The Cloud Before it was Called the Cloud- Segment 1


Today’s Cloud provides resources, access and data that makes it indispensable. But virtually none of the services that evolved to today’s Cloud existed before computer timesharing came into being and became available to the end user computing population. Computer timesharing?  Did this involve enduring forceful sales presentations while holding a complimentary Mai Tai and ending with a lifetime obligation to pay for a week a year at a condo in Hawaii? Well, in a word-no!

This example (in two sections) may give you an idea of the kind of real industry requirements in the 1970s that made using a computer timesharing service a great solution and alternative to the corporate computing services the typical large company offered its own organizations. And what those requirements did to cause the fundamental pieces of today’s Cloud to be developed and enhanced.

For this first segment I’ll give you an example of the scenarios that drove the computer timesharing industry to great success, by recalling my own involvement in these very specific real life 1970s computing challenges needing a solution. The overview of the business problem that existed for me:

  1. Gather in-house sales data to generate an accurate report to an industry association by a monthly deadline.
  2. The second challenge was the payoff of the reporting-analysis of the reports to make business decisions.
  3. Provide an interactive environment for fast and regular completion of both tasks-gathering accurate data and analysis
  4. Reduce the time cycle for sending and receiving reports so that subsequent analysis was as timely as possible

My own experience with computer timesharing started with a classic case of a corporate departmental need to get some specific computing done on a recurring basis. In late 1971 Fairchild Semiconductor was a technology, sales and marketing company that offered by that time a huge number of product families and device variations. The industry was very competitive so prices and market share were under constant scrutiny. Fairchild had been an early leader of the industry but was in danger of losing its competitiveness. Many critical sales and marketing strategies were affected by what these numbers indicated.

Fairchild’s Market Research and Planning group was located in Mountain View, California. They did research of their own to suggest trends and strategies but they were often asked to respond to questions from exec level senior management plus others in sales and marketing. Quick answers to some of those questions were very important but not something easy to do in a lot of cases.

The biggest source of meaningful data was from a semiconductor industry association that virtually all the major semiconductor manufacturers belonged to. On a monthly basis each member company reported unit and dollar sales for each device type they produced. The device types were defined by the association so that reporting could be uniformly accomplished no matter what the naming and numbering nomenclature used by each member company.

So the task each month for Fairchild was to first produce a report for the association of standard device type, units and dollars from an in-house report that covered each Fairchild proprietary device number. The first big time-consuming and error prone task was a lot of crunching of Fairchild device categories resulting in a paper report on a form supplied by the association. These reports were sent to a representative of the association who held each companies individual data in secrecy. The reports were consolidated into one big report that aggregated all the association members’ sales by generic device type. There was no identification of any individual company’s sales numbers-just the group’s totals. As a member you received back a copy of this report

Then analysis and in-house reporting could begin. Since you knew what you reported by generic device type and you now had last month’s industry figures by generic device type you could make all kinds of calculations that showed how Fairchild was doing relative to the competition. Standard monthly reports were produced around market share and price/unit trends but there were also a lot of reports requested on an ad hoc basis depending on the business climate at the time. Both of these processes were almost completely manual, utilizing a group of clerks who used the in-house reports to construct the industry report, submit it. Then after sitting on their hands for a few days waiting for the return consolidated report work to generate in-house market share and other reports as needed. Except for the monthly Fairchild sales report which was produced by Fairchild’s mainframes and Management Information Systems (MIS) department, the rest of the processes were manual and at best helped by electric calculators! That is the way it was for virtually every device manufacturer.

My involvement began one day when I was at my very first job fresh out of Georgia Tech and working for Fairchild Semiconductor (and Mike Markkula.)  The head of Market Research and Planning (MR&P) came into Digital Product Marketing where I worked in Medium Scale Digital Devices as a product marketer. He was looking for someone to help complete an computer automation task that was caught in midstream. MR&P had already made a decision that the current manual system described above had to be changed drastically. They had found MIS could not do the interactive parts of the requirements at all, and the application would only be addressed sometime in the future when the backlog of other MIS projects allowed. In those times that was normal. New computer applications often took months before they could be assessed for requirements and design by MIS. And even longer for implementation. Plus ongoing support for operations and the inevitable changes and enhancements posed an even bigger problem.

