A brief history of cloud computing

In the 1950s the word “cloud” still referred to a visible mass of condensate water vapour, floating in the atmosphere!

What we know as Cloud computing, has historically evolved through a number of phases. Grid and utility computing, application service provision (ASP), and Software as a Service (SaaS) are just a few of the steps it took to get to today’s form of cloud computing. The story and the concept to eventually deliver cloud computing is dated back in the 1950s.

Cloud computing looks back on a gradual evolution that started with mainframe computing.
Multiple users were capable of accessing a central computer through terminals, whose only function was to provide access to the mainframe. Back then the cost involved for acquiring computers was enormous compared to today. So sharing computing resources was the only way to give a number of users’ access to computing power. Providing shared access to a single resource was the solution that made economic sense for this, at that time, sophisticated piece of technology.

Back then J.C.R. Licklider, the person who was majorly involved in building and developing the ARPANET in 1969, had the idea to build an “intergalactic computer network”. The basic idea was to enable every single human on the face of earth to be able to interconnect to anyone else; programs being able to run on remote resources and data being shared between anyone accessing the “intergalactic network”.

Product and Marketing Director at AMD, Margaret Lewis said:

It is a vision that sounds a lot like what we are calling cloud computing today.

While opinions vary, other experts in the cloud vertical do attribute “cloud computing” to another scientist called J. McCarthy, who is responsible for proposing the idea of computation being delivered as a public utility.

Since the late 60s, a number of milestones evolved, with the Web 2.0 concept being one of the latest milestones, but “cloud computing” was not able to develop until advancements were made in increased bandwidth provisioning in the 1990s.

In 2009, as Web 2.0 hit the internet, Google and other companies started offering browser-based enterprise applications. A great example of such a service provided by Big G is Google Apps, which revolutionized the concept of email delivery through a web interface. Until then software applications like Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird needed to be physically installed on top of the operating system in use. One of the first milestones in cloud computing history was the arrival of Salesforce.com in 1999, which is recognized as a pioneer using the concept of delivering enterprise applications via a simple website. The services firm paved the way for specialist and mainstream software firms to deliver applications over the internet.

When referring to cloud computing, one can not not mention Amazon Web Services (AWS), who back in 2002 provided the first form of cloud based services, which included computational resources and storage through their product “Amazon Mechanical Turk.” It was later on in 2006 when Amazon hit the jackpot with their EC2 service offering, which allowed everyone to provision computing resources on demand and install their own operating system and software. Amazon can be described as the first widely accessible cloud computing infrastructure service.

Historically, several hurdles needed to be overcome; Cloud computing wouldn’t be possible without technologies such like virtualisation technology having evolved and matured first. 

Jamie Turner, a UK based cloud computing pioneer said once:

Without the maturity of virtualization, the development of universal high-speed bandwidth, and universal software interoperability standards, the cloud wouldn’t be possible. As cloud computing extends its reach beyond a handful of early-adopter Google Docs users, we can only begin to imagine its scope and reach. Pretty much anything can be delivered from the cloud.


Cloud Computing History Timeline

For the ease of consuming large historical data I’ve prepared a timeline.


Mainframe & Time Sharing

During this decade, the word cloud refers to a visible mass of condensed water vapour floating in the atmosphere.



ARPANET is linking geographically dispersed computers over what is now known as the Internet

Late 1970s

Client - Server

The term “Client-Server” comes into use. Client-Server defines the compute model where clients access data and applications from a central server over a local area network.


Pictures of Clouds

Pictures of Clouds start showing up on Network diagrams. Cloud pictures are denoting anything that is too complex for non-technical people to understand.



Salesforce.com launches. Salesforce.com is the first company to make enterprise applications available through a website.

Google Search

Google launches “Google Search.” The first search engine to implement an algorithm to rank pages by relevancy and other criteria.


Netflix launches, mailing DVDs. Netflix is mailing DVDs in little red envelopes, dreaming of future revenue streams.


Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is born, characterized by rich media. The web is now a place where user generated content and Social Networks flourish. The rise of dynamic content!



Facebook launches its service to the public. Facebook gives people an easy way to share information about themselves with friends and family.



Amazon launches Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS gives users a new way to utilize and rent compute resources (EC2) and store data off site (S3) on a pay per use business model.


Google CEO Eric Schmidt introduces the term “cloud” at an industry conference. It is said that technology executives at Compaq have used the term a decade earlier behind closed doors!



Apple introduces the iPhone. The iPhone could be used on any wireless network and revolutionized the way people interact with a smart device.


Netflix launches streaming services. Video and Data Streaming revolutionizes the way people watch TV on demand.


Cloud Emerges

The concept of Private Cloud emerges. The concept of the “Private cloud” emerges as a more secure version of the poorly named public cloud.


Browser-Based Cloud

Browser based cloud enterprise applications like Google Apps are introduced. Cloud Based enterprise apps used over a simple web browser revolutionize the market, untethering users from their desktops.

The Open-Source Cloud

The Open-Source Cloud movement gains steam. Thanks to OpenStack and EUCALYPTUS the open-source cloud emerges.


Hybrid Cloud Emerges

Hybrid Cloud emerges, combining public and private cloud. Combining public- and private cloud environments, the Hybrid Cloud is born to the delight of trigger-shy IT departments.

Microsoft goes Cloud

Microsoft’s “To the cloud” commercial launches. Microsoft tries to explain mere mortals the benefits of the cloud.


Apple launches iCloud. iCloud is a Cloud Storage service to store pictures in the cloud.


Google Drive

Google launches Google Drive. Google Drive offers Cloud Storage and digital packrats.


IBM acquires SoftLayer

IBM acquires SoftLayer and offers and industry-first, private and reliable, private cloud at the speed and pricing of a public cloud environment.


Cloud adoption accelerates

Cloud adoption accelerates, but still continues to distinguish itself from the plain old Internet.



Andreas Maier | CEO

Andreas is a result-oriented CEO who brings nearly 30 years of experience gained in the high-tech industry. His experience ranges up to leading positions in Fortune 100 companies such as rentalcars.com (PCLN) or Intrasoft International, a leading EU based R&D software vendor. He holds a Ph.D. in Neural Networks from the University of Cologne, Germany.
In the past Andreas has successfully founded and co-founded several startups among others XXL Cloud Inc., eShopLeasing Ltd, and WDS Consulting SA. His expertise is strongly focused on modern headless Commerce and the optimization of processes in IT ecosystems.