Shared content and services on the Internet is not new.
Cloud computing expands shared services with a concept of shared infrastructure elements, which deliver shared content and platforms as an interconnected system. NIST framed cloud computing as: “on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity or expansion, and measured service” (NIST, 2011).
SaaS, Software as a Service, has been expanding over the past decade. SaaS provides to customers all layers of service from infrastructure to end delivery of a web-based product. That service also can be provided in layers of infrastructure and platforms, dropping the costs of launching new businesses upfront.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) then allow other companies to launch platforms and software with scalable storage and delivery. This model can shift IT growth from a step-function, up-front capital expense to a more fluid, scalable, operating expense (Armbrust et al., 2009). These systems are deployed across four models– public clouds, private clouds, community clouds, and hybrid clouds–all with different combinations of privacy, ownership, and sharing (NIST, 2011[i]).
To the consumer, SaaS is the public face to their cloud-based media lives and habits. Consumer products—such as Netflix, Dropbox, Spotify, Tumblr, or other connected services—might be living on Amazon IaaS cloud-based servers and a connecting PaaS platform.
Drivers Shifting our Digital Worlds
Three long-running drivers have pushed geometric change in the market for cloud-based media storage:
Storage: Costs of physical storage have plummeted, represented by Kryder’s Law[ii];
Computing Power: More powerful and smaller form-factor computing, now in our hands as smartphones and tablets, benefiting from geometric improvement in processing capacity predicted in 1965 by Moore’s Law; and
Distance: Costs of communicating and sharing content over distances has plummeted over that same time (Cairncross, 1997)[iii].
These three drivers have set the stage for our more complex current media environment of 2012.
Due to the breadth of content available, legally and illegally, consumers have built up large portfolios of existing digital content across a variety of devices and hard drives. They also have accumulated years of DVDs and CDs. The ease of saving and storing this content previously was limited to hard drive and shelf space. Shelf space has not grown in most homes, but the low cost of hard drives has let consumer build up large amounts of digital stuff.
Meanwhile, consumers have owned enough hard drives over time to realize that they do not provide infinite storage life. Hard drive failure rates, estimated in mean time between failures in the millions of minutes, have shown in testing to be 2-4%/year, and even as high as 13% in a 2007 Carnegie Mellon study[iv]. In addition, digital stuff is now shared across home networks, computers, individuals, and devices.
Two other factors are shifting cloud-based media needs:
Mobility. The challenge has expanded with the growth in mobility, as tablets and smartphones draw content and leisure time to places other than living rooms and computer screens.
Time. The biggest challenge, which we will engage below as well, is the perception that consumers now don’t have time. The time to deal with faded hard drives or figuring out how to move content from one system is of high frustration and value.
Training and Converting our Behavior and Needs
As noted above, online SaaS tools for engaging media have been around for a while. Three drivers are moving consumers into more comfortable adoption: work, tablets, and ease of start-up alternatives.
Work-based Attitudes and Training: Cloud computing on the business side has driven comfort with the Cloud. Consumers have been trained at small businesses and other work environments progressively for many years. Tools like Google Docs, Google Apps, DropBox, and Evernote have gotten individuals used to user interfaces for cloud-based working. Email in the cloud, with Yahoo and Gmail, has moved many users into the cloud with email on all devices, everywhere
Tablet Momentum: Tablets have been around for many decades, but the growth since 2010 of iPads has increased expectations for users to be able to thrive without carrying around massive hard drives. iPad and Android-based tablet users expect access on each of their devices and formats. Handsome user interfaces and added-value visuals are progressively part of baseline expectations on tablet and smartphones. Increased tablet-based usage rushes more content into the cloud, instead of buying the next devices with a gigantic hard drive.
Cloud-Based Infrastructures and Platforms: New services are growing off of IaaS and PaaS platforms. Shared infrastructures and platforms allow start-up cloud-based media services to launch without independent massive investment in inflexible storage and fixed infrastructures. A niche, start-up provider can perch on cloud-based IaaS infrastructures for storage and platforms.
[i] National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) working definition of cloud computing, the 16th and final definition has been published as The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing (NIST Special Publication 800-145).