Gone are the days when the Internet was restricted to military, aerospace and academic users on small computer terminals with characters in green type. That was the old DARPA-net, a 1960s innovation of the Pentagon.
Now, thanks to the work of innovators like Tim Berners-Lee, who created what he called the WorldWideWeb, and Marc Andreesen, who created Mosaic that was the brainchild of Netscape Communications, the Internet is democratic and potentially available to everyone.
That's great for empowering individuals who use smart products like PCs and smartphones. The World Bank now breaks down countries by their percentage of Internet subscribers and households with broadband traffic.
By making the Internet universal and ubiquitous, though, technology also eroded corporate control. No longer will International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) or Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) completely control everything in the networks, despite their networks of worldwide data centers.
Indeed, people like H. Ross Perot became billionaires by devising the concept of time-sharing. Now Electronic Data Systems, the company he founded 50 years ago, is part of HP!
IBM, HP and last week, Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL), the No. 1 database developer, have embraced the Cloud, or the Internet computing model, as the driver of future growth.
Innovators like Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), the world's most valuable technology company, recognized that a while back when it needed a means to deliver iTunes and entertainment to millions of global clients.
Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), the No. 1 e-retailer, built huge dispersed data centers to manage its orders and fulfillment, while CEO Jeff Bezos, a Princeton-trained computer engineer, decided to allow companies to share its Cloud services.
Amazon's partner, by the way, is Germany's SAP (NYSE: SAP), Oracle's biggest rival.
Assigning trillions of bytes of data traffic to the Web, though, allows for mischief. Governments and enterprises are constantly being hacked by groups like Anonymous and LulzSec. Defense officials in Washington and Jerusalem have unofficially crowed about Stuxnet, the software worm they injected into Iran's suspected atomic-bomb complex, which apparently has been very effective.
Last week, David Sanger of The New York Times published Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret War and Surprising Use of American Power (Crown, $28) which details a project called Olympic Games that details the anti-Iran combat. Iran had specifically disconnected its computers from the Internet, so agents used thumb drives to infect them, anyway.
So Iran was off the Cloud, but it didn't make any difference. Meanwhile, most central banks and defense ministries that are on it take extra precautions to ensure data aren't compromised by unauthorized users.
Security isn't just a bunch of information technology guys, said Neck Bradley, senior manager for IBM global security operations. People need to be careful what they upload and download from the Cloud, he said. IBM has a team called the X-Force that monitored billions of security events last year. Specialty security providers, including Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC) and the RSA unit of storage provider EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), also have similar teams to watch the Cloud.
In a way, tapping into the Cloud for data will resemble turning on the water tap in most developed countries: Users will be assured of a pure product. But new distractions, called Bring Your Own Device or BYOD in the technology sector, will create new problems.
Much as Olympic Games relied upon thumb drives to infect Iranian computers, a government employee with a laptop or a sales executive for Macy's Inc. (NYSE:M) with a tablet could infect his home network or transmit bad data to the Cloud.
That will be one of the biggest challenges to be faced as more and more data move around the world.