To be fair most company’s MIS groups were running as hard as they could to stay up with requirements for core company needs: manufacturing scheduling and reporting, sales reporting, payroll (although most came to rely on third party vendors for that) and other basic business needs. To get them to focus on a departmental need required some juice. And even then the line of projects in front of you could be long. They had small staffs for operations and even smaller for evaluating and building new applications. Support for those applications was also sparse. The computers of the time were mainframes that required a special environment virtually all contained in a glass room with raised floors. Power and air conditioning had to be special. Access was as a matter of necessity limited. Remote access was essentially unheard of. Programs were scheduled like buses or airline flights and run as ‘batch’ jobs at mostly designated times. Applications of lesser importance were at the mercy of the more important applications deemed ‘critical’. So you can see why there was an opportunity for a better answer and why people embraced them.

That is the reality of available choices for Fairchild’s MR&P to decide how to meet company and department requirements. Next installment I will tell you what was actually done and how it was accomplished with computer timesharing versus in house MIS.

The Cloud Before it was Called the Cloud

“The Cloud” has slightly different meanings for different people and in different contexts. But in most cases it is the term for the rich and powerful environment that provides access to applications, content and data from resources most of us do not even have to know or care about. From the end user perspective it’s just there and available. And accessible from almost any device you can name from desktop, set top, portable, handheld or any number of other devices. It is powerful, convenient, cost effective and gets our requests fulfilled.

But did you know that today’s “Cloud” is just a more evolved and ubiquitous form of another technology-enabled environment that existed in its prime in the mid 1970s and had its beginning more than 50 years ago?  It was called Computer Timesharing. Stay tuned right here for the first of an upcoming multipart blog that will bring you descriptions of why it came into being, what it was, how it was used and how it was powered. It changed many key aspects of computing from networks to customer support-pioneering things we take for granted today!

This is a blog by people that were there as developers, providers, support people, operations people and end users. The users were scientists, engineers, computer professionals, business people and government agencies. And many others. It touched them all, gave great value and led the way to today’s Cloud…coming January 30!


Do you have firsthand experience from the 60s or 70s in computer timesharing? Think you might have a story or commentary that could be a new blog posting in our series and evoke comments from others? If so please contact us to discuss getting it into a blog and adding to our recounting of computer timesharing and its role in developing critical technologies, services and policies for today’s Cloud…

Information Technology Corporate Histories Collection

The Information Technology Corporate Histories Collection was created under a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  The SI SIG’s predecessor, the Software History Center, partnered with the Computer History Museum and the Charles Babbage Foundation to administer the grant to develop the website and establish the collection.

Materials from 56 software and services, data storage and semi-conductor companies are included in the collection.  These include personal anecdotes, company documents, and company timelines.  The collection includes an overview description of each company, 1,955 timeline events, 2,021 documents, 307 personal stories of people active in these companies, and 165 references to related materials available from other sources.

Substantial materials have been collected for the following software and services companies.  To view the collection for each company click on the company’s name.

Adobe Systems, Inc,
AGS Computers, Inc.
Apple Computer
Boole & Babbage
Cincom Systems, Inc.
Computer Sciences Corporation
Computer Task Group
Computer Usage Company
Digital Research Inc.
General Electric Information Services (GEIS)
International Computer Programs, Inc. (ICP)National CSS
Peter Norton Computing
Ross Systems
Software AG North America
Software Design Associates
Software Publishing

To see a complete list of all the companies included in the Information Technology Corporate Histories Collection, click here.

Materials Collection

Our mission to preserve the history of the software industry includes encouraging organizations and individuals who have historical materials in their files to donate those materials to an archival organization where they can be preserved for the future and also be catalogued and indexed to make them accessible to researchers.

Individuals and organizations who have made donations of substantial collections of historical materials as a result of our efforts are the following.

