I've done some recent new media copywrite work for a client, and it's gotten me thinking about the amazingly fast evolution of distributed computing. I know, thinking is dangerous for both copywriters and science fiction authors, but bear with me here.
Way back when, if you wanted your firm to have a full-time presence on the internet you had a server computer sitting in your office. Of course by way back I mean the late 1990s during the age of Web 1.0. So not quite Jurassic in the time-scale sense of the internet, but still long enough to qualify as long ago in this context. Around that time it became common to outsource this kind of operation to professional web hosting companies to leverage scales of economy and pooled resources. In other words, you probably switched to renting time on a server in someone else's specialized office because it made better business sense. Not long after that, another shift happened and it became cheaper and more reliable to rent time a virtual server software entity that is spread out in a cloud between multiple hardware servers in farms run by companies like Amazon and Rackspace.
Of course things haven't stopped there. Not by a long shot. Now you can rent time in a distributed "software environment" built to negate many of the annoying quirks and forms of software entropy that servers experience.
So how abstract can this process get? Like literal clouds of tiny devices floating in the air to act as software environments? I made a quick post about this question earlier today on the FaceBook. That netted me an almost immediate response from a fellow Portland area science fiction writer and coder.
According to the Ars Technica article he shared with me, the backers of the infamous Pirate Bay bit torrents site are considering creating a network of low-cost, balloon-borne servers to create their own wireless network. So, yeah. My bet is on tiny airborne machines that will form literal clouds at some point.