Why Cloud is Like Email in the 1980’s

LAS VEGAS. How is the cloud like email?

Vinton Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google took the keynote stage at the Interop trade show today. Cerf recounted for the audience how the early days of the Internet are similar to the early days of the cloud.

Back in the 1980’s, email systems were siloed across service providers and were not connected to the Internet. Cerf was working for MCI in the late 1980’s working on MCI’s email system. Actually getting connected to the Internet was a process which at the time required permission from U.S. authorities.

“In 1988, we got permission to connect MCI mail to the Internet,” Cerf said. “That broke the policy log jam.”

Cerf added that as soon as MCI announced that they were allowed to connect to the Internet, other service providers asked for the same treatment.

“So they all got connected in 1989,” Cerf said. “The side effect became that all email systems then became interconnected.”

There is a lesson in the story in how email systems got connected and how the modern cloud is evolving.

“Today cloud is like email in 1980s, it’s not interconnected and now you can’t interface between clouds,” Cerf said. “That will change as the same pressures that got to email to get to the cloud.”

Cerf also discussed security on the Internet. The early Internet protocols did not have much if any security considerations. Cerf noted that work on the modern Internet protocol was happening in 1974 before public key cryptography was publicly available.

“So we ended up with a network that didn’t have all the features that we could have had and can have,” Cerf said. “There is nothing stopping us from adding stuff now, that’s what https, dnssec are about.”

Cerf added that having suspicious and paranoid web browsers that are aware of security risk are also a benefit to securing the Internet.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t deliver that in 1974,” Cerf said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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