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A Brief History of Cloud Computing

Three Years of Cloud Computing (in a Single Page)

Someone asked me to give him an overview of Cloud Computing in “a one pager”. I think I failed, but I tried  ;-)

Cloud Computing is the most important trend in the IT Industry. Even the biggest critics seem to agree that – in spite of some over-zealous marketeers – Cloud Computing is one of the most important paradigm shifts of the past decades. But what is it all about? Where did it come from? And what's to be expected?

There are probably as many definitions of Cloud Computing as there are self-acclaimed Cloud Specialist. Most of those definitions include pay-per-use, instant availability,  scalability, hardware abstraction, self-provisioning, virtualization and internet. A short but safe summary would be “Cloud Computing is a new way of delivering IT services: end users can deploy the services they need when they need them. Many of those services are available over the internet and users are only charged for what they consume.” The Cloud Computing market is typically segmented into public clouds (services offered over the internet), private clouds (internal enterprise) and hybrid clouds (a mix of both). The Public Cloud market is often sub-segmented into IAAS (Infrastructure as a Service), PAAS (Platform) and SAAS (Software).

Cloud Computing found its origin in the success of server virtualization and the possibilities to run IT more efficiently through server consolidation. Soon, visionaries came up with idea to bring virtualization to a next level by implementing some early storage and network virtualization techniques and thus making abstraction of the hardware in the entire data center. Add to this self-provisioning and auto scaling, and Cloud Computing was born. At the time it was called utility computing, however, and only Amazon – a bookstore – was good at it. Amazon saw a growing popularity of its EC2 (compute) and S3 (storage) and the Amazon API was being used by thousands of developers and many more customers to deploy and run infrastructure in the Cloud.

The first BYOC (build your own cloud) products that were brought to the market came from companies like Flexiscale (UK), 3Tera (US) and Q-layer (BE). They aimed at the ISP’s – who had an urgent need for innovation: ISP’s had entered into a price war amongst themselves and their market was now also threatened by newcomers like Amazon, Microsoft and Google. The first new services those ISP’s offered were nothing more than virtual machines – allowing them to run their facilities more efficiently and still charge the same prices to their customers. Soon, companies like Savvis, GoGrid and Rackspace added interfaces that enabled end users to control their own infrastructure. In early 2009, Sun Microsystems launched the Virtual Data Center (VDC), a graphical interface with drag&drop that enables users to create and manage a full virtual data center in the cloud.

Currently, the battle has moved to the Private Clouds. Enterprises seem to be ready to cloud-enable their infrastructure either in a purely Private or a Hybrid (enabling cloud-bursting to Public Clouds for certain services) environment. All the leading software providers have announced their products and I expect an important role for integrators and telcos to help enterprises to pick a best of breed for their own implementation.

Implementing a private cloud affects the entire business, including the entire IT infrastructure (hardware, software, services) but also most business processes (e.g. regulatory compliance). As none of the big software providers have teams with experience in all those fields – except maybe IBM – enterprises will  have to rely on integrators to build their clouds. I do expect, however, that quite a few enterprises will build their clouds all by themselves (e.g. Wall Street banks).

So what is the benefit? What is the promise of Cloud Computing? That really depends on the point of view you are taking. The CIO should be able to serve his customer more efficiently. The user at home will probably not be aware but they already use Animoto, Gmail, Flickr and Facebook – all of this not possible without Cloud Computing. The test engineer in an enterprise will be able to deploy his servers in seconds – not minutes. The CFO will be able to negotiate better conditions with his energy supplier thanks to more efficient metering of energy consumption. The are plenty of scenarios of how Cloud Computing benefits users and providers. In my opinion however, it all comes down to using new technologies to really abstract the hardware and to make, supply and use software independently from the hardware it runs on.

I’ll try better during tomorrow’s keynote at CloudCamp Munich

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More Stories By Tom Leyden

Tom Leyden is VP Product Marketing at Scality. Scality was founded in 2009 by a team of entrepreneurs and technologists. The idea wasn’t storage, per se. When the Scality team talked to the initial base of potential customers, the customers wanted a system that could “route” data to and from individual users in the most scalable, efficient way possible. And so began a non-traditional approach to building a storage system that no one had imagined before. No one thought an object store could have enough performance for all the files and attachments of millions of users. No one thought a system could remain up and running through software upgrades, hardware failures, capacity expansions, and even multiple hardware generations coexisting. And no one believed you could do all this and scale to petabytes of content and billions of objects in pure software.

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Most Recent Comments
cloudberryman 10/21/09 02:53:00 AM EDT

I always enjoy learning what other people think about Amazon Web Services and how they use them. Check out my very own tool CloudBerry Explorer that helps to
manage S3 on Windows . It is a freeware.

Avery Otto 10/20/09 02:46:00 PM EDT

Thanks for giving this brief history of Cloud Computing, Tom. You are right. Virtualization, SaaS, and SOA are all parts of the Cloud computing puzzle. However, the pay per use aspect is a necessary ingredient to the Cloud computing recipe. Otherwise, every ISP and website would be considered a Cloud Computing vendor which doesn't make any sense. Here is another good page that defines Cloud Computing well.

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