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Today we use the term “cloud” without thinking about it. We use it mainly in terms of storage online, far away and unreachable. We can’t plug in a USB memory in the cloud to download data. We plug the USB into our own computer, connect to the cloud and download, as if it was a local storage.

In the two great Wikipedia articles Cloud storage and File hosting service there are a lot of information on architecture, potential threats and costs, but nothing really on the origin of the word cloud.

Searching online you get a lot of answers of the meaning of cloud, some better than others. One of the more fun comes from Rebecca J. Rosen’s article Clouds: The Most Useful Metaphor of All Time?

. . . when engineers would map out all the various components of their networks, but then loosely sketch the unknown networks (like the Internet) theirs was hooked into. What does a rough blob of undefined nodes look like? A cloud. And, helpfully, clouds are something that take little skill to draw. It's a squiggly line formed into a rough ellipse. Over time, clouds were adopted as the stand-in image for the part of a computer or telephone network outside one's own.

However amusing, it still doesn’t answer the question – where did it come from? Who coined it? What’s the origin of the metaphor cloud?

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How a social media guru might have add the term 'cloud' to a service: onsip.com/blog/2010/02/23/cloud-telephony-vs-internet-telephony –  Roger Attrill Apr 5 '13 at 7:55
    
@RogerAttrill That movie made my friday, thanks! –  Benny Skogberg Apr 5 '13 at 8:03

3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

OK - I'll start the ball rolling.

From Wikipedia article on Cloud Computing: Origin of the Cloud symbol

The origin of the term cloud computing was derived from the practice of using drawings of stylized clouds to denote networks in diagrams of computing and communications systems. The word cloud was used as a metaphor for the Internet, based on the standardized use of a cloud-like shape to denote a network on telephony schematics and later to depict the Internet in computer network diagrams. The cloud symbol was used to represent the Internet as early as 1994.[Links to to US Patents] Servers were then shown connected to, but external to, the Cloud symbol.

The earlier US Patent US_5485455 linked above was filed Jan 28, 1994 by Cabletron Systems Inc. and includes the following diagram:

enter image description here enter image description here

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+1 Interesting reference! But... where did the use of a cloud to represent a telephony network originate from then? –  André Apr 5 '13 at 7:46
    
I was wondering that too - I'm hoping someone else has that info :-) –  Roger Attrill Apr 5 '13 at 7:48
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+1 Of course it's from "Cloud computing"! I looked at the wrong places (again). The last image text says it all - doesn't it? Great answer! –  Benny Skogberg Apr 5 '13 at 8:06
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I know from doing load balancing in a call center in the late early 90s that the term 'cloud' was in use then, by AT&T. It described the processing of calls that took place 'out on the network', as opposed to actions you could take on-site. It was just as much a silly marketing term then as it is now. –  kbelder Apr 5 '13 at 16:10
    
+1 for going to the effort of actually getting the patent diagram. Great admiration, sir! :-) –  AndrewJacksonZA Apr 9 '13 at 7:51

My attempting at tracing the breadcrumbs:

Probable origin of cloud (not the term, but the technology)

The idea of an "intergalactic computer network" was introduced in thesixties by J.C.R. Licklider, who was responsible for enabling the development of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) in 1969.

Now, I think somewhere in 1990s, there was a transformation of the grid into the cloud

In the early 1990s Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman came up with a new concept of “The Grid”. The analogy used was of the electricity grid where users could plug into the grid and use a metered utility service. If companies don't have their own powers stations, but rather access a third party electricity supply, why can't the same apply to computing resources? Plug into a grid of computers and pay for what you use.

After that, it entered the commercial domain by Salesforce & Amazon

One of the first milestones for cloud computing was the arrival of Salesforce.com in 1999, which pioneered the concept of delivering enterprise applications via a simple website. The services firm paved the way for both specialist and mainstream software firms to deliver applications over the internet.

The next development was Amazon Web Services in 2002, which provided a suite of cloud-based services including storage, computation and even human intelligence through the Amazon Mechanical Turk.

A history of cloud computing

A history of cloud computing (different author)

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The concept of "clouds" where used in different sciences long before the concept of cloud computing existed. According to wikipedia:

The expression cloud is commonly used in science to describe a large agglomeration of objects that visually appear from a distance as a cloud and describes any set of things whose details are not inspected further in a given context.

Example: in mathematics, a point cloud is a large number of points in a coordinate system.

I suspect that IT just took over the same term. According to this article, the term was introduced in IT in 1996, at Compaq Computers.

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