Amazon has a strong track record in the sphere of cloud computing, and is rapidly expanding its online services in the US. It's challenging its reputation as an online shop, albeit a huge one, and is diversifying into areas that could help you enjoy online services that are better than, on a par with, or totally unique compared with the biggest players in cloud computing.
Today it's one of the largest providers of cloud services in the world, challenging the likes of Google and Apple, and even pipping them to the post to launch new services like its music-streaming service, Cloud Player.
It's also championing a cloud-powered web browser called Silk, which uses Amazon's servers to load web pages so your device doesn't need to. Amazon could easily own cloud computing in the future, in much the same way it did in the past.
It was one of the first major companies to open up cloud computing to the masses over nine years ago. This wasn't through cloud services like webmail or online document creation, but by hiring out storage space and raw computing power.
In 2002, with Amazon Web Services (AWS), the company opened up the power of its unused servers to companies and individuals. It made sense – why should the company pay for all that server space and processing power that wasn't being used when there was a desperate need for it in other companies?
Later it refined this offering with Amazon EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), which allowed anyone to rent Amazon's spare server capacity by the hour. This is a truly adaptable service that lets companies expand and contract to match demand for their services without having to pay for extra servers that may be redundant the following month.
It's a flexible service that saves people money as customers are only charged for what they use, and its adaptability means businesses can grow in line with their needs without costly infrastructure investment. Despite concerns about storing private or business data in the cloud, EC2 has grown at an astonishing rate.
In fact, some people's fears about the reliability of the cloud were apparently realised in April 2011 when an Amazon outage closed many sites, including Foursquare, Reddit and Quora, some of which were down for days.
Amazon released this statement after the outage: "We know how critical our services are to our customers' businesses and we will do everything we can to learn from this event and use it to drive improvement across our services."
We're only in the first few years of the major uptake of cloud computing, so there are likely to be more teething issues and there seems to be little you can do about them other than having a backup system of your own – which does seem to defeat the purpose of using cloud computing.
Tellingly, no cloud computing firm currently offers insurance against lost data. Despite this, a global study carried out by IBM in 2011 said that over 60 per cent of organisations plan to "embrace cloud computing over the next five years".
But Amazon isn't all about business and web development. In 2011 it extended its cloud computing reach to include other, more personal services. It's catching up with (and even overtaking) the other big cloud players like Google and Apple by offering online film streaming through LoveFilm, online book offerings through the Kindle, music streaming through its new Cloud Player, vetted apps through its Android app store, and personal online storage through its Cloud Drive service.
Amazon is on Fire
It has also released a modified Android tablet in the form of the Kindle Fire, which lets users store purchased media like books, films, music and apps in the cloud, and access them on Amazon mobile devices.
Amazon is cementing its journey from an online store to an entertainment destination. It has embraced this challenge in a big way, not only providing places for content to be streamed from, but even making its own.
To do this, it has become a publisher of its own books. This could change publishing forever, with fewer intermediate steps between the author and reader. As top Amazon executive Russell Grandinetti told the Times, "The only necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader."
With the release of Amazon Music Player in America, there's speculation that it may soon do the same with music. Amazon is muscling in on the turf of Apple and Google, and it's going about it in a very competitive way.
Amazon is so keen to get you using its cloud services to buy its online content, it's even willing to subsidise the cost of its devices to get you using it. The Kindle Fire, currently only available in America, costs over $10 more to make than its $199 price tag. In much the same way that Sony and Microsoft subsidise their games consoles in the hope that they will recoup their money on games and services, Amazon has brought out a very low-cost tablet that is so integrated with the shop's selection of books, music and other content, you may never need another media provider.
Let's go to the movies
Amazon has a huge consumer base, and realised it needed to get into online content to avoid being left behind. It acquired LoveFilm in January 2011, putting it on a sound footing to take on Netflix should the American rental service make its much rumoured appearance on British shores next year.
As Simon Calver, Chief Executive of LoveFilm International said at the time, "The deal is a winner for the members who love LoveFilm because of its value, choice, convenience and innovation in home entertainment. With Amazon's unequivocal support we can significantly enhance our members' experience across Europe."
LoveFilm is also a good way of drawing people into the Amazon fold – it's already everywhere. You see LoveFilm apps built into smart TVs, on Blu-ray players and on your iPad. The iPad release was a big step for the company – it finally managed to put Amazon content on an Apple device.
Upon its release, Calver said: "LoveFilm on iPad is the latest exciting step in giving film fans total control over their viewing schedule and our commitment to expanding the ways in which members can stream movies on a range of devices."
There is still some way to go though; LoveFilm phone apps only let you organise your film and game rentals. Amazon and LoveFilm are staying tight-lipped about when a full LoveFilm player for phones will be released. Netflix is breathing down their necks having just launched in the UK, and Google is already offering an Android movie player.
However, we're sure it won't be long before we see a phone app that lets you watch Amazon's offerings anywhere with an internet connection.
When it comes to streaming music from the cloud, Amazon was a surprise early adopter. It beat Google and Apple by releasing Cloud Player, in March 2011. Although it's only available in the US, it's impressive, letting users back up pretty much their entire music collections to Amazon's servers. Users can then access it from computers and Android devices.
As Amazon's vice-president of music and movies Bill Carr said, "Our customers have told us they don't want to download music to their work computers or phones because they find it hard to move music to different devices. Now whether at work, home or on the go, customers can buy music from Amazon MP3, store it in the cloud and play it anywhere."
US Amazon account holders can get Cloud Player free, with 5GB of storage, but if they buy an MP3 album from Amazon that increases to 20GB. Music bought from Amazon doesn't count towards your storage limit.
So how does Amazon licence the music stored on Cloud Player? Simple – it doesn't. As Amazon's director of music Craig Pape explained: "We don't need a licence to store music. The functionality is the same as an external hard drive."
Amazon's Cloud Drive was introduced at the same time as Cloud Player. It gives US-based Amazon account holders 5GB of online space free, allowing them to back up their most important documents and photos to the cloud.
So is Amazon the future? There do seem to be gaps in its online offerings. For example, there are no email services or online apps for the creation of spreadsheets or documents, but when it comes to online content, it has most bases covered.
It may not be ready for us in the UK just yet though. Amazon is announcing no plans to extend Cloud Player and the Kindle Fire outside of the US, although some people claim to have found loopholes that let them use Amazon's Music Player on British shores.
However, until these services are fully rolled out across the world, they appear to be merely hinting as what is possible, but not quite within reach.
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