Amazon disguises powerful online storage as cloud music service

Amazon Cloud Drive can stream MP3s, or backup your 1TB disk

Amazon revolutionized the music business when it began selling music CDs online – making local music stores with limited space archaic before Apple's iTunes made them completely obsolete.

Now it appears to be trying to get its mojo back in the music market by combining its two major strengths – consumer retail sales and cloud computing – into a new music-storage service called Amazon Cloud Drive.

The pitch is that consumers will no longer have to rely on their own error-prone hard drives to store their precious Justin Bieber tunes.

Instead they can upload their MP3 or AAC files to a free Amazon Cloud Drive – free up to 5GB, or 20GB if you buy an entire MP3 album from Amazon – then download or stream the music to their PCs, Macs or Android devices using a special player from Amazon.

It presses most of the buttons Apple's rumored Music Locker service does, except the online storage and computing infrastructure is already in place.

Which is where Cloud Drive becomes an odd bait-and-switch.

Amazon's press release and promotion has focused exclusively on the music aspect – with some mention that the actual space is in Amazon's bulletproof S3 storage service – Amazon Cloud Drive is not exclusively a service to store music.

In fact, it's a general-purpose online storage service aimed at consumers, with subscription fees of a dollar per year per gigabyte, in steps ranging from 20GB for $20/year to 1000GB for $1,000/year.

The free 5GB of basic storage is the same as you'd get signing up for the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Free Usage Tier, though that would also give you 10GB of Elastic Block Storage, 750 hours of Linux VM usage, load balancing, Internet data transfer, 25 hours of use and 1GB of storage on an Amazon SimpleDB database, 100,000 HTTP requests and 10 Cloudwatch alarms.

Cloud Drive is a lot cheaper than S3, which costs $0.14 per month per gigabyte for the first terabyte. That's $1.68/GB/year compared to $1/GB/year for Cloud Drive.

Cloud Drive isn't much different than any other consumer-oriented cloud-based storage, about which consumers tend to have very strong feelings.

Mozy was a big favorite until it boosted its prices to $6 per month for 50GB or 125GB for $9.99 per month.

Customers and consumer gadget sites responded by checking out or moving to other online services that were cheaper, free, or had never shocked unsuspecting users by actually starting to charge for a service that originally was free.

This list of other cloud storage options from the blog CloudStorage is reasonably complete.

This list of consumer oriented cloud storage services from OnlineStorageReviews is also pretty useful.

Cloud Drive also only supports MP3 and AAC file formats. So if you're a little more heterogeneous and don't like the bother of having to convert your files, or an audiophile who prefers other formats, you're out of luck.

Downloading from Cloud Drive and uploading to your device should work, but you wouldn't be able to stream music wirelessly to a device on which you don't store music.

Cloud Drive is designed to be a lot easier to use than the main AWS or S3 services; most consumers wouldn't get past decoding the AWS pricing sheet, let alone figuring out how to use it.

Being able to stream your music is a step up in functionality from JBOD storage in a cloud. That's an improvement in consumer services, though not a huge one.

Conceptually it's another step toward self-service cloud-based hosting of all kinds of things – which may eventually include your OS, data, identity metadata and all kinds of other things, so you'll never be caught out when you need to produce proof of insurance, car registration, tax data, personal history, employment status, bank accounts, credit score and all kinds of other things that would be perfectly safe storing in the cloud and streaming wirelessly in the open to your unsecured handheld device.

Your Justin Bieber collection will remain safe with Cloud Drive, I'm sure.

You might want to remind your friends who are enthusiastic about technology but just a touch naive about some of those other issues before they start using Cloud Drive for things that are more important than music, though. Just because S3 is secure doesn't mean using always is.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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