The word “cloud” is one of those nebulous words that people deploy with steadfast conviction. When politicians get in a bind, they like to say that the solution to a problem is more “education.” Doctors toss off the word “rest.” And for the last decade or more, everyone in the IT shop from the intern to the CIO knows that the right answer to any question is “the cloud.”

The word, though, hides a great deal of complexity and confusion because it has meant so many different things over the years. Before the buzzword was even adopted, mainframe companies sold timeshare systems. The first early colocation companies rented accounts on Unix servers. Companies like America Online offered cloud-like storage and computing services under the guise of entertainment.

This evolution has continued even after the word was crowned. The earliest offerings were just dozens of thin virtual machines running on fat servers. You could pretend to be root even though your instance was a tiny fraction of the machine. Then FTP servers were rebranded as buckets and dropboxes. Since then, services have exploded and the letters “AAS” have become the favorite suffix for acronym creators.

The evolution continues and every new development prompts cloud users to rethink what they want to rent and what they expect to get for their money. Many of these are rediscovered ideas that have been repackaged and rehyped. Many are clever solutions that solve the problems created by the last generation of solutions. All of them give us a chance to look at what we’re building and, in the words of the poet, “make it new again.”

Here are seven important ways the cloud is innovating and evolving.

Money-saving granularity 

The first generation of serverless computing came with relatively large units of computation. AWS Lambda, for instance, began by rounding up all calls to 100ms. Programmers quickly learned that they were paying the same amount of money for a fast, simple taste of computation or one that was maybe 20, 30, or even 100 times larger. If they weren’t as careful or as ruthlessly efficient, it didn’t matter. The bill was the same.

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