Cloud
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10/26/2009
04:38 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Is Cloud Bigger Than The Advent Of The Personal Computer?

Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, says "the cloud" is a phenomenon that is bigger than the advent of the PC. I think he's almost got it right. Cloud is bigger than the PC Revolution, but it's big in part because it incorporates and extends the PC revolution to Internet server clusters. The cloud owes more to the PC than Eric acknowledges.

Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, says "the cloud" is a phenomenon that is bigger than the advent of the PC. I think he's almost got it right. Cloud is bigger than the PC Revolution, but it's big in part because it incorporates and extends the PC revolution to Internet server clusters. The cloud owes more to the PC than Eric acknowledges.According to a Reuters report today, Eric Schmidt told the 900 technology executives at the Utah Technology Council's Hall of Fame event in Salt Lake City that cloud computing is a phenomenon that's bigger than the advent of the PC. I agree with anyone who says this, but I would also point out there's a strong relationship between cloud computing and the PC. Once you get away from the big server point of view, cloud looks a lot like a vehicle for picking up on and extending the PC revolution, both to new users and new devices.

The PC Revolution was born of the end user's desire for more computer power and his difficulty in obtaining it. IBM didn't invent the PC because it had the mainframe, and the mainframe ruled an orderly, top-down world of computing in which IBM profits rolled in with predictable regularity.

Once computers built from mass produced parts were put in the hands of end users, they showed what they could do with them. Ever since that day, end users have desired connection to their fellow workers, to their counterparts around the world and to the big servers holding crucial information on specialized fields. Many barriers were established to deny this access, sometimes for good reasons.

Thank goodness Tim Berners-Lee (now Sir Tim) came along with the World Wide Web through his work at the CERN accelerator. It gave end users access to powerful servers on the Internet through a few simple HTTP communication commands. Now cloud computing is bringing not just information but powerful applications and computing infrastructure to end users, whether that user is an individual in an attic or an IT staff in an enterprise.

The mainframe and the early Internet both represented client/server computing where the client was nothing and the server everything. The client was not supposed to think; it was in a master/slave relationship. In the cloud, there's been a power shift where the client (whether PC, netbook or smart phone) thinks for itself and tells the server what program to run or even to run a program that it sends the server.

This is the start of the second phase of the PC revolution, but it ought to be called the end user revolution, or better yet, the cloud revolution. In this latter upheaval, end users, especially businesses, will come to the fore and use big server farms on the Internet in ways we can still barely imagine today. But remember, that server farm is now made up of low cost PC parts, and the business user is benefiting from something the original PC user always lobbied for -- to tell the server what to run and how it could go to work for him. The cloud enables a redistribution of power in the direction of the end user, and Internet users are excited about this. Companies that want to supply cloud services are excited as well. They know they can offer something that hasn't been available before, based on new cloud architectures, at prices that many of those end users are going to find cheap and reasonable. Maybe that explains Eric Schmidt's emphasis on the cloud as a server phenomenon. He knows end users have both the means and the appetite to sample what Google servers will offer next.

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