You can’t go anywhere in the ICT world these days without being confronted by the cloud. Whether public or private, infrastructure or services, cloud is officially ‘The Next Big Thing’. But, asks Guy Daniels, who first coined the term ‘Cloud Computing’?
In August 2006, then-CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, introduced the phrase ‘Cloud Computing’ during a keynote presentation. That was five years ago, and roughly marked the start of the ICT industry’s interest in cloud architectures. But was Google really the first company to come up with the term – a neologism, which still doesn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, but doubtless soon will? Here’s what Schmidt actually said:
“What's interesting is that there is an emergent new model. I don’t think people have really understood how big this opportunity really is. It starts with the premise that the data services and architecture should be on servers. We call it cloud computing – they should be in a cloud somewhere.”
Cloud can trace its parentage to ‘network computing’. The notion of network-based computing dates to the 1960s. It received a boost in the 1990s when Oracle was pushing the concept of the Network Computer – when the TelecomTV editorial team was working on the print magazine Communications International in the mid-1990s, we even had a monthly column dedicated to the subject. Oracle had even trade-marked the term, before abandoning the idea in 1999 after losing some $175 million.
According to MIT’s Technology Review, the phrase can actually be traced back some ten years earlier, to late 1996, when now-defunct NetCentric was pitching for an investment from Compaq (soon to be acquired by HP).
In May 1997 NetCentric applied for a trademark for ‘cloud computing’, describing its use as for “educational services, such as classes and seminars”. It was not approved. (Incidentally, Dell also tried its hand at trying to trademark ‘cloud computing’ in 2008.) However, Technology Review contacted NetCentric’s founder, Sean O’Sullivan, who explained that the application resulted from an idea he had the previous year.
In 1996 O’Sullivan was negotiating a $5 million investment from Compaq for his start-up company. He met with George Favaloro, who had just been appointed to lead a new Internet services group within Compaq.
The two started working on a joint business plan, which as well as featuring the term ‘cloud computing’, also envisaged futurist e-services such as file storage and video streaming. O’Sullivan told the magazine:
“There are only two people who could have come up with the term: me, at NetCentric, or George Favaloro, at Compaq ... or both of us together, brainstorming.”
Both men still have the physical proof. O'Sullivan kept his daily planners, and on one of them dated October 29, 1996, he had jotted down the phrase ‘Cloud Computing: The Cloud has no Borders’ following a meeting with Favaloro that same day.
Favaloro, meanwhile, has a paper copy of a 50-page internal Compaq analysis entitled ‘Internet Solutions Division Strategy for Cloud Computing’ that is dated November 14, 1996. According to the Technology Review author who saw the document, it accurately predicts that enterprise software would give way to Web-enabled services, and that application software would no longer a feature of the hardware, but of the Internet.
Of course, in the 15 years since Favaloro and O’Sullivan brainstormed their idea of cloud computing, there have been many versions and interpretations of cloud. Faced with problems over what exactly constitutes ‘cloud computing’, procurement officials in the US government recently asked the country’s National Institutes of Standards and Technology to come up with a definition. Its final draft was released last month, and contains the following advice:
“The definition specifies five ‘essential’ characteristics of cloud computing: self-service; accessibility from desktops, laptops, and mobile phones; resources that are pooled among multiple users and applications; elastic resources that can be rapidly reapportioned as needed; and measured service. These characteristics combine to make cloud computing a kind of infrastructure or utility. It's not cloud computing when a company rents a specific computer in a rack at a facility that happens to be in Denver; it is cloud computing when a company rents a virtual host generated by machines that might physically reside in Denver, Atlanta, or New York.”
Whether it was Favaloro or O’Sullivan that first came up with the phrase, cloud computing was from the very outset a marketing term, designed to bring together the network architecture ‘clouds’ of telecoms with the emerging Internet. Unfortunately, the marketing men weren’t ready for it.
A draft version of a January 1997 Compaq press release, announcing its investment in NetCentric, described the deal as part of “a strategic initiative to provide ‘Cloud Computing’ to businesses.” However, Compaq’s internal PR team changed the term to ‘Internet Computing’ in the final version of the release.
Now, if we can only located the PR person who decided Cloud Computing was rubbish and Internet Computing would be better… he or she would be the ICT equivalent of Dick Rowe, the man who turned down the Beatles…
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