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A Quick History of the Cloud…


If there is one industry that seems to enjoy jargon it is the IT industry. ASP and SaaS along with intergalactic computers, networks and plugins. It can make it difficult for you, as a customer, to understand what you’re signing up for and what you might need.

One of the biggest hurdles between the industry and its customers over the past few years has been Cloud Computing. Companies providing the service can see why it can make a huge different to the way companies are run, yet the fact that many businesses turn round and say they don’t understand it means there is a breakdown in communication.

So we thought this might be a little useful: a short, whistle stop tour of the history of the cloud. That should help you know how it works, and most importantly why it works.

1960s
We’re mods and we’re rockers, music is heavier and four lads from Liverpool are making a splash. It is also the birth of the cloud. Well, kind of. A chap called J.C.R Licklider comes up with an idea for networked computers, computers that are linked. His vision is simple; every computer in the world should be connected and people can access programmes and information for anywhere at anytime. It’s 1969. Sound familiar?

This is the decade we got the mainframe, which delivers IT in a way we understand it today.

1970s
Use your own computer at work? Got one at home that sits happily on your desktop?

The minicomputer which is the grandfather of today’s PCs and MACs might have originated in the 60s but it was during the 70s that we started to see them everywhere. A mainframe would have filled a room but these had an integrated circuit and core memory. The first popular one was 12-bit and cost $16,000. That launched in the mid sixties. By the seventies they were low-powered but with a high capacity. Running basic operating systems like CP/M and MS-DOS (hi kids!) they were largely single-user. Why is this important? It’s the start of the personal computer, the device that comes to house all your work and activity in IT terms.

1980s
The minis didn’t last long and developments started to get quicker and faster, revolutionising the industry. After 1985 companies start to be in networked workstations, linking their staff together along with servers to back up work. Firms start providing these same services for clients. This is the real practical birth of cloud computing. PCs start to appear thanks to the adorable BBC Micro and we start to see local area networks. The landscape is changing.

1990s
Yes, our mobile phones are still bricks, but we’re starting to see a real shift towards modern cloud computing. PCs are reducing in price meaning more and more people can afford them. PC networks are boosted by Unix software that runs on the Intel microprocessor. Windows starts with NT, meaning we can start multi-tasking and don’t have to remember the MS-DOS code for Ping. The Internet starts to blossom into life with the first full text web search engines and commercial ISPs. We also see the birth of wireless networking and the dot com bubble.

2000s
That dot com bubble? Yeah, it burst. Yet it is the consumer that will drive the next phase of cloud computing. As more of us get better as using the internet we start to define how we want to use it. It’s no coincidence that this personal control starts to develop and then we get Wikipedia in 2001. Social networking sites start to emerge and the Internet becomes more ‘us’ focussed. The technology for the Cloud might have been there – but not the culture. This sense of power over the internet gives us all a sense that we can modify it to suit our needs and practices. And we do just that. By the end of the decade we have smartphones, carrying the power of the world wide web in our hands.

Our workplace has changed beyond recognition in the last fifty years. We work on the go and we work 24/7, if we want to. Technology can be chopped and changed to fit our needs, which is at the core of Cloud Computing, providing a service that helps you stay connected but also providing added security for your work and activity online.

What’s the plan for the next fifty?

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