Wednesday, April 28, 2010

History Repeats Itself

I spend most of my time looking at events that occurred before 1920 and the history of those times. Yet, every once and a while I have deja vu of some event in my own life. At times we do not recognize that this "new" idea is the same idea that we saw in the past. Cloud computing for me is such an example.

When I became a software programmer PCs did not exist. Data and information was stored on storage devices connected to mainframe computers. To access that data, one had to connect to the computer via a "dumb" terminal. The sole purpose of the terminal was to allow a user to type a command that was sent to the computer and display the results on the terminal screen.

In the 1980s PCs were being introduced. I remember using a PC that could pretend that it was a dumb terminal and connect to the mainframe. The difference between the dumb terminal and the PC was that I could now capture the data and use PC applications to manipulate it, create reports, run analysis application with it.

The concept of distributed processing emerged as a result of the introduction of the PC. However, the IT (Information Technology) people were justifiably concerned about how to support this type of environment. Can you expect that a PC user will know when and how to apply software upgrades? Can you expect a PC user to backup his/her data that is stored on a PC hard drive? And many more questions were raised.

There were definite advantages to having a centralized system. System upgrades were handled at single point within an organization and by the IT professionals. Data files were routinely backed up in the event of a failure in the system. At that time, this was a problem about which businesses had to be concerned.

As time marched on, more and more people were buying PCs and buying high speed access to the Internet. The interest in genealogy was growing rapidly during this same time. By the 21st century, we could access the Internet at high speeds, take digital photos, download digital images related to our family history.

Where did we store these images and information but on our PC. Did most of us have a backup procedure to make sure that we did not lose those images or that data we spent years gathering? Probably not, based on the number of posts that I see about recovering files from a hard disk that crashed or from a computer that died.

So it seems that we are in a revival of a sort of the mainframe-dumb terminal era. Cloud computing is the name of the game. The cloud computing businesses are telling you that you can store your photos, document images, and family tree outside of your computer. All of your data will be backed up and recoverable.

The difference today from back in the days of the mainframe and dumb terminals is you can access your stuff from any PC. Just provide your login ID and password.

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