News Column

The Ubiquitous Digital Cloud

June 6, 2011

Apple introduced its iCloud service on Monday in a move that was touted by Steve Jobs as a milestone on the way to a post-PC world.

The idea of the cloud is as old as the internet itself.

"The network is the computer" was the catchphrase of pioneering server computer company Sun back in the mid 1980s. The idea being that information and data would be stored and processed on central servers and accessed using all "thin clients" basic computers, which would not need huge storage or powerful processors because all the heavy lifting would be done on the server end.

However it's only recently - some would say only in the last year - with the increased use of mobile internet devices and the addition of faster and more abundant bandwidth, that cloud computing has really come to the fore.

For businesses, it means outsourcing much of their number crunching and web serving operations to huge server farms run by the likes of Amazon, IBM and HP.

For consumers, it means the transferring of music, videos, pictures and any other files from their own hard drives to web-based servers, allowing access from any of their devices, and the ability to share with anyone they like.

Another key advantage: is that by making remote backups stored on corporate services the risk of losing one's data is reduced. Computers can also dispense with heavy and heat-producing disc drives since there's no longer that much need for storage.

The major disadvantage according to many analysts is the privacy compromise entailed in storing one's data on remote corporate servers. The other drawback is that if data exists only on the cloud, it effectively becomes inaccessible when you don't have an internet connection.

Google and Amazon both officially launched cloud music and storage services this year. But cloud architecture has long preceded both those initiatives. Users of Gmail for instance don't keep their email on their machines - but on Google's capacious servers. Photo enthusiasts who use the online storage capabilities offered by Facebook or Flickr are also surfing the cloud.

But Apple's impact is likely to take the concept to the stratosphere given the unique link it has to more than 200 million users, who thanks to Apple's agreements with the major music companies will now have their iTunes libraries mirrored to the cloud and available to play over any device.

"Apple offers the best digital-music experience by far, but you're still encumbered by your Mac or PC if you want to sync your music, say, to your iPhone," said Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu. "But iCloud takes it to the next level. To be able to access your content on the go from the cloud to any device is like nirvana. That's what everybody wants."

Source: Copyright 2011 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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