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What is the Cloud and How Do I Use It?

No, it’s not a comic book anti-hero, weather condition or cool underground band everyone is talking about: the ‘cloud’ is set to transform our lives. Find out how exactly.

Everything from IT software to training devices; video games to music is embracing the cloud. But what is it?

In general terms, the cloud, or cloud computing as it is also sometimes referred, is, in its simplest form, the delivery of hosted services over the internet. But what does that mean exactly?

From a business point of view it means that instead of setting up a big network of hosts, software and servers for your single company – estimating exactly how much space you’ll need for your business – you can use a third party online that have multiple servers and a massive amount of storage space available for you to use to store data and software on.

Imagine a company had to buy up all of their electricity for a year in advance, working out exactly how much they need for the year and paying for it all, whether they use it all or not.

That’s what companies had to do before the cloud when it came to servers, storage space and networks. Now, the cloud means that servers can be paid for like we do electricity – consume as much as you want and only pay for what you use.

For this reason the cloud gets companies extremely excited as it cuts the cost of delivering a service online.

How Can I Benefit from the Cloud?

There are many benefits for consumers to cloud based computing. As well as the ability to access a number of services and applications online, the cloud means that you can store more files without the need to constantly update hard drives on your computer.

The cloud also gives you remote access to your files, whenever you want them, so you don’t need to rely so much on your own individual computer.

Just log in remotely from anywhere and you are away. The other great benefit of the cloud is that it acts like a back-up service because your files are stored virtually online rather than on one particular device.

So if you drop your laptop down the stairs or your computer is stolen, you can retrieve your important documents.

The chances are you have probably already used the cloud yourself, whether you know you were doing so or not. When you add photos to Facebook you are essentially using the cloud to store those photos for you – you don’t have to pay Facebook for the service – but all of your friends can access the cloud too in order to view your photos.

Likewise when you check your email on hotmail you are logging in to the cloud to access your email.

The Cloud: Transforming Video Games and Music

There are some really exciting developments in both gaming and music taking place that will transform all of our lives and revolutionise the technology that we use.

Cloud Video Gaming

Imagine you are reading at home (on your iPad of course) about the launch of a new video game – I don’t know, let’s say it’s Assassin’s Creed 8 or something just as likely to be highly anticipated by gamers. You think it sounds good, but you don’t have a gaming device and are not 100% sure if you’ll want to buy a console.

So instead you turn on your plasma screen TV and click through a few pages – the next thing you know you are playing the new game for yourself – direct from the cloud via your TV.

That’s cloud based video gaming and it is a reality already. A number of cloud video gaming platforms launched last year that let you download software and subscribe to games channels without having to worry about hardware.

Cloud computing gaming platform OnLive launched in the US in June, while in November, 2010, Playcast Media launched in Portugal offering, for a fixed monthly fee of 9,99 Euros per month, a great catalogue of next generation video games that lets subscribers play without any limitations of time or usage. The service will be making it’s way to the UK shortly.

Think of it as you would a movie subscription package from the likes of Sky and other the pay per view movie models: the cloud is making that happen for video games now.

Cloud Music

The internet has turned the music industry on its head several times already since it’s advent, but it looks as if the music industry is finally waking up to the new digital age and instead of fighting change, is embracing it.

Beyond Oblivion, part owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, promises to be ‘a new digital music marketplace that will enable the social distribution of pay-wall free music between licensed devices.’

The service will enable high-quality music files to be downloaded and played from a vast cloud-based library and shared freely between licensed devices such as music players, mobile phones, computers and pads.

What is unique with the concept is the fact that Beyond Oblivion works on the basis that the value of a digital music file is in how many times it is played, not the initial download. The new service will report play-count to rights holders (as in record labels) who are paid a royalty every time their music is played – whether or not the file was legally or illegally downloaded, ripped or shared.

The service means that music fans will be able to download music from the biggest music library on Earth ad-free with no unbalanced download charges or subscription fees. The service also promises to encourage more sharing of music online, too, as users will have the rights to share music amongst other licensed friends.

The commercial launch will be good news for many device manufacturers and the music industry in general and could see some bite being taken out of Apple’s market leading iTunes.

Sony launched a new cloud-based music streaming platform in the UK in December.  Music Unlimited is powered by Qriocity lets users stream music and add it to Sony’s PlayStation 3, Blu-ray disc player, Bravia TVs, computers and smartphones like the Sony Ericson range.

Amazon have also just launched Amazon Cloud Drive, which will allow users to store their entire music collections online and then listen to it via any computer with a Web browser or operating Android device.

Reports from the US claim that customers will automatically start with 5GB of free storage, which will automatically be upgraded to 20GB with the purchase of an Amazon MP3 album.

Watch this space for more Cloud news in the months ahead…..