The MBA Guide to IT

Episode 24 - Why is it called The Cloud?

It’s Friday, so let’s answer a question.  Why is it called “the cloud”?

Back when I started working with computers, there was no social media…no websites even.  Dinosaurs-ruled-the-earth.

Academic and government networks were beginning to arise, but there was no public internet.  Surely company offices needed to talk to each other.  How did they do it?

Well, if you had a datacenter on the east coast and a datacenter on the west coast, you called up the phone company and ordered a special phone line.  These were private lines from one site to another.

Someone had an insight.

If A had a private line to B and B had a private line to C, then A could talk to C.  If B were willing to carry the traffic, A did not need a private line to C.

Eventually this grew into a network of networks much like the railroads a century earlier.  Instead of standardizing on track gauge, these connections standardized on communications protocols.  If A needed to talk to Z, the network would find a path but neither the sender nor the receiver needed to worry about the actual path taken.

Your data could travel through various private datacenters to reach its target.   Because the actual path taken was unknown in advance and often unimportant, architects would draw this portion of the network as a cloud.

By the time we started watching House of Cards on Netflix, dedicated backbones and switches had replaced most of these informal networks.  Today, it’s highly unlikely your business email will go through some university’s computer lab, but that’s exactly the way the internet started.

Episode #24 – 1/11/2019

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