It seems like all we hear about in the computing world today is what users can do with this thing called “the cloud.” Cloud computing has been aiding the digital world for a number of years now and is a handy method of using both hardware and software, storing data, and collaborating with one another via internet networks.

While no one is really sure who coined the term, the “cloud” name comes from the cloud symbol that’s been frequently used in computer system diagrams. With clouds, user data is stored on a cloud server, giving outside services access to user information as well as control over the programs being used. Cloud servers, as we now know them, grew alongside of the internet but have a long history with roots beginning in 1950’s computing.

“Back in the day,” as it were, computer systems used primarily in educational settings and corporations, ran on a mainframe that was accessed through terminal (AKA “dumb terminal”) computers used only for communications and no higher function. The process was improved slightly by giving users access to the main computer from different terminals and share CPU time.

It wasn’t until the 1990’s came around that widespread availability of cheaper, private networks emerged allowing for better use of bandwidth. The internet surged to the forefront in the early to mid-90’s, switching over from being document-centered to more service-oriented, a move called “Dynamic Web.”

As early as 1994, that same cloud symbol which formerly only lived in system diagrams became a symbol of the internet. The cloud symbol denoted the difference between items that the service provider was responsible for and items that user was responsible for. Modern cloud computing works similarly but covers servers and network infrastructure.

The massive growth of computer popularity during the ‘90s created a need to further develop large scale computing, paving the way for the cloud in the 2000’s. We owe a debt of thanks to Amazon which can be credited with the first move toward cloud use, as it began to modernize company data centers after the initial internet boom of the early 2000’s. At that time, Amazon’s own computers were using as little as 10% of their total capacity at a time, just to leave room for occasional activity spikes. For their own benefit, Amazon developed cloud architecture allowing the company vastly better internal efficiency where small teams could make improvements faster and easier. Seeing how well it worked for them, Amazon expanded availability of its cloud system, providing services to external users with Amazon Web Service (AWS) in 2006.

After Amazon’s foray into cloud computing, the practice continued to grow, especially in 2008. During that year alone, a platform called Eucalyptus became the first open-source private cloud provider, OpenNebula pioneered the use of both private and hybrid clouds together as well as allowing multiple cloud accounts (cloud federation) for business use and clouds became more advanced with the availability of real-time functionality.
The business world in general has benefitted from the use of cloud platforms, as they change the face of IT. Because software, databases and other programs are controlled externally by service providers, companies are able to reduce IT maintenance as associated costs.

Our digitally-leaning culture, which has access to cheap computers and mobile devices, has also contributed to the growth of the cloud for mainstream, casual use. The availability and popularity of virtual hardware has helped boost cloud use as well. As recently as 2011, IBM and other major companies have jumped on the cloud computing bandwagon and Sherpa Software plans to debut its own cloud-based SaaS in April.

Understanding the growth of cloud computing means understanding the growth of computers themselves as well as the internet. For more information on “the cloud,” check out the Cloud Computing Wikipedia page and stay tuned for upcoming posts from Sherpa Software!

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