Theme timeline

A history of cloud computing

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Popularised in the early 2000s, the phrase ‘cloud computing’ has been around for decades. The symbol of a cloud was used to represent networks of computing equipment back in the 1970s. By the 1990s, the term cloud was being used to refer to platforms for distributed computing.

The idea of renting or time-sharing computing resources is also not new. In the 1960s, time-sharing allowed users to access computers over a phone line, with the cost of the hardware distributed across multiple customers. The arrival of the PC negated the need for time-sharing, but the concept of offering computing power as a utility has resurfaced since then, for example, in the application service provider (ASP) model.

The launch, in 2006, of AWS’s web-based computing infrastructure services brought cloud computing into the mainstream, and the theme has gone on to be a disruptive influence across both enterprise and consumer IT.

The cloud story: How did this theme get here and where is it going? 


ENIAC, the first electronic general-purpose computer, was switched on to calculate artillery firing tables.


The first fully transistorised computer was completed in the US.


IBM launched the System/360 family of mainframe computer systems.


Intel released the 4004, the first commercially available microprocessor.


Xerox introduced the Alto, designed to support an operating system based on a graphical user interface.


The world's first commercially available local area network went into service at Chase Manhattan Bank, New York.


Sun Microsystems developed the network file system protocol, enabling users to access files over a network.


UK computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.


VMware released VMware Workstation, allowing users to set up virtual machines.


Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched as a free service.


AWS started offering web-based computing infrastructure services, now known as cloud computing.


Apple launched the first iPhone, creating the mobile internet as we know it today.


IBM partnered with Google to promote cloud computing in universities.


Google announced App Engine, a developer tool allowing users to run web applications on Google infrastructure.


Microsoft released Azure, its cloud computing service.


IBM introduced the SmartCloud framework.


Facebook launched the Open Compute Project (OCP) to share specifications for energy-efficient data centres.


Docker introduced open-source container software.


Google and Microsoft lead massive build-outs of data centres.


Huawei and Tencent joined Alibaba in major data centre build-outs in China.


Leading data centre operators started the migration to 400G data speeds.


Silicon photonics technology started to positively impact data centre networking architectures.


Edge computing will revise the role of the cloud in key sectors of the economy.


Data centre speeds are expected to exceed 1,000G.


GlobalData forecasts that spending on cloud services (SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS) will be $738 billion.

Source: GlobalData Thematic Intelligence

GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Thematic Intelligence uses proprietary data, research, and analysis to provide a forward-looking perspective on the key themes that will shape the future of the world’s largest industries and the organisations within them.