Memo to Google & Amazon: ‘Cloud Computing’ Really Is Time-Sharing. Next: Will Punch Cards Make A Comeback?

SAS, the North Carolina supplier of business analytics software, last week got a lot of attention from its announcement that it was spending $70 million to construct a “cloud computing’ facility.Chief executive Jim Goodnight, one this nation’s billionaire software magnates, though, was having a bit of a chuckle Monday at his company’s annual executive and user conference, its Global Forum.

SAS, the North Carolina supplier of business analytics software, last week got a lot of attention from its announcement that it was spending $70 million to construct a “cloud computing’ facility.

Chief executive Jim Goodnight, one this nation’s billionaire software magnates, though, was having a bit of a chuckle Monday at his company’s annual executive and user conference, its Global Forum.

Seems he just regards “cloud computing” as a marketing hook. And that there’s nothing really new about drawing on computing power in “the cloud,” where you can’t see where it’s coming from.

In fact, the marketing mavens at SAS originally wrote up the release about the new facility in Cary, N.C., as a building with a lot of servers inside.

“It’s really a server farm. They wrote it up as a “server farm,’ ‘’ Goodnight said Monday at the forum. “ I said, Eh, no let’s not use that. That’s old-fashioned. Use “cloud computing.”

That led to national and international coverage of what amounts to a fairly small capital expenditure for a company that generates $2.6 billion a year in software revenue.

“Wow, my God, we came up with that and all the papers went crazy,’’ he said. “They’re calling it ‘cloud computing.’ The cloud is nothing more than a damn big server farm.’’

In effect, SAS is making fun of the use of terminology to solve an age-old problem: How to make use of excess capacity in your data infrastructure. If Amazon or Google wants to make hay with the term “cloud computing,’’ SAS will just pitch in with its fork, as well.

“Google, Amazon had these huge server farms that they had to have to store all the data and they got all these CPUs that aren’t that terribly busy. Why not try to sell them off? Sell some of the time,’’ he said.

“What we’re talking about here is a concept called time sharing. That’s all it is. We’ll sell you a piece of our hardware if you give us X number of dollars. In this case, it’s real cheap. But that’s all it is, time-sharing,’’ he said.

Their goal, he contends, is simply to sell the excess hardware they have got sitting around, without having a lot more people to service it. This is not “ anything hugely different’’ from how time-sharing began in the early days of corporate computing.

“It’s funny we’ve gotten to where everybody wants everything delivered on the Web. So we’re back to like (IBM) 3270 mainframe days,’’ he said. “All the interactivity we used to have on the desktop is being sacrificed to go back a very simple static screen like we had on the mainframe. It all comes around. I don’t know when we’ll see punched cards again, but you never know.”

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