O'Sullivan credited with coining 'cloud computing'

AN IRISH-American technologist has been credited with coining the term “cloud computing”, one of the hottest trends in technology…

AN IRISH-American technologist has been credited with coining the term “cloud computing”, one of the hottest trends in technology.

The MIT Technology Reviewthis week traced the origins of the term to 1996 when NetCentric, a start-up founded by Seán O'Sullivan, was building a reputation for itself with the concept of "software inside the internet".

Compaq invested $5 million in the two-year-old company and with Compaq executive George Favaloro, O’Sullivan wrote a business plan including multiple references to cloud computing.

“The big vision was applications that had previously run on your desktop PC or on your local area network would run on the internet itself,” O’Sullivan recalls.


At the time, browser software was in its infancy and an early version of the web-based e-mail service Hotmail had only just been launched.

Since its recent re-emergence, the term has been widely used, with more than 48 million references on Google and counting. It is the foundation of services ranging from Google’s Gmail to Salesforce.com to Amazon Web Services.

Frequently accompanied by strong gusts of hype, the cloud’s fuzzy definition infuriates some, as the term is open to misuse. O’Sullivan says the term was always intended to be broad, and he is satisfied the concept formulated 15 years ago survives largely intact.

“It’s still gratifying to discover the direction and the vision that we had at NetCentric has progressed and in fact changed the world as we predicted it would,” he says. “That’s the nice part of the experience. There were not-so-good parts. I lost several million dollars and some investments in this.”

NetCentric ran into difficulties and was sold in 2001.

O’Sullivan believes the story proves the IT industry adage that a new technology’s effect tends to be overestimated within a year, but underestimated within a decade.

“The reason why people weren’t thinking of this back then, [was that] it was impractical. In 1994, people had 14.4k modems to dial up to the internet. How could you possibly run any network services over that?”

O’Sullivan has seen this effect before: he co-founded MapInfo which became a $200 million company, charting a new market of street-mapping on computers. That company started life in 1986 and took seven years to reach one million users. These days location-based services are available on a range of devices from satnavs to smartphones.

Now living in Kinsale, Co Cork, O’Sullivan’s latest start-up is Avego which provides mobility software to match commuters with empty seats in cars, vans and buses. Last week his venture capital arm, SOSventures, invested an undisclosed amount in the Dublin-based technology news site Siliconrepublic.com.