Contrary to the naming convention, "the cloud" isn't floating somewhere out in the ether. It's actually made up of physical locations that house software, hardware, and services that run on the internet (the cloud) as opposed to running locally on your device. There is not just one cloud; there are many "clouds" that are run by companies big and small, universities, and the government. Cloud providers offer many services such as online applications, computing power, data storage, infrastructure, and SaaS (software as a service) where providers deliver an application to end users through a browser.  

Benefits of the cloud

It's cheap. For small businesses, the savings include fewer hardware and software purchases, less space to house hardware, fewer resources to maintain the hardware, and less electricity to power and cool those systems.

It's convenient. When the data or application you want to access lives in the cloud, you can access it from most any device in any location as long as you have access to the internetWIFI. That means you and your employees can securely access files and other work materials  from anywhere in the world.

It's scalable. Individuals and businesses often only pay for what is used - storage, computing, applications. Cloud computing can quickly allocate and manage resources to accommodate business IT requirements and fluctuations without the need to purchase, configure, and maintain large data centers and staff.

It's safe. Or is it? While it is simple and inexpensive to utilize the cloud, there are some risks. Whether your data is stored in a private or public cloud, there is always the risk of a data breach. Most cloud providers have great security protocols and track records; however, several high-profile hacks have made the news including movies leaked before their release dates, compromising photos of celebrities, as well as leaks of personal data including names, addresses, and social security numbers. Most companies have stepped up their security, but the risk remains as hackers continue to find ways to access large amounts of data in search of their next big score.

Who invented the cloud?

There are many contributions that led to the creation of cloud computing including those of J.C.R. Licklider, the developer of ARPANET, the precursor to today's internet. However, many of the concepts of cloud computing can be traced back to the '60s when Professor John McCarthy, a computer scientist, first proposed a computing service that could be organized much like a public utility. In 1966, Douglas Parkhill wrote, "The Challenge of the Computer Utility," which outlined many of today's capabilities in the cloud including unlimited supply and scalability comparing it to the public utility model of access and distribution. Quite the visionaries since at the time we were still utilizing punch cards on mainframe computers that took up whole rooms for data processing.

In the '70s, the cost of computing was becoming prohibitive which opened the door to service bureaus that maintained supercomputers and allowed companies to share in the cost and processing power. "Dummy" terminals allowed users to enter send requests to be routed to the correct application. (All hardwired, no internet/modem/wireless.)

In the '80s, the internet and personal computers changed the way individuals and businesses interacted with each other and the world around them. Although not yet focused on the interconnectivity of things; processing moved from service bureaus to the individual PC or centralized data centers with much more connectivity and speed.

When did the cloud go mainstream?

It wasn't until the '90s when mobile devices exploded on the scene that the idea of cloud computing became the norm. Since mobile devices lacked the storage and processing capabilities of a PC, there had to be a way to securely run applications and store data remotely. As mobile devices became "smart" and started to connect with other devices, the cloud allowed for even more convenience.

The cloud, as we know it today, is primarily attributed to the rise of Amazon when they debuted their Amazon Web Service in 2006. AWS offered computing power, database storage, developer tools, and other functionality to help businesses scale and grow, making the cloud accessible and affordable to many.

Where is it all heading?

With cloud computing still in its youth, the sky is the limit. RightScale, a SaaS company, published it's seventh annual State of the Cloud Report, which indicates cloud usage continues to grow among large and small businesses. The report indicates more money is being allocated to public, private, and hybrid cloud solutions and that many companies are running a majority of their workloads in the cloud.

Another big driver is the Internet of Things... our everyday items that are now computerized... home security systems, smart thermostats and appliances, etc.   

With the increase in spending on the development of cloud computing, look for more of your data and applications at work to move to the cloud and for more exciting advances in personal computing. For business, new cloud services such as cloud analytics and artificial intelligence, may transform how you interact with workers and customers.

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