The History Series 2 – Cloud Computing

This post is the second of a three-part series on the rise of the cloud in enterprise software. You can read the first one here.

When Tim Berners-Lee first demoed versions of the internet at the fabled CERN, the response wasn’t exactly viral. It took some time for the internet to take off even among a crowd of early adopters as technologically advanced as CERN’s, but as soon as Berners-Lee put up a copy of the CERN phonebook on the web, everyone started to get how useful this technology could be.

 

The web grew in popularity, slowly at first, but as the early adopters and the ones that came after started to understand its potential, it blew up into a movement, almost. Email started its journey towards the ubiquitousness of today, and the era’s best talent competed to build great internet experiences.

The browser wars

Thus started the battle of the browsers, and there was a slew of them in those days – starting with Berners-Lee’s own Nexus, there were Erwise, Mosaic, Netscape Navigator, AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve and so on. The first truly popular browser was Mosaic, which was overshadowed by the introduction of Windows’ Internet Explorer, packed into its Windows machines. After IE & Netscape came Mozilla, Chrome & Safari, all with distinct ambitions of their own. These days it is Chrome which is widely seen to have won the browser wars, arguably because of its superior usability, but Firefox & Safari hold on to their clientele; IE holds on by virtue of its captive audience.

In spite of it being a popular punching bag today, IE was what started it all; the browser’s ubiquitousness and the internet’s proliferation meant that businesses had to start taking it seriously, and with technologies like SSL, whose first usable version came out in February 1995, starting to enable online transactions, there were opportunities galore for people who were ready to experiment with something new.

The dot-com boom

The late 90s started a new wave of startups with the aim to take advantage of the internet, ranging from sectors as diverse as e-commerce to pet food.

However, this wave of money in the valley funded ambitious & sometimes half-baked ideas that imploded in the spectacular crash of the early 2000s. The dot-com boom brought the tech industry back from a dream it had invested too much in & worked too little for. But the recession that followed also contributed something significant to the Valley – it ensured that only the resilient companies, the ones with strong fundamentals & real revenue, survived. This process, which Schumpeter memorably called ‘creative destruction’, also meant that fertile ground had been cleared for actual, results-based innovation to be nurtured.

Innovations & the cloud

With the legacy players consolidating to take advantage of a volatile marketplace, there was space for smaller players to innovate and create something new. They got their chance with the advent of new technologies like Application Service Providers and Cloud Computing.

Though ASPs still needed an emulator like Citrix or had to be downloaded on to the system to access the application, the cloud was a different beast altogether. All that the users needed was a browser, and they could access the application immediately. Everything else, the infrastructure and the servers & the wires were invisible, that is, behind the cloud, hence the term cloud computing.

Software as a Service

But then cloud computing wasn’t really new. Only the name was; the concept was as old as computing itself. Time-sharing was the original cloud computing, where users shared CPU time on the mainframe, after which came VPNs. The cloud was their successor, but for the cloud to truly become a game changer for businesses, there had to rise another innovation in selling software to consumers.

SaaS was about to disrupt the way software was sold & used by businesses.