Cloud Computing in 1911


This morning I said that, to illustrate my view that cloud computing (while real) isn’t a technology, I’d give an example of cloud computing from 100 years ago.

In 1911, the adding machine and pneumatic tubes were business technologies already quite well developed. Organizations employed workers they called computers: employees, usually women, who operated the adding machine. And as you can imagine, companies in need of frequent or large numbers of calculations had adding pools, groups of computers who all worked on the same floor or in the same room, calculating away at whatever was put in front of them.

Suspendered, pipe-smoking managers in one part of the Woolworth Building engaged in cloud computing when they scribbled some notes from a ledger onto a piece of paper (or dictated them to a skirted “secretary”—whatever), rolled up the paper, popped it into a capsule, wrote “ADDING POOL” on it, and stuffed it into their office pneumatic. Hours or a day later, out would pop the adding-machine tape with the calculation performed. The manager didn’t need to know who did the calculating, where they were, how many of them were involved, or anything else to get the computing he needed done.

In what way, exactly, does this differ from the cloud computing we know today? Or of 30 years ago, for that matter? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


5 Comments for "Cloud Computing in 1911"

  • Guy Currier November 03, 2011 7:36 am

    Thanks, David. I think in this case we’ve reached the proverbial “tipping point,” such that the development of the underlying technologies passed a certain threshold making this finally appear and behave as something new. That’s something I’d like to keep investigating.

  • David gwillim November 02, 2011 7:55 pm

    Guy, you are absolutely right, indeed the idea of outsourcing some tasks to someone else so you can specialise goes righ back to the start of agriculture, indeed it may go back to males being hunter/warriors and females gatheres and child rearers in neolithic times. What has progressively changed (as your 1911 example illustrates) is the type of services that can economically be outsourced and where they can be performed. It may have been possible to send the 1911 adding slip to India for cheaper calculation but the logistics and time delay (by steamship) made it impracticle (and the telegraph was comparatively expensive). Cloud is the latest 'name' given to the current interation of technology, which allows an enourous range of services especially data related ones to be stored and manipulated anywhere in the world. I wonder what the new iteration will be called as technology makes the next big leap forward later this century?

  • Guy Currier November 02, 2011 3:34 pm

    Maybe quicker, if that’s what’s in your SLA.

  • Greg November 02, 2011 3:13 pm

    Great illustration of what Novell called "The Cloud" when Novell 4 was released. The difference is in the internal vs the external Cloud. My company is a medium-sized business. If a networked application fails, I call Bob or Bill on their cell, they come back early from lunch (or remote in) and troubleshoot. If the application was “on the cloud,” how quickly can I get someone to drop everything and fix it?

  • Patrick November 02, 2011 9:23 am

    It's not, really. Kind of like the roman empire. The situation's the same today. We can just screw things up faster, better and more completely because we have better technology :- ).

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