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What is the Cloud?

According to Wikipedia, a cloud is an aerosol comprising a visible mass of minute liquid droplets or frozen crystals, both of which are made of water or various chemicals. But, if you are here looking for information, I suspect that this isn't the type of cloud you were looking for. More likely, you were looking for the definition about Cloud Computing, a term that is being thrown around a lot, and you hear it more and more every day. Wikipedia defines Cloud Computing as a type of Internet-based computing that provides shared computer processing resources and data to computers and other devices on demand. Ok. That's more like it.

But everyone seems to think that Cloud Computing is something new and wonderful but scary and a security threat at the same time. But, what most people don't know is that Cloud Computing has been around since the late 70's / early 80's, we just called it something else. And over the years, it had many different names.

Back in the 80's, there were many companies around that had a large data center presence and would provide computing services to their customers. Back then, the cloud was a mainframe computer with loads of storage that took up multiple rooms or floors of a building. Where I worked back then, access to the cloud was through a "dumb terminal" or 3270 device, and the application interface was CICS, or Customer Information Control System, from IBM. It allowed for logical partitioning of resources so that multiple clients could access their data without the fear of someone not authorized getting access to it. This was big, because that company provided healthcare information systems, and if you know anything about HIPAA (which didn't even exist back then) then you know how bad it would be for that information to be accessed by the wrong organization.

When client / server systems became available, and the cost for computers and storage started to come down, the data center became a mix of mainframe and server computers, and the storage started to be available to both systems simultaneously. In those days, the organizations with these data centers became known as ASP, or, Application Service Providers, where you could run not only mainframe and CICS based applications, but also "pc" based applications on the servers. A good example of this would be Google Apps, and more recently, MS Office 365. ASP was around for a bit in the 90's, and once the Internet became more prevalent, these organizations were also known as BPS, or Business Service Providers. These types of systems could be accesses via the Internet instead of point-to-point networks like in the days of the CICS applications, and were around between 2000 and 2010.

But as technology changed, and systems became less expensive, more and more companies were getting into the act. And what started as ASP or BSP is now more commonly referred to as cloud computing, or cloud services. The technology has changed, but the concept is still the same. A large amount of compute power and storage being sliced and diced so that multiple customers can run on the same systems without having access to other customers data. And typically, customers can add storage and compute power more or less on demand, making the cloud model much more appealing.

But even though costs were coming down for the technology, the cost to build and house this type of environment was going up. A bad thing for businesses, particularly non-enterprise type organizations. And this is why it is so appealing these days, because there are a number of companies like Google that are offering cloud based services for a fee. The very same model that started in the days of mainframes.

But, with the change in technology comes a change in security, and exploits, hackers, and others that want to gain access to your information in the cloud. But, that will be a topic for a future blog.

As you can see, cloud computing has been around a long time, but it has grown and morphed into big business. You may be asking how do you determine if cloud is right for you? How can you determine which cloud provider is the best fit, and how can you be sure your data is safe in the cloud. All great questions, and all good topics for future blogs. For now, understanding that the cloud is not so scary as some people think if they go into the skies with their eyes open, and work with someone that understands how they work, and more importantly, whether or not cloud is the right choice.

I'll be talking more about cloud computing in future blogs, so come back often and check them out.

Until next time, cheers.
jc