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Climbing Higher Into The Clouds

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Is cloud computing the technology of the future or just another buzz word that will soon vanish from the trendy industry topics landscape? TMV recently attended a conference event organized by First Tuesday at the Soho Hotel in London in search of an answer to this question. We wanted to get our heads around the issues surrounding the future of Cloud Computing and their relevance to the music industry.

Those of you yet unfamiliar with the term, Cloud Computing refers to the concept of the web as an abstract cloud providing you with access to data and services without having to rely on a local system for more than connecting to the internet.

According to Gartner and their recently released “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies” report, cloud computing is currently at the peak of its hype cycle and will soon be dethroned from its position as a king of technologies for inflated expectations, taking over our digital lives and transforming into a mainstream technology in the next two to five years.

Despite its trendy aura cloud computing is hardly anything new in the world of technology, neither it is for the music industry that saw their catalogues fledging into the stormy clouds of peer-2-peer networks ten years ago. Cloud computing is merely a culmination of existing technologies that have been out for a while so essentially the innovation is happening on the level of service provision and transformation of consumer behavior in the digital space. We have all, already adopted a great deal of cloud services in our digital lifestyle such as webmail, google documents, web hosting and social networking, storing anything from cashflow spreadsheets to holiday memories in either but what does cloud computing mean to the music business?

Business starts in the clouds

The digital clouds affect the music industry on many different levels and apart from the obvious product to service transition shaking the music business in recent times. It also affects the ongoing decade long war against the illegal cloudification of copyrighted songs. TMV believes the value of the cloud lies in its innate ability act as a nursery ground for music technology startups.

A few years back launching a new company operating in the sphere of music technology was inevitably dependent on raising substantial investment in order to employ a department of IT professionals looking after system development, security, storage maintenance as well as purchasing enormously expensive server equipment to host the company’s content and websites. This proved a major barrier to young entrepreneurs with limited access to the investor circles to transform a great idea to a great service.

Cloud Computing has certainly provided a viable alternative for new startups, putting more power and control in the hands of creative business minds such as the group of fresh university graduates running the new music streaming service Mixcloud who’s CTO Mat Clayton spoke on the panel of First Tuesday’s conference. Putting their business in the cloud enabled them to take a fresh idea off the ground with a very minimal investment by effectively outsourcing the functions and costs related to hiring an IT department, to the cloud provider.

Through the cloud new startups can effectively bring a service to the market as soon as a new business opportunity is identified, which is an issue of crucial importance to companies operating in the fast paced and constantly changing digital landscape. Everybody can start developing a product immediately using the pay as you go model of cloud services which provides a great deal of flexibility for a company that needs to adapt dynamically and rapidly scale up corresponding to a growing demand.

Furthermore, storing data in the cloud provides a much greater level of security compared to the protection measures a startup business can afford to implement locally as usually the service providers have large teams of highly experienced security experts who will be impossible to employ on a tight budget. This is great news to companies that have to assure the traditionally super protective record companies that their content wouldn’t be subject to unauthorized access and illegal sharing due to security breach in their platform.

Tunes in the clouds

Music in the cloud, albeit not a new concept, has recently become the hottest topic in the music business with the new wave of ad-funded free music streaming services growing like mushrooms on the digital landscape. And while the industry executives scratch their heads trying to work out a strategy to cannibalize illegal downloads and whether the miniscule streaming rates would be able to balance out for the loss of record sales from the new generation of streaming converts, we are possibly just around the corner of seeing the biggest player on the market, almighty iTunes, moving business in the cloud next week.

The blogosphere has been heating up with speculations in the eve of the next Apple event where Steve Jobs is expected to announce the new iTunes 9 rumored to offer social integration with the biggest social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace etc and the new standard for extended album content Cocktail. Leaving the social concerns aside we fear that the Cocktail standard might pose a challenge at least for the users enjoying listening to music on one of the 30 million iPhones sold to date. Along with album artwork the extended content features will inevitably include videos which can very quickly eat up a lot of the valuable disk space in comparison to storing a library of plain mp3 files on your limited capacity portable device. So, a move to the cloud is inevitable for iTunes and TMV will be surprised if apple doesn’t serve their Cocktail in the clouds.

The whole point of Cocktail is to allow fans to interact with additional media content and if they don’t deliver it to the internet enabled mobile devices, where I personally spent most of my listening time, without evading the limited storage space, it would be highly unlikely that the cocktail will have a Molotov effect at least on my albums downloads.

Furthermore, iTunes has been steadily increasing their video library of movies and television shows in the last couple of years and I am sure that anyone that has taken on this development has struggled to decide what to do with the videos they bought, once the disk gets full and, in our experience, they always do no matter how big. Not to mention the difficulties in organizing and maintaining a large library of music like mine, migrating a record collection to a new computer or portable device. All of these problems can be resolved if iTunes moves their content in the cloud so we hope to see this happening soon.

On a separate note, it is worth mentioning that putting the music in the cloud might finally convert a whole lot of new music consumers previously refusing to develop digital download habits as a result of concern related to the perishability of mp3 files. If you happen to lose your music library, Apple will allow you to recover all the songs purchased from iTunes one more time, but what happens if your computer fails once again?

Time to migrate

The rapid invasion of web enabled smartphones and the new generation of broadband internet rolling out in 2010 in the UK, will inevitably drive more music and fans to the cloud in the years to come and speed the transition from ownership to access of music, hopefully for the good of the industry. The technology industry is quickly embracing cloud standards across the board and with last year’s launch of Microsoft Azure we can see that even the biggest players are on their steady course getting higher into the clouds so TMV hopes that the technologically conservative music industry giants will adopt the new developments in the digital skies a bit quicker this time.

Look out this space for the next article on cloud music where TMV will give you the low down of the most innovative music cloud services plus an exclusive interview with Mixcloud founders ahead of their public launch.

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