By Bill Murray
With Andy Thibault
There are many answers. Some are literal. Some are metaphorical.
Before we get to the Information Superhighway and the vast cloud real estate holdings of Amazon and Google, let’s start with the collaboration among the U.S. military, academia and telephone companies at the height of the Cold War.
The seeds of pretty much everything the Internet does today were contained in a 1962 memo written by computer scientist J.C.R. Licklider, aka “Lick.” Lick unloaded what he knew to the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, which created a military Internet known as the ARPANET. By the end of the decade, ARPANET was able to send messages between computers in different geographical locations.
Early Internet communications were based on telephone long-distance switches, which became ports. The Public Switched Telephone Network known as PSTN allowed computers to connect with modems. Compuserve became a pioneer in indexing the huge amounts of data that were generated.
Shared networks were developed that could transmit packets of data — regardless of type, content or structure. New switches were created, allowing users to send voice by computer. Ultimately, computer networks were able to encapsulate phone data, instead of vice versa.
U.S. Sen. Al Gore Jr. drafted the High Performance Computing and Communications Act of 1991, which turned the phone network into a giant computer system. Taxpayers subsidized most of the costs for the telecommunications giants.
Corporations with huge buildings, clean power, security and fast servers realized over time they were using very little of their rack space or hardware. So, they began renting it.
Google built a massive data center in Redmond, Wash., and began indexing everything. Other companies including Amazon began using virtualization — systems that operate apart from hardware. As inter-linked computers shared space, Internet Clouds were built. Google Docs, for example, is one of many Internet Clouds. Amazon and Google have been so successful renting space that Microsoft, AOL and Apple are now considered an underdog in the Cloud market.
Two factors make the cloud such a giant today: Instead of selling software, software companies prefer to rent their products. This way they have no liability for writing inferior code. At the same time, they don’t have to worry about piracy because they control the environment in which the software runs.
The collapse of the dot-com and financial bubbles left a huge supply of data centers with a limited number of customers.
We’ll explore dangers of the Internet Cloud in a future column.
Bill Murray is president of EdocMasters LLC, a company that takes the mystery out of e-documentation for the legal industry. Andy Thibault, author of books including Law & Justice In Everyday Life, blogs at The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com/
Published in New Haven Register 12/25/2011