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.