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I'm trying to figure out what are the key technological innovations or inventions that the "cloud" introduces as an improvement over web pages; or maybe over SAAS.

Seems to me that "cloud" is merely a new marketing word for technology that's been around for a while.

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The marketing buzz might have gotten you. 'Cloud' applications need not be websites at all. Depending on the provider, it can be seen to be closer to grid computing than web hosting. – Steve Evers Nov 28 '11 at 17:27
Possible duplicate: What is “the Cloud” and how does it relate to development? – user8 Nov 28 '11 at 17:45
up vote 1 down vote accepted

cloud computing is nothing new, what is new the the availability of high speed internet allowing companies to market cloud concepts to people who don't need it at a low enough cost that they buy it anyway and companies make tons of money from it. similar to text messaging.

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Back around the turn of the century, there was a big todo about the concept of an ASP (Application Service Provider). The idea was that a third party would host your software for you and you pay monthly licensing fees.

Cloud computing is basically taking that concept to another level. Rather than buying the hardware or provisioning it from a traditional web host, a Cloud Provider can provide you the hardware to run your application on demand. If you see a sudden spike in usage, you can crank up the capacity and when it goes back to normal levels you can dial it down.

This allows you to avoid the upfront costs to prepare for high volumes enabling what is called utility computing. That is you pay for what you use. Of course, like many things in technology, this is nothing new. Large companies with mainframes used to rent out horsepower to other companies under a similar model called timesharing which is exactly what it sounds like.

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+1 for mentioning timesharing – maple_shaft Nov 28 '11 at 17:19
Timesharing is like renting a generator with a fixed amount of power. The cloud is like having an entire power plant at your disposal. Fixed of course, but more than you could buy. – JeffO Nov 28 '11 at 19:11
Customers were charged per hour of connect time and per second of CPU time (in addition to their terminal rental fees and storage fees in kilobyte increments). When you talk relatively, there was more power in a single Mainframe than any single company could afford. I don't have numbers on actual pricing but I'd imagine that it would be cost prohibitive to use even half of the capabilities of a mainframe, so it was most likely more than you could buy ;) – Michael Brown Nov 28 '11 at 20:11
+1 for "nothing new"! – James Anderson Nov 29 '11 at 1:40

It depends on who you ask.

In cloud computing, your application is still being hosted on a virtual server with failovers in a massive data center. Technically there is nothing being done there that can't be done within an on-site datacenter, but the cost savings with the cloud are that you don't need to run a datacenter, buy and maintain hardware or hire people to support it.

Of course the massive datacenter requires money to run a datacenter, purchase and maintain hardware and hire support personnel, however a single small datacenter might require 8 employees to maintain, a massive one hosting cloud applications requires perhaps a few hundred but replaces a 1000 small datacenters. Net job deficit = smaller costs = smaller month to month operation fees for clients. Further these massive data centers bully themselves into regions (Eg. Texas) that will not charge them any taxes and sometimes even provide subsidies for the massive amounts of electricity they consume. This further lowers their bottom line.

EDIT: Removing unnecessary personal information, and prejudices.

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The sad part is that even if the managers of one company do not think this way, they are competing with others that do. The ones with the lowest costs and highest returns tend to win. – Matthew Flynn Nov 28 '11 at 17:18
Could have been a +1, but the personal diatribe was unnecessary. – Steve Evers Nov 28 '11 at 17:24
@SnOrfus You are right, it was not necessary and I removed it. I am too emotional about this issue, I have seen a lot peoples jobs and lives fall apart because of this. – maple_shaft Nov 28 '11 at 17:33
@maple_shaft: I know what you mean. I've also seen the other end though: ISVs that, through effective use of cloud computing, have been able to be in business, where they otherwise wouldn't have. Reddit is a good example. Reverted my vote. +1 – Steve Evers Nov 28 '11 at 17:37
It reads much better after the edit +1 – Michael Brown Nov 28 '11 at 17:59

IIRC Amazon introduced the cloud concept. They build an infrastructure of scalable, commodity hardware for their peak shopping season. Then commercialized it. Since then every marketing department anywhere have re-branded themselves with a cloud.

To me the key point is the cloud is a set of cheap, unreliable resources. Your solution has to be built to keep running when the resources fail, and have a scalable architecture that can utilize additional resources as they are added.

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Thanks for the historical context! – maple_shaft Nov 29 '11 at 12:37

For the consumer version of the cloud -- that is some take on "My content lives in the sky and can rain down to any device by magic" -- the key driver was cheap, ubiquitous bandwidth, both wireline and wireless. None of the other technologies involved matter a lick if you can't get your data anywhere anytime.

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