[PHOTO - Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveils the iCloud storage system at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on June 6. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg]

INTERNET, JUNE 18, 2011 (USA TODAY) TECH TIPS BY KIM KOMANDO - Lately, we've been hearing a lot about cloud computing. Amazon's and Apple's recently announced cloud computing services have generated a lot of buzz.

But if you don't understand why cloud computing is the future of computers, you're not alone.

The "cloud" simply refers to the Internet. "Cloud computing" refers to software and services that run over the Internet. Webmail like Gmail and Hotmail are considered cloud computing. So are online backup services like my national radio show's advertiser

You can access cloud computing services and data from virtually any Web connection. Let's take a look at Amazon's and Apple's cloud services and the advantages they offer.

Amazon Cloud Drive provides 5 gigabytes of free storage. That holds about 1,000 songs, 2,000 photos or 20 minutes of high-definition video. There is a 2 GB size limit per file. You can upload documents, videos, music, photos and more.

You get unlimited access to your files from up to eight devices. Amazon will upgrade your account to 20 GB for a year at no charge. You just have to buy an MP3 album. If you need more storage, Amazon offers paid plans. They start at 20 GB and top out at 1,000 GB (1 terabyte). You'll pay $1 per gigabyte per year. Plans renew automatically.

There are different ways to upload and download files. You can store MP3s purchased from Amazon on Cloud Drive automatically. Purchased music won't count against your storage limit. You can upload or download single files via your Web browser. To download multiple MP3s, you'll need the Amazon MP3 downloader. It runs on Windows XP, Vista and 7 and OS X.

Clicking a music file from your account will open the Amazon Cloud Player. You can listen to your music directly from the Web. You can only play MP3 files or AAC (M4A) files that are DRM-free. There's also a Cloud Player app for Android phones and tablets.

Apple iCloud

iCloud is a free service that replaces MobileMe. It is integrated into apps and iTunes. Some iCloud features appear in iTunes 10.3 beta, but the full roll-out is this fall. iCloud provides 5 GB of free storage. You can also store up to 20,000 songs purchased from iTunes. Other purchased content and photos don't count against your limit.

When you purchase a song from iTunes, you can download it to any of your devices. Past purchases are available, and you can have music downloaded automatically. You can't play music directly from iCloud. You must download it.

You probably have music purchased from another store or ripped from CD. In that case, there's iTunes Match ($25 yearly). It scans your music collection. You can listen to music already in iTunes. If music isn't available, you can upload it from your collection.

iCloud isn't just about music, though. Photo Stream syncs photos taken on your iOS device with other devices. You can view and download photos to other iOS devices, PCs, Macs and Apple TVs. A Photo Stream album containing your last 1,000 photos is created. New photos are stored for 30 days.

iCloud also backs up a variety of other data, like apps, text messages and iWork documents. You get a free email address that works across all your devices. And it stores your calendar and contacts and syncs entries across all your devices. If you choose, you can create a calendar to share with your entire family.

To get all the features of iCloud, you'll need iOS 5 on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Mac users need OS X Lion. It is available in July for $30. Windows users need Vista or Windows 7. Outlook 2007 or 2010 is recommended for accessing contacts and calendars.

As users, we are in the midst of a paradigm shift. No longer is our data, music, media, photos and documents tied to a particular computer at a specific location. When all this moves into the cloud, access to your files is literally at your fingertips.

Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about computers and the Internet.
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No Wonder Small Businesses Are Confused About the Cloud By Robert Dutt, PCWorld May 26, 2011 8:00 pm

A survey released this week paints an interesting picture of small businesses working in the cloud--and that picture is one of uncertainty.

"The cloud"--essentially outsourcing computing tasks of any number of varieties--has been the hot-button topic of the technology industry over the last couple of years. It's often suggested that the cloud is a natural fit for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), which have greater agility and less existing legacy architecture than their enterprise peers.

And yet, less than one third of small businesses have heard of the cloud, according to a Web survey of 1800 people by Newtek Business Services, which markets technology services to SMBs.

It seems far-fetched that this could be possible.You can't go to an airport anywhere in North America without seeing massive ads trumpeting the age of the cloud, and Microsoft's "To the Cloud" TV ads are ubiquitous.

That would suggest that not many small businesses know what the cloud is. But perhaps more disturbingly, even those who have heard of cloud computing largely don't get it, according to Newtek's study. Of those who were familiar with the concept of cloud computing, only one could actually describe what it means.

