Who Did Coin The Term 'Cloud Computing'?

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In the Oct. 31 edition of MIT Technology Review, writer Antonio Regalado delves into the origin of this ample ingredient in tech jargon: “Cloud computing.”

His research puts the date at November 1996 - almost exactly 15 years ago. That’s when a renegade group of technologists inside Compaq Computer (later bought by Hewlett-Packard) coined the phrase as a strategy to sell more servers to Internet-service providers.

Not Google in 2006. Or Amazon, with its Elastic Compute Cloud (abbreviated “EC2″). Or Dell Computer, which tried to trademark the term in 2008, only to get lambasted by the ever-vocal computer programming community.

Given the reach of the publication and the incendiary nature of such a topic, I’m betting a dime that Regalado gets lots and lots of comments (and email flames) on his linguistic time stamp.

Think of this in plain old cable terms. Ever ask an old-timer who built the first cable system and where? It always comes out at least two ways: Oregon and Pennsylvania, in a dead heat.

Besides, it just seems to me that “cloud computing” must twist back farther than 15 years.

Here’s how the National Institute of Standards and Technology recently defined the term: “A model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service-provider interaction.”

“Or service-provider interaction?” Not to quibble with the nation’s standards-setting body, but for the readers of this publication, and as this column has pointed out before: Cable is a cloud. That’s even more the case these days, as operators and programming networks race to place clickable icons on all of our screens that can play video, but aren’t necessarily connected via a set-top box.

Think about it: Headends are morphing into “data centers,” and every operator in the land is readying its “as-a-service” suffixes - in the cloud world, these go by “infrastructure as a service (IaaS),” “software as a service (SaaS)” and so on.

That brings into question whether “cloud computing” is synonymous with “network-based computing.” I’d say yes.

Regardless of where you stand on the matter, you can’t ever go wrong in reading MIT Technology Review, which last year brilliantly asked whether what’s going on is a cloud - or a swamp.

One line stood out to me in Regalado’s piece: ” ‘Cloud computing’ captures a historic shift in the IT industry as more computer memory, processing power, and apps are hosted in remote data centers, or the ‘cloud.’ ”

So, be super-nice to your IT people. They’re the folks who will make sure you’re a cloud, and not a swamp.

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at www.translation-please.com or multichannel.com/blog.