My head is in the clouds

Just when I understood the difference between Cumulus, Stratus and Cirrus, everyone’s talking about this new Internet Cloud.

The Cloud

The Cloud has been receiving a lot of buzz lately. But in fact, the Cloud (or cloud computing) is really just a metaphor for the Internet — and personal storage on a network. So it’s not exactly new. In a sense, our email operates on a Cloud. If you’ve ever logged into your email from more than one location, or stored email messages in a folder for viewing later, you’ve accomplished the same thing.

There’s also a distinction between Public and a Private Clouds, as well as hybrids, which I have yet to wrap my head around. That’s why we’re sticking to Public Cloud talk in this post.

If anyone’s an expert in this Cloud bu’ness (particularly public vs. private or hybrid clouds), feel free to shoot me an email at ericsadblog@gmail.com and set me straight.

Nevertheless, the press surrounding it has certainly exploded within the last year. As well as the number of companies developing their own cloud services for the public. Namely, Amazon, Google and most recently Apple.

The Cloud is like a hard drive in the sky, allowing users to store files on a computer network accessible on-demand from any device with an Internet connection. Versus storing documents on a local computer, and thus only accessible from that specific computer.

Users can upload their own music to the Cloud, in addition to documents, photos, videos, etc, in addition to use as a backup service. Or as with Amazon and soon Apple via iTunes, users can purchase music online and save it directly to the Cloud.

The only limitation with the Cloud is that an Internet Connection is required to access it; though files can be saved from the Cloud to a local device (computer, smartphone, tablet, etc) for offline access. But I suppose that’s the same as saying you can only make calls on your cell phone where you have service. That hasn’t exactly stopped adoption of mobile phones.

Cloud Choices – It’s awfully overcast

Clouds come in different shapes and sizes (both real clouds and Internet Clouds). Most companies are offering a free amount of storage space to start (for example, Amazon offers 5GB free) with premium-priced storage upgrades.

Amazon, Google and Apple are entering a heated battle over Cloud services. All three of which are putting emphasis on music storage with the Amazon Cloud Player, Google Music Beta and Apple’s iCloud, which will reportedly feature streaming music and integration with iTunes.

Apple Inc’s CEO Steve Jobs is expected to introduce and fully explain its iCloud tomorrow, June 6, at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. (It’s a cool $1,599 to attend WWDC. If you didn’t buy your tickets, it’s too late; the event’s sold out. I had my credit card ready and everything. Maybe next year.)

Now, onto the Clouds. There are many Cloud services and companies offering Public or Private Clouds for Business. Here are Cloud offerings from three of the biggest players in media in Amazon, Google and Apple:

Amazon Cloud Drive

Amazon’s cloud drive starts you off with 5GB of storage space for free with additional premium plans from $20 to $1,000 per year, billed annually. Users can store “music, videos, photos, and documents on Amazon’s secure servers.” The 5GB of free space is about enough space, Amazon says, to store 1,000 songs. This first tier is free and you’ll never be charged for it.

If a user purchases a digital album from Amazon’s mp3 store (amazon.com), it’ll upgrade your 5GB of free storage to 20GB. Though after one year, if not renewed, users will be bumped down to the free 5GB. It’s not an automatic renewal, so that’s nice in my opinion. We’ve all taken advantage of free offers and forgotten about them, only to be charged for something we didn’t really want.

Other pricing/storage options are as follows, from 20GB to 1,000GB of space:

Google Cloud Apps & Google Music Beta

Google has taken a slightly different approach to the Cloud, offering a sleek line of Cloud Apps for different purposes. And Google’s been at this a while. I’m sure most of us are familiar with at a least a few of its Cloud Apps, whether or not we knew that’s what they were called. Google’s Cloud Apps include Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Chrome, Google Groups, among others.