That would mean that about one quarter of 30 percent--about seven percent--of small business really get the cloud.

The sad fact is, cloud providers are not doing a very good job of educating small businesses about what the cloud is, and more importantly, why they should care.

It starts with the very definition. As "the cloud" has become the buzz phrase of the industry, more and more companies have sought to brand themselves in cloud terms. Provide a Web service or software-as-a-service (Saas)? That's cloud. Outsourced IT infrastructure? That's cloud. Hosting services? Cloud. Internet-connected applications? Cloud. Thin client computers or other end-user computing devices that connect to the Internet? Cloud.

And it gets worse when the ads get involved. Particularly, Microsoft's "To the Cloud" ad campaigns muddy the water. Watch a few of them, and you come away with the idea that the cloud will let you watch your favorite TV show over the Internet while you're stuck at the airport, or share a photo you've just doctored with your friends. "Yay, cloud!"

On the other side, many enterprise vendors focus on the infrastructure that's used by their large customers to roll out huge internal private clouds. Or they provide broad slogans that say nothing, like EMC's "The journey to the private cloud starts now" campaign.

Between those two extremes, there's a lack of genuine education for small businesses about what the "cloud" means, and more importantly, what the benefits can be to customers.

Small businesses need practical advice on how to get to the cloud, and even reassurance on some of the potentially concerning issues that surround the cloud. For instance, at this week's Citrix Synergy event in San Francisco, Citrix CTO Simon Crosby tackled the concern around cloud security and availability, particularly in the wake of high-profile cloud outages like those suffered by Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Skype, and others. Crosby borrowed the old automobile vs. airline safety analogy: A plane crash gets a lot more news attention than does a car crash, but statistically speaking, those traveling by plane are a great deal safer than drivers. The same logic holds with major public cloud outages when compared to the kind of downtime suffered by many on-premise applications every day.

The need for education is underscored by a report from Web host Verio. Its study of 500 SMB decision-makers showed that two thirds were unsure if they'd commit the cloud at this point. But, if "provided proper knowledge and education," 20 percent said they were likely to implement a cloud solution within the next 12 months, while about half that number would be looking to make the jump within six months.

If cloud players want to realize the opportunity that they themselves have said awaits small businesses in a cloud environment, they need to respond with more education, instruction and guidance, less hype and fewer buzzwords.

Otherwise, small businesses may well continue to be lost in the cloud.

Robert Dutt is a veteran IT journalist and blogger. He covers the Canadian IT technology solution provider scene daily at . You can also find him on Twitter .

The Three Layers of Cloud Computing By Chris Poelker, Computerworld

Cloud computing is made up of a variety of layered elements, starting at the most basic physical layer of storage and server infrastructure and working up through the application and network layers. The cloud can be further divided into different implementation models based on whether it's created internally, outsourced or a combination of the two.

The three cloud layers are:

•Infrastructure cloud: Abstracts applications from servers and servers from storage

•Content cloud: Abstracts data from applications

•Information cloud: Abstracts access from clients to data The three cloud implementation models are:

•Private cloud: Created and run internally by an organization or purchased and stored within the organization and run by a third party

•Hybrid cloud: Outsources some but not all elements either internally or externally

•Public cloud: No physical infrastructure locally, all access to data and applications is external An infrastructure cloud includes the physical components that run applications and store data. Virtual servers are created to run applications, and virtual storage pools are created to house new and existing data into dynamic tiers of storage based on performance and reliability requirements. Virtual abstraction is employed so that servers and storage can be managed as logical rather than individual physical entities.

The content cloud implements metadata and indexing services over the infrastructure cloud to provide abstracted data management for all content. The goal of a content cloud is to abstract the data from the applications so that different applications can be used to access the same data, and applications can be changed without worrying about data structure or type. The content cloud transforms data into objects so that the interface to the data is no longer tied to the actual access to the data, and the application that created the content in the first place can be long gone while the data itself is still available and searchable.

The information cloud is the ultimate goal of cloud computing and the most common from a public perspective. The information cloud abstracts the client from the data. For example, a user can access data stored in a database in Singapore via a mobile phone in Atlanta, or watch a video located on a server in Japan from his a laptop in the U.S. The information cloud abstracts everything from everything. The Internet is an information cloud.

Christopher Poelker is the author of Storage Area Networks for Dummies, the vice president of enterprise solutions at FalconStor Software, and deputy commissioner of the TechAmerica Foundation Commission on the Leadership Opportunity in U.S. Deployment of the Cloud (CLOUD˛).

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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