What the hell is ‘The Cloud’?

What the hell is ‘The Cloud’?

In the technology world ‘The Cloud’ is everywhere.

Marketing slogans shout ‘to the cloud’, technology leaders speak of the cloud like it’s some mystical land where IT is easy and everything ‘just works’ thanks to magical electronic elves. The reality is that the cloud cannot be easily described, so using this phrase makes conversations simpler and more confusing at the same time.

‘The Cloud’ describes more than 50 years of technology development and the building of some of the most impressive infrastructure mankind has ever seen.

In The Beginning Was…

What has happened is really an evolution of technology. First came computers the size of a room. People had to travel to that room to ‘compute things’ then take the results back. This was not efficient, so we created network communication to take advantage of the big computers from outlying offices. This led to the world of mainframes, big machines servicing company needs through remote terminals. The problem was, only the richest companies and institutions could afford to get these machines. This meant that the arrival of the PC (Personal Computer) was a revolution.

The power had been snatched from the powerful and given to the masses. Suddenly teenagers were making computers do things no one had thought of before, mathematicians and engineers were changing the way they worked. The world exploded with rapidly changing, multi-standard beige boxes fighting to prove they could calculate binary computations faster than each other. But with all this going on, data was isolated, stranded on machines with crappy ways to transfer it to other places. All the large data was still in the mainframes, all the business and research intelligence was separated from the user. Networks bloomed again, PCs were connected, data flowed, email sprouted up and networks were connected to other networks.

In Secret Bunkers

Meanwhile, in secret research bunkers, network communications were being developed for the government and military. They were designed to communicate across multiple nodes, which could fail without breaking the lines of communication, just in case nuclear war broke out. Thankfully, although close at times, we avoided nuclear combat and the product of this fear went on to become the most popular network protocol ever created: TCP/IP (Transmission control protocol / Internet protocol). And there it is – Internet – meaning ‘across networks’, joining separate places into one big network.

So, when military networks connected to government networks, and they connected to education networks, the whole system grew and grew. The rest, as they say, is history. The internet is global and pervasive and wireless networks mean almost every technological device on the market has internet access.

Into The Clouds

And so we return to ‘The Cloud’. The cloud is many things. It is a network that spans the globe over land and under the sea. It is hundreds of thousands of machines that process data, buildings full of them, built to fail without losing data. It is people servicing these machines to make sure they run 24/7. It is also software running on these machines to provide services to other applications and devices which people rely on every day, pumping data around the massive network we call the Internet.

On The Shoulders Of Giants

The cloud is not abstract, it is a very real industrial complex that is not located in one place, but connected to a staggering number of places and not controlled by one organisation (yes there are big players in the market, but there is always room for more). The real trick to the cloud is that you can build from the bottom with infrastructure or you can build on top of what is there already. Connecting platforms that service your need for communication, financial service, data storage, the list goes on. This is the power of the cloud.

If you look at what humans have achieved over the history of mankind, we have done pretty well for a bunch of shaved monkeys. The reason is that each generation has built upon the successes of the last and so we learn more, push the limits further and grow as a species. Therein lies the opportunity of development in the cloud: you can build upon what has already been done and stand on the shoulders of giants. I for one love the cloud. It makes me look good because I can reach new heights with it. I hope you enjoy the benefits too: Amazon shopping, Netflix, Android and iPhones, Wikipedia, Facebook, Google Search and so much more.

As we look toward the future we must realise that, like ants in a colony, we are greater when we work together and combine our strengths. ‘The Cloud’ might be a buzzword but behind this small phrase stands one of mankind’s great wonders.

I look forward to what we all build on it together.

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