The popular idiom “head in the clouds” is used to describe a person guided by whim or known for thinking impractically. Early adopters of cloud computing, for example, were often accused of having their head in the clouds. Nowadays, however, we could popularize the idiom “heading to the clouds” to describe a company guided by wisdom or known for thinking practically about the future of computing by leveraging more cloud services and using the cloud as a gateway to business innovation.
Evolution, not Revolution
Despite what some believe, cloud computing is evolution, not revolution. And its evolutionary past is older than many think, as Maximilliano Destefani Neto explained in his recent blog post A Brief History of Cloud Computing. The evolution began in the 1950s with mainframes providing access to a central computer through so-called dumb terminals since their only function was to provide access to the mainframe. (I have blogged about how cloud-connected mobile devices are essentially dumb terminals.)
“Because of the costs to buy and maintain mainframe computers,” Neto explained, “providing shared access to a single resource was the solution that made economical sense.” (Proving another idiom—everything old is new again—today the same argument is made for cloud computing, especially for small and medium businesses with limited budgets and IT staff.)
The evolution continued in the 1970s with virtual machines enabling the software-based emulation of a computer, and in the 1990s with virtual private networks enabling the extension of a private network across a public network, such as the Internet. In the 2000s this evolution continued, encompassing computing resources delivered as a service under the umbrella term the cloud.
The Evolution Continues
“As cloud adoption grows,” Ron Kline blogged, “companies have more and more resources—applications, data and services—residing on different platforms. These days, it’s not public versus private. It’s both. Hybrid is the new normal. Hybrid cloud environments offer tremendous potential for business innovation—but that’s unlikely to happen by accident. It requires intentional design” of a dynamic cloud that provides choice, flexibility, capacity, efficiency, and ease of integration.
Kline explained that with a dynamic cloud “businesses can pick the best application for the job, regardless of delivery platform. Data can be located wherever regulatory or security requirements dictate—while still remaining accessible. Computing workloads are placed where they fit best based on resource availability, operational costs, data location and a host of other factors. And they move when situations change. At peak usage times, companies can mix dedicated resources with public clouds to provide extra capacity. Data can be shared seamlessly across platforms. Enterprises can more easily integrate next-generation application platforms—for mobile phones and all sorts of intelligent devices—with their existing systems. By assembling ready-to-use services, on various cloud platforms, enterprises will be able to innovate more rapidly. Launch new digital products and services. Build new apps to engage customers. Capitalize on big data. Even implement new business models. In effect, a dynamic cloud powers a business characterized by restless reinvention, analytics-driven decisions, and speed.”
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.