Cloud is time sharing?

I was talking to Jeanne Harris — the author of the book “Competing on Analytics” — last year. I was trying to explain what is Cloud Computing and what are the various benefits. It took a while for her to peel through the marketing hype, until finally she said: “I got it, it is time sharing!”.

For those not familiar, time sharing is a concept introduced in 1957 and it is the prominent model of computing in the 1970s. Computers, such as main frames, were expensive back then. To share the expensive machine more efficiently, programmers use remote terminals whose accesses are multiplexed to a single computer.

Since the advent of PCs in the 80’s, computers get cheaper over time and the prominent model of computing has shifted to happen more at the client side. The main driver is bandwidth and latency. Can you imagine running an interactive and UI-rich application over the remote terminal on a mainframe? It is a good tradeoff in exchange for a lowered machine utilization because the machine is cheap anyway.

Things are changing again over the last decade. With the advance in search, social networking, business intelligence etc., we are all of a sudden inundated with a lot of data to analyze. The problem we try to solve and hence the computation capacity needs get dramatically bigger. Economics is again in favor of a time-sharing model where many people share the expensive Cloud. Because of its scale, only a handful of companies, such as Amazon, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft can afford to build such a Cloud.

History does come around, does not it?

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