Rumble in the cloud: 5 cloud storage services compared

Amazon Cloud Drive vs. iCloud vs. DropBox vs. Google Music vs. Ubuntu One: Who comes out on top?

It used to be that when I said "cloud services," people's eyes would glaze over and in minutes they'd be gently snoring. That was then. This is now. While CIOs and CTOs still debate about what role the cloud will have in business, personal cloud services have been slowly easing their way into almost everyone's computing plans.

That's not you you say? You don't use a cloud service? Really? Do you use Dropbox to store files? Do you get your e-mail at Gmail? Are you experimenting with Apple's iCloud? Doing work with Google Apps, Office 365, or Zoho Docs? Congratulations, you're a cloud user. You may be thinking a lot of those are software as a service (SaaS) offerings that mimic traditional client-server computing, and you'd be right. But they're also all cloud services.

[ You might also like: DIY Dropbox alternatives and iCloud data syncing in practice ]

Lately, though, personal cloud services have been moving into the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) realm. It's in IaaS that you find file storage, media serving, and a variety of other ad hoc services for either no or minimal costs. So many of these services have been popping up, and with so many different service offerings, that I thought it was well past time to take an overview of what's what in personal IaaS.

As I do this, I think you should know that these will all be changing very quickly. Indeed, you could argue that they represent not just the future of corporate computing but a vision of tomorrow's personal computing as well. Apple, for example, has made it clear that iCloud will be working hand in glove with its entire family of devices. They're not the only ones to see it that way. Ubuntu, the popular desktop Linux distribution, is integrating cloud services into its operating system, and Google's Chrome operating system is just enough Linux to run on a computer with the Chrome Web browser linking the “desktop” to the cloud.

At the same time, legal hurdles have been overcome to make personal cloud services more inviting. For example, cloud-based music storage lockers now appear to be legal after the decision in EMI vs. MP3tunes. This decision opened the door to legally storing and streaming your music from cloud storage -- not just from MP3tunes itself, but from Apple, Amazon, and Google as well. It also suggests that you'll soon be able to store videos and other digital content in the same way.

Still, today, we have a mis-mash of services. Here's the best of them as of late 2011.

Amazon Cloud Drive/Player

All your files in a distinctly Amazonian interface

Amazon knows a thing or two about clouds. After all, besides being the biggest online retailer, with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (aka Amazon EC2), the company also provides the biggest public cloud service.

Cloud Drive isn't for IT departments. It's for you. It provides 5 GB of free storage, and you can use that storage to stream music to up to eight devices. And if you buy your music from Amazon, these tunes can be stored in Amazon Cloud Drive without using any of your allocated storage space. For the moment, Amazon is also offering limitless storage for music from other sources, but there's no telling how long this offer will last.

To both to upload and download music, you'll need to use the Web-based Amazon Cloud Player. There's also an Amazon cloud player that's specific to Android devices.

If you want more storage -- and if you intend on using Amazon to store your music collection, you will -- Amazon offers several tiers of storage, ranging from 20 to 1,000 GB at a price of $1.00 per gigabyte per month. So, for instance, 20 GB will run you $20.

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