In conjunction with the rise of smartphones, the concept of cloud computing took flight. “Software for rent,” read a headline of a 2007 New York Times article about the new trend of turning software into a service over the Internet.
Salesforce.com, founded in 1999, led the charge to convince companies to stop operating their own computers and storage and instead rely on computing “in the cloud” and operated by a third party in massive data centers. Amazon Web Services (AWS), launched in 2006, allowed companies to buy cloud computing almost as easily as buying an Amazon book. AWS’s revenue grew from $3.1 billion in 2013 to $35 billion in 2019.
As business shifted to the cloud, so did consumers, using social media platforms to not only connect, but also to store photos and files. Facebook, founded in 2004, already had 100 million users in 2008 (and 2.5 billion in 2019). Meanwhile, YouTube users were uploading 500 hours of video every minute.
By 2009, the world would be measuring overall monthly data traffic not in megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes, or petabytes, but exabytes – one billion gigabytes. More than 10 exabytes a month moved around the planet in 2008, quadrupling to 43 exabytes by 2012. By the end of the decade, “cloud computing” had just become…computing.
Today, most software operates within the cloud. Companies store much of their data somewhere besides on their premises. Consumers store files and media on services such as Dropbox and Google Drive. While fetching a document or image used to mean it would travel a few centimeters from a computer’s hard drive to that same computer’s screen, now it could mean that it travels thousands of miles from data center to device.