Cloud Coming Full Circle

Here is a picture of Mike Alexander, at the University of Michigan, in front of the IBM 360/67, IBM's first computer with Dynamic Memory Translation. Mike is also lovingly known as the father of MTS. For me, in a sense, this was the first computing cloud.

I started writing computer programs in 1970 at age 12 starting with BASIC using the Vancouver School Board's HP 2100/MX minicomputers. However, within a few months I had outgrown those resources and ended up at the University of British Columbia using their IBM 360/67 running MTS - the Michigan Terminal System.

MTS was one of the first time-shared multi-user operating systems running on a mainframe computer. Unlike various other operating systems of that era, MTS was remarkably user friendly as it was designed to be used by academics and administrators who were not necessarily computer experts. For the computer users, MTS was 'the cloud' because it was something hidden away in a secure and climate controlled environment that you never saw. All you ever saw were the computer terminals, card readers and line printers. More importantly, users did not have to be system administrators. There was always a staff of computer operators and system developers working behind the scenes to keep everything running smoothly and simply for the users.

About 1980 micro computers started becoming popular, which then led to personal computers such as the Apple and IBM PC. Whatever people may have gained in lower cost and more innovative and responsive applications was also offset in the fact that now individual users had to become computer operators and system administrators - they suddenly lost the main benefit of the cloud.

About 1990 we started seeing the emergence of the World Wide Web, or just the web, via Web Browsers. The main advantage of the web was you no longer needed to be a computer operator or system administrator in order to use web pages and web applications. Users could once again focus on their favorite applications and leave behind the distraction and unpleasantry of computer operation and system administration. Well, except for the fact most web browsers were PC applications and you still needed to be a computer operator and system administrator in order to get your web browser to run.

About 2000 we started seeing what many called Web 2.0 which was characterized by an explosive richness of web applications with sophisticated server based logic pushing dynamic content to web browsers. In effect, web applications started becoming much more like desktop applications.

About 2010 we started seeing the web transform again with HTML 5, putting web browsers on the same level as desktop operating systems. In effect you no longer needed a PC, you only needed a web browser, and more importantly there was less need to be a computer operator and system administrator. About this same time the iPhone and iPad revolutionized the way we access the web, or as people now call it, 'the cloud.' These new devices are significantly easier to operate and administrate than traditional desktop devices running Linux, OS X or Windows. In the case of Google's Chrome OS. Chrome Book and Chrome Box, the model is for as little system administration as possible - the device is simply a portal to the cloud. In a sense Chrome OS brings us almost full circle back to MTS where you do not need to be a computer operator and system administrator to use computer applications - there is some team of expert and professional computer operators and systems administrators doing all that magic for you so that you can focus on your favorite cloud applications and nothing more.

Funny how in almost 50 years something old is now something new :-)

This will have profound implications because in the years ahead not only will individual users no longer have to be computer operators and systems administrators, but corporations and other enterprises will no longer need to retain the huge and expensive Information Technology organizations they now have. Often these IT organizations are complete empires in their own right. In essence, why retain your own costly IT services when you can now outsource it to Google or others who have huge economies of scale and cost reduction?

When we look at Apple's new OS 10.8 (Mountain Lion) and Microsoft's Windows 8 we see new operating systems dramatically blend into the cloud experience. Both of these are following the model started by Google's Chrome OS where the desktop or laptop is just another extension of the cloud.

Please +1 this article if you want me to write a part 2.
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