Lost in the Cloud #2
It was, hm, some years ago, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in between listening to Friday night jazz sets, and I was trying to explain to some friends what “the cloud” was. IBM had already starting to promote the concept of “the cloud”, and Microsoft was not that far behind. In IT, it was beginning to be a buzz word, just like all the other marketing labels foisted on us in the last twenty or thirty years. Clearly not that many people understood it yet. Except for the rare far-seeing visionaries, few people saw the power, the potential, the inevitability that was to become “the Cloud”. And though the term is now in common parlance, there are probably plenty of people who still want to ask, “What the hell are you talking about? What cloud?”
But don’t worry. I’m here to explain.
Other than its own defining article, “The”, the Cloud, is not much different than its real-world counterparts. Clouds are out there. Far away, up in the sky. They move, they disappear, they change, evaporate, and re-form. They do whatever they do, and unless they are up to no good, most people don’t even think about them. And that’s pretty much the story of “The Cloud”. It’s your data, accessible to you out there, and you don’t have to think much about it. And this isn’t even new.
Pretty much anybody on a computer, anybody using the Internet, was already using “the Cloud”—they just didn’t know it yet. How did this happen?
- Email is the obvious one – All of you with your AOL, MSN, Yahoo, & Google mail “on the web” stored on some big company’s servers.
- Facebook (and MySpace before it) – With all that personal information, photos, timeline, likes, accessible to just about anyone.
- Flickr – And all the other photo-saving and sharing sites with thousands and thousands of your photos.
- YouTube – Zillions of home videos, old home movies, and pirated clips of TV shows, and movies, and everything else.
- iTunes – Jeez, let’s not forget the bizillions of songs, and albums, and playlists and reviews that Apple had up there-at first, just to buy and download and store on your own device, but that changed rapidly.
You get the idea. Everybody started pushing stuff up onto the Internet primarily to share it, but also to store it. As usual, Steve Jobs had some idea of where this was all headed. He understood this was going to be about storage. Storage players were beginning to appear – think DropBox and Evernote, with apps and access from many devices and platforms, and of course from the web browser. You could store your stuff, all kinds of your stuff, on the Internet (maybe even referred to by that time as “the Cloud”). It was safe there, presumably. (This was before we found out about our friends at the NSA). You didn’t have to worry about backing it up, or losing it if your computer was lost or stolen.
Apple tried pretty early on to capture and cash in on the consumer storage idea. But Apple stumbled a lot on this one. It was “Mac.com”, and then “Mobile.Me”, then “Me.com” – heck! I can’t even remember all the various names as Apple tried to re-brand and renovate this idea and eventually settle on (duh!) “iCloud”. At one point you could have your own web site, and photo galleries, and Internet storage that worked just like a disk drive, sort of… but it was all a moving target. Apple managed only recently to integrate iCloud into the MacOS, and iOS, and the Apple apps, and your data, along with iTunes and all the media available there. Microsoft, Google, even Amazon, are all competing with Apple in this same space. Who gets to sell you stuff? Who gets to keep it for you? In “the Cloud”. This “ecosystem” wasn’t just devices, it was storage, of your stuff, by someone else, away from your home—and eventually, storage of your work stuff away from your office.
Because the move of data —by businesses—into the Cloud, is another part of the story, to be addressed by TechWite, another time! TFSB!
The Incipient Cloud
For decades IT people have made diagrams of their networks and data centers with lightning bolts that point from someplace local to a fluffy blob. Riding from the local computers and corporate data center and LAN, all the data and email and files and voice telecommunications, everything, rides that lightning bolt and disappears into this blob, which was sometimes called a “network cloud”. That cloud was a little symbol to represent the enormous external private and public networks that we now generally refer to as “the Internet”.