“Because data in Google Apps is stored in the cloud instead of on employee computers, multiple users can access and contribute to projects simultaneously without worrying about using the same operating system, software, or browser. For example, instead of collaborating on a document by sending back and forth revision after revision as attachments, documents are stored in the cloud with Google Apps. Coworkers can access the web-based document simultaneously in their browsers, and even make changes that other authorized users can see in real-time. Eliminating attachment round-trips by storing data in the cloud saves time and reduces frustrations for teams who need to work together efficiently.” – Google.com / Google Apps for Business

Google Music Beta 

In May, Google introduced Google Music Beta, a Cloud storage service for your music, similar to Amazon’s Cloud Player. Google, however, provides quite an impressive amount of storage in the Beta version, enough for 20,000 songs according to ZDNet. Amazon’s free 5GB allows around 1,000 songs.

Google Music Beta is available in the U.S. by invitation only and free for a limited time, according to the landing page in the Android Market.

Apple iCloud set to be unveiled June 6, 2011 at WWDC in San Francisco

The last of the three to introduce a Cloud music service, Apple may have been waiting for a reason. Reports have it that Apple has deals with Warner Music, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Group to stream songs directly to the iCloud, like Pandora, Slacker, Rdio and other streaming services.

It’s rumored that the service will start with a free trial for iTunes customers, followed by a $25 per-year rate. ZDNet‘s Larry Dignan says Apple will also look to sell advertising around the cloud service.

Apple currently offers a Cloud service called MobileMe, a subscription-based collection of  Internet services for Mac OS X, Windows, iPad,iPhone, and iPod Touch.

Apple’s iCloud all but ensures the next round of iPods will be able to connect to Wi-Fi or a 3G network.

Expect more on iCloud tomorrow after Apple’s WWDC.

A Face-Off in the Cloud

If Apple’s iCloud introduces what everyone is reporting — streaming music — this isn’t just a battle between Amazon, Google and Apple but also Nicolas Cage Pandora, Slacker, Rdio and other music streaming services. According to San Francisco’s International Business Times, Apple has also been in talks with the film industry, possibly adding movies and video to iCould. Could Apple be looking to face off against Netflix as well?

They’ve already invested in video streaming with Apple TV, though the service only includes a small line of Internet apps and pay-per-view titles, no content deals with film studios. If Apple reaches a deal with the film industry for iCloud, you can bet those titles are coming to Apple TV as well.

Amazon and Apple have a clear advantage in that users can purchase music from either Amazon.com or iTunes and have it saved directly to the respective Cloud. Apple’s support from major record labels could push it to the front of the pack.

How I’ve been using the Cloud

For the past month, I’ve been enjoying my time in the Cloud. I signed up for the 5 free GB of Amazon Cloud back in April. I then bumped that up to 20 GB free with the purchase of the one-day special (then two-day special due to high demand and a server crash) on Lady Gaga’s new album for only 99 cents. (If you’re curious, I bought if for my wife. Well, plus the additional 15 GB of storage space.)

The increase to 20GB lasts for one year. But, once that free trial runs out, I’ll probably be so used to using it that I’ll have to renew. (After all, it’s only $20 per year.) That is, unless I’m swayed by Apple’s iCloud offering.

The Amazon Cloud allows you to store music, documents, pictures or video. I have a number of files saved for backup or if I need a document when I’m on the road. But I’ve mostly been using Amazon’s Cloud for its Cloud Player.

Amazon Cloud Player – When I’m at the gym or in my car, the Cloud Player is great, with access to all of my songs and without taking up space on my phone.

I’ve also been taking advantage of Google Docs.

I reinstalled my operating system on my Dell XPS M1530 a while back, and haven’t gotten around to installing Microsoft Office. But with Google Docs, I haven’t really needed it.

What’s next for the Cloud?

 

In our increasingly mobile lifestyles, the Cloud is just what we need. And at just the right time. We’re all part of this mobile shift. A shift in the way we work, live, play, communicate and collaborate.

Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets, Netbooks, and entertainment services like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Slacker as well as mobile payments like Google Wallet, and NFC technology. Mobile is taking over the news and our lives.

The Cloud is the next logical step in connecting our mobile devices to all of our files, music and video.

Today, home is wherever we are. Office productivity and entertainment can happen anywhere. I suppose that’s both good and bad. Luckily, if we choose to use it, there’s an off switch.

 

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