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Anne Stuart’s BPM in Action

Dennis Byron

Cloud Computing: Don't Get Bamboozled by the Buzzwords

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In a recent blog post, I wrote that cloud computing was not the "next big thing" but the "first big thing" finally done right because various factors were now in place to deliver on the promises of utility computing first made in the 1960s. I was thinking of cloud computing, and not business process management (BPM), because ebizQ is going to bring BPM and cloud computing together on June 3 in a webinar and a panel discussion. To sign up, follow the links and send us your questions.

Among comments and emails I received was a reminder from prolific BPM author Peter Fingar that I should not forget GTE when remembering GE. Peter has a related new book out on the subject called Dot.Cloud.

I also received a comment from ebizQ Forum (see ebizQ home page) contributor Scott Francis that makes mistakes about both cloud computing and the history behind cloud computing that I believe many vendors want made (see orginal post for Scott's complete comment). Cloud computing is not SaaS. The history is not about lower admin costs or HAL.


  • If you want science fiction, go to the library.

  • If you want lower admin costs, buy an AS/400 and a UPS and put them in a closet--it'll run for years.

For some reason (and I apologize if my blog writing style contributed to this), Scott equated 1940s-era computing concepts and science fiction with timesharing and 1960s computing concepts. 1960s-era Multics was not "motivated by" either better scheduling or artificial intelligence. As Wikipedia explains

"It had numerous features... so that it would produce a computing utility similar to the telephone and electricity services."

In other words, the cloud. (Wikipedia has a good summary but for more information, check out multicians.org.)

Because of its MIT relationship, in addition to the related IT research and development, numerous multi-academic-discipline studies (e.g., sociological, economic, polysci) were done even before the operating system was finished all of which raised the questions that underlay cloud discussions today. The one I loved--probably because this is tax season in the U.S.--was about the implications of the government using the cloud to do your taxes for you. I somehow feel even the thought of this led directly to the creation of TurboTax.

As for just the effect of 1960s IT concepts on today's IT, generally and in contradiction to Scott's comment, "a very direct line" of development effort can be drawn from those times to today. Until and unless Moore's Law and the fundamentals of Johnny von Neumann's architecture (e.g., one instruction at a time) are repealed, the science is the same; it's just the application that gets better and better.

In particular, Scott's opinion that today's operating software features sprang from the rib of Adam 20 years ago is a form of IT creationism. Multics had a major effect on two of the three leading operating systems found running the cloud today, which is why the Wikipedia summary says

"Due to its many novel and valuable ideas Multics had a great impact in the computer field even though it was then much derided by its critics."

Specifically:


  • Fairly directly, Multics led to Vax led to Windows Server.

  • Less directly, the two guys from Bell Labs working on Multics found themselves without a platform when Bell Labs pulled out of the project in 1969. Using many Multics' concepts but wanting to write a simpler operating system, they produced software that some of their peers called the Un-Multics. The name was shortened and stuck.

  • (The third key cloud operating system is of course the IBM mainframe batch operating system also written in the early 1960s and its still active descendants.)

And no, I did not write the Wikipedia entry :). I strongly suggest that anyone that really wants to understand cloud computing, check out multicians.org.

Or get bamboozled by the buzzwords as some vendors hope, and just think of cloud computing as a way to hold down administrative costs. Cloud computing is not SaaS.

-- Dennis Byron

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Business process management and optimization -- philosophies, policies, practices, and punditry.

Anne Stuart

I am the editor of ebizQ.

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