So, apparently I’m not the only one to notice the mid-level marketing types in IT having a big collective nut lately about “Cloud Computing”. This week even the Wall Street Journal ragged about this nonsense on the front page. For those who don’t spend their time around mid-level IT marketing types, cloud computing is… well, nobody who uses this term have actually agreed on a definition, but it can loosely be defined as “the processor and the data it processes are in different places”. I.e. Web apps, like Google Spreadsheet or some Myspace widget where you upload your AIM contact list and it returns some kind of graph of mutual acquaintences you’re all connected to. Search engines. X-Drive / Internet backups of your files. Stuff like that.
“Real Computer Is Elsewhere” has been around since computers; Cloud Computing is only the latest name for it. A little history: In the 1950s, any talk of electronic computers whatsoever assumed a ginormous shared, multi-user machine, since computers were far too new and expensive for everyone to have their** own. In fact, the entire concept of having the user, his data, and the computer in the same room at the same time came much later, when they became small and cheap enough to sit on a standard-sized desk and the term “personal computer” was born. Kind of like one of those little single-serving packets of Sweet ‘n Low, except it was a computer. Back in those days, sonny, you came down to the big mainframe room with a box of punched cards and submitted them to the white-jacketed mainframe acolyte, who (hope against hope) would run your job overnight and return your results in the morning. By the 60s and 70s, technology had advanced to teletypes and terminals (the infamous “glass titty”) – the computer itself was still in the basement of some university, but you could text into it from elsewhere and bask in the warm glow of an amber screen. Then computers started getting cheap enough that people who needed one could put the whole machine right in the same room with them, and from then on the idea of going back to dumb terminals and the big Elsewhere Machine seemed pretty silly.
But companies tried to bring Elsewhere Computing back, and still they do. In the 80s it was the diskless workstation (or as users called them, dickless workstations). People hated them. In the 90s they tried again under a new name, thin clients. Those who remembered the era of time-sharing on mainframes and the Diskless Workstation hated them because they knew it was a Diskless Workstation under a new name; everyone else hated them because they just didn’t work all that well. Now it’s the “todays”* and these guys are hoping this is the decade consumers will get back on board with using their computers as an expensive tool for borrowing time on someone else’s**. My guess is that once the Cloud Computing folks agree on what they’re selling, folks will soon enough figure out what this really means and we won’t have to hear all this hype anymore (it will go the way of “Multimedia”).
* what radio stations who played the greatest hits of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s a decade ago play the greatest hits of, today. Only one more year until they will be forced to decide what to call this decade! The Zeros? The Aughts? The Double-Ohs? The suspense is killing me.
** the same decade where the concept of subject-verb agreement will go out the window as people try to terminate fractally-growing chains of awkwardness in sentences resulting from attempts to keep them gender-neutral.