Cloud Computing – Is It Old Mainframe Bess in a New Dress?

“Cloud Computing is all the rage,” says InfoWeek. “Some analysts and vendors,” they say, “define cloud computing narrowly as an updated version of utility computing: basically virtual servers available over the Internet. Others go very broad, arguing anything you consume outside the firewall is “in the cloud,” including conventional outsourcing,” the article goes on to say. Those who don’t have a Cloud Computing offering, but still want to be considered chic go with the InfoWeek’s broader definition.

The GoogleGazer prefers to define Cloud Computing as highly scalable distributed services, available on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, what we like to call “Rent-a-cloud.”

The idea of Cloud Computing is certainly not new. In his autobiography, Dr. Jack B. Dennis, Emeritus Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT (and MIT Class of ’53), and a pioneer in the development of computer science wrote in 2003:

In 1960 Professor John McCarthy, now at Stanford University and known for his contributions to artificial intelligence, led the “Long Range Computer Study Group” (LRCSG) which proposed objectives for MIT’s future computer systems. I had the privilege of participating in the work of the LRCSG, which led to Project MAC and the Multics computer and operating system, under the organizational leadership of Prof. Robert Fano and the technical guidance of Prof. Fernando Corbat.

At this time Prof. Fano had a vision of the Computer Utility  the concept of the computer system as a repository for the knowledge of a community data and procedures in a form that could be readily shared a repository that could be built upon to create ever more powerful procedures, services, and active knowledge from those already in place. Prof. Corbat’s goal was to provide the kind of central computer installation and operating system that could make this vision a reality. With funding from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the result was Multics.

For those under sixty, and probably not old enough to remember, MULTICS (Multiplexed Information and Computing Service) was an extremely influential early time-sharing operating system, started in 1964. It proved that [mainframe-based] computing could serve many people in remote locations at the same time. It set creative minds to thinking about a generally available computer utility, connected to your house through a cable. The GoogleGazer still has an original copy of Fred Gruenberger’s influential book, Computers and Communications; Toward a Computer Utility, which he read when it first appeared in 1968, back when the GoogleGazer was an undergraduate and bra-burning and anti-Vietnam demonstrations preoccupied the college campuses, and nearly all computing was based on mainframes and batch processing. Gruenberger posited a “computing utility” which would operate much like an electrical utility, letting you draw as much or as little as you need, while paying only for what you use was articulated in detail.

Back to InfoWeek.

Utility computing, InfoWeek goes on to say,

is a [type of Cloud Computing that provides a] way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing encompasses any subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time over the Internet, extends IT’s existing capabilities.

Sure sounds like Gruenberger’s computer utility to the GoogleGazer.

This form of rent-a-cloud, as we noted earlier, is offered commercially by Amazon.com, Google, Sun (zembly.com for creating and hosting social applications, and Network.com for pay-as-you-go computing), IBM, and others who now offer storage and virtual servers that IT can access on demand. In InfoWeeks’s view, “Early enterprise adopters mainly use utility computing for supplemental, non-mission-critical needs, but one day, they may replace parts of the datacenter.” However, the GoogleGazer knows that many smaller, fast-growing high-tech outfits run their entire business off of the “Cloud” of one of these major vendors, and by all reports, reliability exceeds that of most IT shops.

Software As A Service (SAAS) is a type of cloud computing that delivers a single application through the browser to thousands of customers using a multitenant architecture. On the customer side, it means no upfront investment in servers or software licensing; on the provider side, with just one app to maintain, costs are low compared to conventional hosting. Salesforce.com, according to InfoWeek,  is by far the best-known example among enterprise applications, but SaaS is also common for HR applications and is also used in ERP applications from vendors such as Workday. More recently, as we have noted,  SaaS applications, such as Google Apps and Zoho Office are causing Billionaire’s Agita to Steve Ballmer and his competitors, as they are encroaching on ground long firmly held by Microsoft Office (a risk Microsoft was forced to disclose in its SEC filings). APIs are also increasingly available in the Cloud that enable developers to exploit functionality of others over the Internet, rather than developing, hosting, and delivering it themselves. These range from providers offering discrete business services — such as Strike Iron and Xignite – to the full range of APIs offered by Google Maps, Yahoo BOSS. The U.S. Postal Service, Bloomberg, and even online banking and conventional credit card processing services are headed in this direction.

So while the technology may be different, updated, and certainly faster, cheaper, more pervasive, and much more scalable, at the end of the day, Cloud Computing is a centralized mainframe-like core with distributed nodes, in a prettier, sexier new miniskirt. But hey, we like the pretty dress, and the GoogleGazer believes that Cloud Computing not only is not a fad, but it presages a fundamental paradigm shift that will have as powerful an effect on society as the Internet itself, and will turn out to be truly disruptive technology.

“Strong words,” you say? Well stay tuned for further proof as Cloud Computing matures over the next five years. Remember, you heard it first from the GoogleGazer.

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8 Responses

  1. […] original here: Cloud Computing – Is It Old Mainframe Bess in a New Dress? amazon, cloud, google-apps, googlegazer, infoweek, internet, microsoft, multics, salesforce-com, […]

  2. […] Cloud Computing – Is It Old Mainframe Bess in a New Dress? […]

  3. By Dan D. Gutierrez
    CEO of HostedDatabase.com,

    MULTICS? Boy, you go way back. But you really only need to go back 10 years or so when ASP (application service providers) were all the rage. ASP was ahead of its time though, and the intervening years since have led to the pervasive cloud.

    This is good to see indeed. When we launched the web’s first Database-as-a-Service in 1999, our biggest hurdle was educating the user base. Nobody had experience with the cloud at that time. We were pretty much alone. Heck even the VCs we talked had this deer-in-the-headlights look on ‘em. SaaS just wasn’t sexy in the those days, but fast forward to today, and SaaS has finally come of age.

  4. Dan is quite right. The GoogleGazer too was a pioneer who was ahead of his time; he has all the scars from the arrows in the back to prove it. But now Cloud Computing is becoming mainstream. See for example, http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/nov2007/tc20071116_379585.htm

  5. […] the GoogleGazer to see Elastra support some of the other platforms that we mentioned in our previous post. Mean time, they have been garnering an impressive array of clients, and support PostgreSQL, […]

  6. […] operating systems access the Internet for years (see this example from 2002), and in an earlier post, the GoogleGazer pointed out that Prof. Robert Fano of MIT envisaged such an idea back in 1960, […]

  7. […] No. Actually it’s more a case of the internet once again taking us back to the future of computing. After all, and as IBM’s Steve Mills suggests, software-as-a-service and multi-tenancy are old concepts that grew out of mainframe computing, “So while the technology may be different, updated, and certainly faster, cheaper, more pervasive, and much more scalable, at the end of the day, Cloud Computing is a centralized mainframe-like core with distributed nodes, in a prettier, sexier new miniskirt.”  (See Cloud Computing – Is It Old Mainframe Bess in a New Dress?) […]

  8. […] mainstream Cloud Computing appeared (setting aside the whole mainframe, client/server, cloud discussion for a moment), there was much worry about how secure and ‘safe’ this new Cloud environment […]

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