Buzzword watch: Cloud Computing

I just read a post online by someone with a California police department who speaks of Google’s recent agreement with Los Angeles to bring in Google’s email platform to serve a local government office. This is described, in the post, as “cloud computing”.

Technically it is cloud computing. But this particular form of cloud computing is nothing new. Email online – through a web browser – has been around for years, since at least the mid-1990’s. The reason many people didn’t use webmail back in the early days was simple: you had to get web access to use it, and most people gained web access by paying a monthly fee to an Internet Service Provider, most of whom gave away email addresses with those monthly accounts. So who needed to also set up a free web-based account on Juno, or Hotmail?

I still remember when Microsoft acquired Hotmail in 1997, and web savvy pioneers lamented the impending doom of free browser-based email interfaces. Microsoft, the thinking went at the time, would bury Hotmail in exchange for pay-as-you-go services. Clearly that hasn’t happened.

Then there’s also the classic story about the time Microsoft didn’t pay their renewal fee to Network Solutions for a domain name associated with their implementation of Hotmail (the domain name was, and the domain name registration expired, killing email access to a large portion of the 52 million Hotmail users. As the great behemoth of Microsoft engaged in troubleshooting, one lone technically sharp Hotmail customer named Michael Chaney figured it out and coughed up the $35 registration fee out of his own pocket with his personal credit card, reactivating Hotmail for the world. For his part in troubleshooting and repairing one of multi-billion-dollar tech giant’s flagship public products, Microsoft reimbursed Chaney with a check for $500, which he sold on ebay for much more.

BUT I DIGRESS … and that was all a long time ago.

The point is this: services such as Juno, Hotmail, and Google’s Gmail, have all been around in various forms and under various brand names for more than ten years.

They have all taken the complexity out of the problems of maintaining email servers and outsourced the management of email systems to other companies. None of them are new.

But cloud computing needs to be more than just the simple act of making software available through a browser, hosted offset by another company.

Cloud computing, by necessity, must offer comparable integration options, security, configuration, and other administrative features typically available to customers of hosted software.

In spite of the claims by even the leading vendors in the “cloud”, these capabilities are far from fully available. However, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until the day comes when outsourced online enterprise services can be provided across the web in a fully customizable, fully integrated network of ad-hoc a la carte tools, all from a secure multi-tenant managed platform. That day is inevitable.

In the meantime, don’t be taken in by old webmail systems wrapped up in 2010 packaging with newer buzzwords. Online applications have been around for a long time. I still remember working with the World Bank to set up online loan management systems through a web interface as far back as 1995 and 1996. We didn’t call it a “cloud” at the time, but that’s what it was – easy-to-use point-and-click interfaces available to users worldwide who had no need to deploy hosted applications in their own office – we managed it for them, through an easy-to-use browser interface.

That was literally over ten years ago. The concepts are not new. But the buzzwords are.

That being said, a wider understanding of it is also new. And so are efforts to establish web-based – or should I say “cloud-based” – integration efforts through customizable screens. That is the real challenge in advancing the cause of cloud computing. Once that technological hurdle is overcome, we’ll start to see real advancements in the area of cloud computing.