A Brief History of Cloud Computing

By NE Docs | August 19, 2014

A Brief History of Cloud Computing

The concept of cloud computing is older than you think. In our last blog post “What is Cloud Computing”, we covered the basics of what cloud computing is, and the different types of cloud computing we see most often today. However, despite its recent buzz and widespread application, cloud computing is much older than most of us realize.

In fact, the beginnings of cloud computing can be traced back to the 1950’s. During this time, large scale mainframe computers were still considered to be the “cutting edge” of technology…

In order to get the most out of these expensive mainframes, a new practice was created – allowing multiple individuals to share access to a computer system while sharing CPU time by implementing multiple terminals or access points. The act of sharing CPU time became known as time-sharing, and is viewed by many as a core concept of cloud computing.

The 1970’s, with help from IBM, saw the release of the operating system known as VM. VM allowed administrators on their mainframe systems to run multiple virtual systems or virtual machines (hence the name VM) all operating on a single physical node. The VM operating system was a natural evolution of time-sharing, and can still be seen in use today. In fact, many of the core features found in current VM systems, such as VMWare, can be traced back to the original operating system.

As the internet continued to advance, we naturally witnessed a mounting effort to bring virtualization technology online. At the time, the costs of physical hardware were unrealistic – which caused the advancement of virtualization. This allowed companies to reduce infrastructure costs while minimizing the amount of required hardware.

Overtime, the costs of server hardware began to decline – revealing a new issue. One server was no longer enough to provide the required computing resources. Accompanied by its price drop, a paradigm shift in the market occurred. Instead of splitting up expensive servers, companies were now looking to combine cheap servers. It was this issue that gave rise to “hypervisors” – software designed to take multiple physical nodes and present them as if they were one.

In the 1990’s, telecommunications providers began offering virtual private network (VPN) services. These new services, when compared to the standard dedicated point-to-point data circuits, offered a similar service at a reduced cost – making it an appealing option for companies. VPN services allowed providers to switch traffic as they desired, enabling them to balance server use and improve network bandwidth.

As these services continued to evolve, they began to use a cloud mark in order to denote what the provider and user was responsible for. VPN services marked the official start of cloud computing. The concept of sharing access to the same physical infrastructure began to accelerate from here, eventually transforming VPN into cloud computing, as its boundaries continued to extend, advancing to include all servers and network infrastructures.

Since the 1950’s, cloud computing has grown a long way to become the phenomenon it is today. Companies such as IBM and Softlayer have been driving efforts toward cloud innovation and cloud services, as we continue to grow and improve upon the functionality of cloud solutions. However, the story of cloud computing does not end here – it has only just begun.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for cloud computing?

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