11 October 2011

When clouds were just fluffy things in the skies and mainframes were becoming obsolete.

My head is definitely not in the clouds, or should I say my computer is not involved in cloud computing. One thing that always intrigues me is the capability of the internet marketing people to take something that has been around for decades, re-label it with another name and sell it for thousands more than its worth. The internet is a prime example, I would imagine quite a few people would be surprised to learn that the internet was around in the late sixties. Though it wasn’t until it was repackaged as the World Wide Web with nifty domain names in the nineties that it became the popular beast it is now.


Just redesign a bulletin board, an electronic notice board that was downloaded onto home computers via the phone line before the internet was so popular, so each user has their own board, complete with pictures and internet links, call it Facebook and make millions.  Take IRC (Internet Relay Chat), a place for real computer geeks to spend their time, limit the amount of characters per chat, remove the chat room walls so everyone has to read everyone else’s comments no matter what the subject and call it Twitter, another way to remarket and make billions. And there are many more examples of this in our internet world. It is now, and perhaps always has been, how well you market an idea, not how original or useful that idea is.. No disrespect to the skills of the creators of Facebook or Twitter, they both saw an opportunity and took it, and that in itself is a great skill.


When I went to university in the mid eighties I was given a password to the “Cantran” system. It was an operating system built on a Digital PDP-11 (developed 1969). I will admit I was the last year to use the system as the next intake were trained on a Novel 1.1 IBM PC based network, the latest in technology, large personal computers made out of cast iron with approximately 1 megabyte of memory. The university saw the writing on the wall and realised that with processors and memory getting cheaper the personal computer was the future.


Getting back to the PDP-11, this was what was known as a “Mini-Computer.” It only took up the space of three huge filing cabinets, compared to the mainframes upstairs which took up a room the size of a large lounge each. I was introduced to the mainframes in my second year. How a mainframe or mini-computer worked was that the major processing power and all memory storage was located in the mainframe/mini-computer and the machine used to access this power was a dumb terminal (or in a few cases as Apple gave free technology to the university Apple Macs pretending to be a dumb terminal, which was not hard for them to do back then). It seemed logical to invest the capital into one central location so one could get the most power for their money. It also meant backups could be created of all information centrally as the dumb terminals were not capable of storing data.


As the years wore on people became increasingly weary of having to dial up to a central computer and so when powerful computers became affordable to the general public there was a move away from central storage and towards independent computers. The idea of a central storage and processing unit was lost, that is until the internet became popular. Then start up companies started hiring out online storage “We’ll back up your data for you” they said. Then when the internet became more stable people started asking “Why do I need to store locally at all?” Especially when cheap small-storage machines as net-books, phones and tablets became available.


This is when the marketing experts stepped in and realised that this was a marketing goldmine. But they had to make it seem new, saying to people “Why not sign up to our Mainframes?” seemed a bit archaic, even though that is exactly what they were saying, so they invented the term “Cloud Computing” and marketed that. So I have to say I used Cloud Computing in the mid eighties using a 1960s computer, and I much rather have my PC with localised storage and processing power any day. I am not scared of new technology, I’m scared of old technology proven to have issues dressed up as new technology.


My question here is what happens if a virus takes the internet down for an hour or so? Which has happened in the past and can happen again in the future. I remember a great quote in a Time Magazine about the “I Love You” virus, a virus that did cripple the internet for a while. (Not an exact quote as I have not yet sourced the article to quote from so it is purely from memory). “The ‘I Love You’ virus was written by a person who did not have a clue about what they were doing or programming languages, it was a mixture of various virus programme codes and was lucky to have worked at all. Imagine the damage that could be done by someone who actually knows what they are doing?” And that was before the internet was underpinning the whole world as it is now, and Cloud Computing will make the world even more reliant on the internet being stable without disruption.


I predicted a return to mainframe mentality in my book “BORIS” (written around 1999) which is now under the working title of “CRAIG” due to the original title being too close to “BOAS” in sound. It is an acronym so may change yet again before publish date. In the original the return to mainframe was a result of the internet being mortally wounded by a virus and a computer company took the opportunity to capture the market by offering a internet like environment on their mainframe. Now I will be looking more into a Cloud computing company buying out all other cloud computing companies to obtain a monopoly that way. (Or producing a product that is so popular everyone buys it, but it only can be used on one cloud computing system) that last one is very tempting but possibly too close to home.


Anyway the story follows a reporter who discovers a major flaw in trusting one’s files to the care of a large multinational company and many other nasty things on the way to clear his own name after he is wrongfully accused of several major crimes. I will be working on this one after BOAS, so you will hear more about it later. It is very similar in style to IVRRAC.


Cheers and Blessings




  1. Interesting. I hadn't thought about Facebook and Twitter being repackaged in that way, nor was I entirely aware of the existence of a net before the WWW was born.

    The new book sounds interesting. Our current dependence on anything internet, without the security backing to properly keep up is a weakness. We don't consider who is running these things, who works there, what they do with our information, etc.

    Tina @ Life is Good
    and I are joining forces in a followup A to Z challenge. We're going to visit and comment at each of the original A to Z participants, and we hope you'll join us!

    Shannon @ The Warrior Muse

  2. Spouse was using dial-up lines between San Francisco and an Jose in the 70s. We were both using email (! addressing) in the 80s. We who were connected before the WWW connected everyone can only smile.


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