Donated to the Charles Babbage Institute, Minneapolis, MN (

ITAA (now known as TechAmerica): ADAPSO documents

Lawrence A. Welke: ICP publications and documents

Joan Wessel: Milton Wessel’s ADAPSO documents

Donated to the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, CA (

Carl Baltrunas: Tymshare/Tymnet documents and objects

Roger Dyer: GEIS documents

Werner Frank: Professional papers and Informatics documents

Burton Grad: Professional papers and GE, IBM and Burton Grad Associates documents

Karol Hines: Ross Systems documents

John P. Imlay, Jr.: Professional papers and MSA documents

Rich Lynn: Tymshare documents

Robert MacDonald: Informix documents

Gary Morgenthaler: Ingres and Tymshare documents

Tim O’Rourke: Tymshare documents

Robert Patrick: Professional papers

Lawrence J. Schoenberg: Professional papers and AGS documents

Materials for the Computer History Museum archives have also been donated by attendees at our Pioneer Meetings and contributors to the IT Corporate Histories Collection. These collections consist of a number of donations each too small to be listed individually but combined with other donations, they comprise a significant collection for each of the companies or organizations listed below.

AGS Computers




Cincom Systems

Computer Usage Company


Digital Research, Inc.





NACCB (National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses)


Ross Systems

Software AG

Software Design Associates

Software Publishing


Updata Capital, Inc.


Relational Database Management Systems: The Business Explosion

EEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 35 Number 2, April-June 2013
This special issue (part 2 of a series which began with the special issue in October–December 2012) tells the history of how IBM and several new, independent software companies built companies that supplanted the database management system companies and their DBMS models in both query-oriented usage and in many transaction-processing applications. The story of this transformation describes how each of these pioneering relational database management companies developed and marketed their products to meet the relational challenge and how well they succeeded. The result was explosive business growth and creation of five companies with more than $1 billion in sales. This special issue focuses on the growth of four of the leading RDBMS companies, with recollections by the pioneers about the history of the companies that they worked for: IBM, Oracle, Informix, and Sybase. Burton Grad was the guest editor.
The articles and the authors of each are listed below. Click on the name of the author(s) to see an abstract of the article on the IEEE website.

Burton Grad, Guest Editors’ Introduction: Relational Database Management Systems: The Business Explosion

Andrew Mendelsohn, The Oracle Story

Rick Bennett, Oracle Marketing:  Killer Ads

Bob Epstein, History of Sybase

Roger Sippl, Informix: Information Management on UNIX

Donald J. Haderle and Cynthia M. Saracco, The History and Growth of IBM’s DB2

Marilyn Bohl, Product Managing DB2’s Early Development

Hershel Harris and Bert Nicol, SQL/DS:  IBM’s First RDBMS

Donald R. Deutsch, The SQL Standard:  How It Happened

Relational Database Management Systems: The Formative Years

IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 34 Number 4, October-December 2012
This Annals special issue tells the story of how the transformation to RDBMSs began and describes how three companies pioneered the development of relational database management products to meet the relational challenge and build the foundation for the growth of a multibillion dollar industry.  It includes six articles by industry pioneers recording this early development of RDBMSs.  It also includes two articles by prominent computer historians (David Alan Grier and Martin Campbell-Kelly) which provide historical context and interpretation of the events described by the industry pioneers.   Burton Grad was the guest editor.
The articles and the authors of each are listed below. Click on the name of the author(s) to see an abstract of the article on the IEEE website.

Burton Grad, Guest Editors’ Introduction: Relational Database Management Systems: The Formative Years

David Alan Grier, The Relational Database and the Concept of the Information System

Martin Campbell-Kelly, The RDBMS Industry: A Northern California Perspective

Hugh Darwen The Relational Model: Beginning of an Era

Bradford W. Wade and Donald D. Chamberlin, IBM Relational Database Systems: The Early Years

Bradford W. Wade, Compiling SQL Into System/370 Machiine Language

Robert Preger, The Oracle Story, Part 1: 1977-1986

Lawrence A. Rowe, History of the Ingres Corporation

Donald D. Chamberlin, Early History of SQL

Mainframe Software: Database Management Systems

IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 31 Number 4, October-December 2009
This issue is focused on the products, companies, and people who designed, programmed, and sold mainframe DBMS software products beginning in the 1960s and 1970s.  It includes eight articles by industry pioneers recording the history of significant database management software products as well as two articles by prominent computer historians (Tim Bergin and Thomas Haigh) which provide historical context and interpretation of the events described by the industry pioneers.   Guest editors were Burton Grad and Thomas J. Bergin.
The articles and the authors of each are listed below.  Click on the name of the author(s) to see an abstract of the article on the IEEE website.

