cloud

It’s a logical evolution of connectivity, software abstraction and commoditized computing power. It was predicted in 1961 by artificial intelligence expert John McCarthy, who envisioned utility computing with “time-shared computers” supplying the logic for “book-size home information terminals.” Cloud computing, like so many other developments, seems, simply, to make sense, even if the steps that paved the way didn’t always.

In 1999, when VMware resuscitated IBM’s virtual machine concept and applied it to the problematic x86 architecture, who cared that most x86 servers were only running at 10% capacity? Today, virtualization is key to data center optimization.

And remember how those Salesforce.com ads with the red line through the word “software” seemed an annoying rehash of 1990s application service providers and 1970s service bureaus? Nearly 93,000 customers later, software-as-a-service is driving interest in the cloud market.

In the mid-2006, didn’t Amazon’s leasing of its excess data center capacity on a utility computing basis only pique the interest of webmasters? Yet it didn’t take long for Amazon to lead the infrastructure-as-a-service charge.

As automatic and incremental as its horizontal crawl has been—and as overhyped as it has been during these depressed economic times—cloud computing has had an undeniable effect on data centers, software shops, major vendors, the U.S. government and Microsoft-ad-aware “to the cloud” consumers.

Start with hosting giant Rackspace. It had to turn on a dime in mid-2009, using agile techniques when recession pressures and new acquisitions forced internal software development to switch its hosting priorities to cloud solutions. “We changed from supporting large numbers of customized solutions to supporting really large numbers of standardized solutions,” said Troy Toman, director of software development at Rackspace.

Or look at Perforce Software, whose lean configuration management tools aren’t yet geared for the cloud. That hasn’t deterred customers from asking the proverbial “Are we there yet?” question. “I’ve been with Perforce for 11 years,” said Tony Smith, Perforce’s European technical director, responsible for the U.K. engineering team developing cloud solutions.

“For most of that time, you could count on one hand the number of requests we got for a managed solution. Nowadays they’re coming thick and fast. People are much more willing to adopt the software-as-a-service model, thanks to the success of companies like Workday and Salesforce.”