[Wired] Nobody Knew How Big a Deal the Cloud Would Be—They Do Now

Ten years ago, Amazon unleashed a technology that we now call, for better or for worse, cloud computing. As it turned out, the cloud spawned a revolution. Along the way, many were slow to realize just how big this revolution could be. But now, as 2015 comes to a close, they finally do.wired-year-05

Back in 2006, Amazon was just an online retailer, but it decided to try something new. It offered up a series of online services where the world’s businesses could build and operate software—websites and mobile apps, in particular—without setting up their own hardware. Simply by opening a web browser, these businesses could tap into a virtually unlimited amount of computing power. And they did.

Netflix and Dropbox, for example, built two of the world’s biggest online empires atop Amazon’s cloud services. But even as these businesses thrived in the cloud—moving at unprecedented speed, instantly grabbing more computing power as they needed it—some people said this way of doing things didn’t suit everyone. Big banks, insurance companies, government agencies, and other old-school operations couldn’t run their software in the cloud, these skeptics claimed, because the cloud wasn’t secure. It wasn’t reliable. Many of these skeptics worked at places like HP and Dell and IBM and Oracle, the tech giants most threatened by the cloud revolution, companies that sold the expensive computer servers and other data center hardware and software that the cloud could replace.

Inside big businesses, just about every so-called private cloud project has failed.

In some cases, these skeptics acknowledged that the cloud was quicker—and that businesses of all kinds could benefit from rapid access to computing power. But traditional enterprises, they said, needed something a little different. They needed “the private cloud.”

It was a silly name, even sillier than “the cloud.” But for many traditional enterprises, the idea was sound: Rather than use Amazon, they should launch Amazon-like services on their own computer servers, inside their own data centers. Their engineers would have instant access to computing power via a web browser, just as they would through Amazon, and this computing power would be, well, more secure and more reliable.

But here at the end of 2015, we can now see that this big idea wasn’t all that great. Just ask Adam Jacob. Jacob is the chief technology officer at Chef, a Seattle-based company that offers a nifty tool for automatically installing, running, and modifying software across dozens, hundreds, even thousands of computers. In the modern world, this kind of tool is essential to running a big business. Chef helps drive Facebook’s vast online empire. It underpins Target and Nordstrom and Standard Bank and many others. That means Jacob can look inside big businesses. He has seen the private cloud firsthand. And it’s not pretty.

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