Digital Directions: A Clear Forecast About the Cloud
Cloud computing refers to the delivery of applications, data storage and other computing resources over a network. In other words, the applications and data are sitting on a server somewhere, not on your desktop. This is the polar opposite of the "personal computer" model that most are familiar with, in which everything is sitting right there on your PC: the operating system, the applications, the data—the whole kit and caboodle.
In the mid-Cretaceous computing period, everything was in the cloud. All data and applications resided and ran on mainframe computers in some far-off data center, managed by "those IT people." "End users" (often at the end of their ropes) toiled at "dumb terminals"—workstations with a screen and keyboard, but no processing power. The cloud is as old as the hills.
A half-century later, it's déjà vu all over again. Almost every type of computing resource can be found in the cloud. Big enterprise software that typically ran in a data center now all can be sourced from hosted cloud services and delivered over the Web—financial software, customer relationship management (CRM), and enterprise resource planning, to name a few. Even productivity software like word processing that used to run only on the desktop also now can be found as a network service. All you need for access is an Internet connection and a browser.
A few differences exist between today's cloud and the cloud of old. Some terminology has changed: "End users" are now just "users," and "dumb terminal" has been given the far sexier rubric of "thin client" that makes one imagine attorneys at poolside.
More significantly, we now connect to these networked services via established Web standards like TCP/IP, XML and SOAP—common protocols that allow computers to connect to remote services that have enabled this "cloud ecosystem" to take shape. Prior to these standards, a cacophony of conflicting networking protocols existed, and it was hard to get systems to "talk" to one another.