gibson has appeared as keynoter at many conferences, including CAMP Expo, Society for Information Management, and the Technology Managers Forum. A 19-year veteran covering information technology, he was previously News Editor at Communications Week and was Software Editor and Systems Editor at Computerworld.