Cloud, cloud Cloud cloud CLOUD CLOUD CLOUD, again and again!

I am so tired of hearing about the “cloud” I could just scream. You already know how I feel about new buzzwords made up by marketing geeks to hype up some product and create new brands, and end up confusing people while they sell more stuff, claiming it’s “new.” 

Online Backup CEO Rob Cosgrove

Rob Cosgrove, CEO Remote Backup Systems

Well, “cloud” is just another one that I haven’t attacked yet. But here goes.

I am 56 years old. I have been in the computer business since I was 18. That’s a lot of years to see a lot of trends and cycles. Let’s talk about a cycle that comes around every few years, when trends change from using centralized processing and storage, to using localized processing and storage, and then back again.

When I first started in computers the only way to interact with a computer was through a card reader. There were a lot of card readers attached to a single big computer, and they were the dumb terminals of the day.

All processing took place on the “mainframe.” Processing and storage was centralized in one big computer shared by a lot of people.

That was the beginning of the first cycle.

A few years later personal computers came along. At first they were kits you could build, available mostly to nerds who could use a soldering iron. Soon there were a lot of individual personal computers with their own processors and storage.

Now processing and storage migrated from the mainframe to the individual personal computers, and that’s where most of the work was done and stored.

Then several people invented ways to network personal computers and processing and storage could be distributed again. Operating systems like MP/M for small computers allowed dumb terminals to share a “minicomputer” which did all the processing and storage.

Once again, processing and storage became centralized. This didn’t last very long, maybe four years. That was the end of the first cycle.

The second cycle began almost immediately as more PCs came into the marketplace, running DOS and Windows, with prices decreasing rapidly, especially for storage space and RAM, minicomputers fell out of favor and processing and storage again moved back to the local computers.

Then several companies – Novell, Apple, and others came up with networks based on SNA, IPX and other protocols that could allow personal computers to communicate, but more importantly, they could store their data and offload some processing to a “File Server,” which was just another personal computer, usually with a bigger hard drive and more processing power.

Many low-powered personal computers could now share a single large File Server in small, private networks.

This became very popular and represents the end of the second cycle, when processing and storage again became centralized.

The third cycle began with the invention of a new network protocol called TCP/IP that soon allowed private networks to communicate with one another, and the Internet was born. The Internet allowed individual computers and their networks to share resources with one another.

The network became global, and when engineers drew network diagrams to explain it, they used an outline of a fluffy cloud to represent the Internet. That was the coining of the term “Cloud” to mean “Internet” and it happened many years ago – not recently, and it is not a new term.

Computer users used the Internet (or Cloud) to share files over long distances. Processing and storage remained local to the many private networks connected to the Internet, so from the larger perspective now afforded by the Internet, the trend had swung back again to doing local processing and storage.

Internet servers began to appear in the Cloud which were used by many individuals and private networks to store and retrieve files, to share files, to communicate with one another, and to provide various services.

These were (and still are) big, powerful centralized servers that stored a lot of files and did a lot of processing for a lot of people. So, once again processing and storage became centralized, and ended the third cycle.

The recent overuse of the term “Cloud” began the fourth cycle. Marketing geeks who needed to put a new spin on an old technology started calling any service hosted on an Internet server a “Cloud” service, to make it sound new and cool.

Then they started to use the phrase “in the cloud” to refer to just about anything that was on the Internet. Online Backup became “backing up to the cloud.” It’s stupid – makes no sense at all. It’s just marketing babble. Online Backup has been “in the cloud,” for years.

Remote Backup Service Providers provide a “cloud backup solution.” They always have. But now you can call it something cool and new!

VMware, Amazon and others then came along with solutions that could create virtual servers that could be accessed remotely through the Internet. Of course they called them “Cloud Servers.” In just a few minutes you can now create a dedicated virtual server with any specifications you want, and use it immediately to provide Cloud services.

Virtualization has become very popular in the few years it has been possible, and is gaining favor rapidly. In just a few years I expect most servers to be virtualized, once again with centralized processing and storage, accessed through web services, and this will be the end of the fourth cycle.

So, the wheel has gone around four times in the past 40 years, as trends have swung from centralized processing and storage and localized processing and storage, and back again.

I don’t know where it’s going next. Virtualization is really one of the coolest things since the Internet. Maybe we’ve seen the last cycle.

If enough people say the same thing with conviction, it becomes fact. So, I think the term “Cloud” is here to stay. But, don’t ever think that it’s something new or cool. It’s not. It’s just the Internet.

Don’t think that some company that uses the phrase “cloud service” in their advertising is any better or different than you, even if you run your online backup service from a data center in Dothan, Alabama – even if you run your service from a server in your own office. It’s still an Internet Server, a Cloud Server.

Your RBS Server is a cloud server, and your service is a cloud service. If you think you’ll get more business by tossing around the term Cloud, then by all means do so.

It just means “Internet.”


Rob Cosgrove is the President of Remote Backup Systems, founder of the Online Backup Industry, and a vocal advocate for maintaining the highest standards in Online Backup software. His latest book, the Online Backup Guide for Service Providers: How to Start and Operate an Online Backup Service, is available online now, on, and at bookstores.

Remote Backup Systems provides brandable, scalable software and solutions to MSPs and VARs enabling them to offer Online Backup Services.


About The Author

Steve Roberts /

Steve Roberts is VP of Engineering at Remote Backup Systems (, developers of the RBackup Online Backup software platform, providing software powering more than 9,500 Service Providers in 65 countries since 1987.