What and when was the first reference to cloud automation operations?
The cloud (e.g., the SaaS model or public cloud offerings) allow for new types of automation in computing. Before electricity existed, pneumatic and hydraulic automations were among the oldest automations in history. The only man-made clouds back then were smoke or steam clouds.
Homer's Iliad refers to cloud automation. This appears to the be earliest use of such an idea (a gate), possibly made of water moisture such as a cloud, would open without any intervention. The Iliad is believed to have been composed in the mid 750s BCE (Scientific American). The ancient story describes automation in two different passages.
"Observe the freedom of the imagery by which the gate, though said to be a cloud in 751, is made to creak." (Homer, The Iliad, book 5 line 749).
As of 2018 we do not think that tripods are relevant to cloud automation operations. However The Iliad refers to "automatically travelling tripods." (Homer, The Iliad, book 18 line 376). Pneumatic, hydraulic and supernatural automation could have involved clouds in oral history passed down as folklore in ancient times. But we know of no record related to automated cloud operations before The Iliad was written.
If you want to learn more about when non-cloud automation became an important concept to business outside of just cloud automation, see this posting.