Burton Grad and Thomas J. Bergin, Guest Editors’ Introduction: History of Database Management Systems

Thomas Haigh, How Data Got its Base:  Information Storage Software in the 1950s and 1960s.

Thomas J. Bergin and Thomas Haigh, The Commercialization of Database Management Systems, 1969-1983

Charles W. Bachman, The Origin of the Integrated Data Store (IDS): The First Direct-Access DBMS

Thomas M. (Tom) Nies, Cincom Systems’ Total

Robert L. Patrick, IMS @ Conception

William C. McGee, The Information Management System (IMS) Program Product

Robert L. Brueck, System 2000: The MRI Systems Corporation

Orrin Stevens, Jr., The History of Datacom/DB

PC Software: Spreadsheets for Everyone

IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 29 Number 3, July-September 2007
This issue is the second of special issues of The Annals produced by the Software Industry Special Interest Group on the topic of PC Software.  This issue focused on the development of Visicalc and Lotus 1-2-3.  It includes articles by industry and an article providing an historical perspective by computer historians Martin Campell-Kelly.  Guest editors were Burton Grad and Paul E. Ceruzzi.


The articles and the authors of each are listed below.  Click on the name of the author(s) to see an abstract of the article on the IEEE website.
Paul Ceruzzi and Burton Grad, Guest Editors’ Introduction: PC Software-Spreadsheets for Everyone.
Martin Campell-Kelly, Number Crunching Without Programming: The Evolution of Spreadsheet Usability.
Burton Grad, The Creation and Demise of Visicalc.
Mitch Kapor, Recollections on Lotus 1-2-3: Benchmark for Spreadsheet Software
Jonathan Sachs, Recollections:  Developing Lotus 1-2-3
Mario Aloisio, Computing at the Malta Statistics Office, 1947-1980.

PC Software: Word Processing for Everyone

IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 28 Number 4, October-December 2006
This issue is focused on the products, companies, and people who produced the early word processing software products.  It includes articles by industry pioneers recording the how these products were developed and marketed as well as articles by computer historians Thomas J. (Tim) Bergin and Thomas Haigh which provide historical context and interpretation of the events described by the industry pioneers.   Guest editors were Burton Grad and Paul E. Ceruzzi.


The articles and the authors of each are listed below.  Click on the name of the author(s) to see an abstract of the article on the IEEE website.
Paul E. Ceruzzi and Burton Grad, Guest Editors Intro: PC Software-Word Processing for Everyone.
Thomas Haigh, Remembering the Office of the Future:  The Origins of Word Processing and Office Automation.
Thomas J. (Tim) Bergin, The Origins of Word Processing Software for Personal Computers: 1976-1978.
Thomas J. (Tim) Bergin, The Proliferation and Consoliation of Word Processing Software: 1985-1995.
Seymour Rubinstein, The Rise and Fall of WordStar.
Ed Bride, The Media are the Message:  ‘The Influencers’.
Seymour Merrin, PC Software:  A Once-Irresistible Opportunity.
Amy Wohl, How We Process Words:  The Marketing of WP Software.

The Start of the Software Products Industry

IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 24 Number 1, January-March, 2002
This special issue of The Annals was produced by The Software History Center (the predecessor to the Software Industry Special Interest Group).  It focused on the software industry in the 1960s, the people who founded the earliest software products companies, and the impact of IBM unbundling on the emerging software products industry.   The guest editors were Burton Grad and Luanne Johnson.
The articles and the authors of each are listed below.  Click on the name of the author(s) to see an abstract of the article on the IEEE website.
Burton Grad and Luanne Johnson, Guest Editors Introduction:  The Start of the Software Products Industry.
Thomas Haigh, Software in the 1960s as Concept, Service and Product.
Luanne Johnson, Creating the Software Industry:  Recollections of Software Company Founders of the 1960s.
Martin Goetz, Memoirs of a Software Pioneer, Part 1.
Emerson W. Pugh, Origins of Software Bundling.
Watts S. Humphrey, Software Unbundling: A Personal Perspective.
Burton Grad, A Personal Recollection:  IBM’s Unbundling of Software and Services.
James W. Cortada,  Researching the History of Software from the 1960s.