Cloud Challenges

Third of a Series of Blog Posts from Maremel's White Paper: Opening Digital Pandora's Box


If we believed ads and websites in 2011, eager consumers are ready to connect everywhere and anywhere.  Consumers and content service providers face challenges in their transition to cloud-based archiving of owned media content:

Consumer Challenges:

Discovery within My Own—and Other’s—“Digital Stuff”

In the physical home, old CDs and DVDs get shoved into the back of the shelf, given to friends, or sold at yard sales.  Some consumers have built 300 DVD collections, and a few have had software that helps them know what they own and where they have put it.  Search has been visual, scanning the covers or spines of the collections.  Concepts of discovery of our own content, as well as what to do (and IF we should pay) for old “stuff” will bring consumers to question what they need in terms of long-term access to “owned” content.

  • Books: Discovery and sharing—even with physical storage—has become a bigger challenge with large libraries.  A variety of social cataloging web tools have grown to help with abundant book libraries.  Within the book space, a variety of tools are available, including aNobii, Shelfari, BookJetty, weRead, Goodreads, and LibraryThing.  Some combine information on consumers’ physical library, recommendations from the community, and possible purchase of new digital books.

Consumers face a growing challenge of digesting their owned media.  With electronic books and other media files, the physical problem escalates.  Book storage online already raises the question of title-level metadata and sterile taxonomies.  For example, Kindle’s iPad software shows titles, authors, and cover art images to scan through, with no ability (yet) on the iPad App to search or “folderize.”

  • Music: Music has extended social curation and discovery with abundant new streaming SaaS offerings.  Data-rich new challengers in 2011—including Spotify, MOD, and Rdio—launched their curation offerings into Facebook’s connection-rich platform. brought individuals out as live DJs, sharing mixes and songs live on Facebook with friends and strangers.
  • Video: With video, 2011 and 2012 spurred the launch of a whole new breed of SaaS tools having to do with shared media curation of the television viewing experience.  Cloud co-viewing tools continued beyond GetGlue to Yahoo’s mobile IntoNow, which compares the audio of what you are watching to identify and share taste in television programs.  Tunerfish, a Comcast offering, reminds users that their favorite show is on tonight as well as lets them connect to discuss the program.

Joint Ownership

Ownership may not be to one IP address or individual.  For example, I don’t own most of my content.  My family owns most of my CDs and DVDs in a shared cupboard in my home.  We have a shared hard drive, and are building new digital home storage as we speak.  Ownership, however, is shared.  Even my Netflix account is shared, with my 14-year-old running the queue (much to my chagrin).

New digital services have been dealing with this issue.  Audible, for example, delivers “purchased” audio books, which means rights to listen on- and off-line to audio books on their service on a variety of devices.  The service allows use of up to 5 devices, which can be reset at any time.  Barnes & Noble permits digital book lending for up to 14 days, but only once.  UltraViolet, which has launched a multiple mode ownership system with Paramount, Universal, Sony, Warner Bros. and Lionsgate, is another example in the video realm.  That new service permits up to six users in their Terms of Service agreement.  They have begun to release “Horrible Bosses” and “Green Lantern” (both Warner Bros.) since Oct. 2011 for home consumption under these rules; we’ll see if they change over time.

Offline and Online Use

Mobile bandwidth can be expensive for consumers to use for connecting to their own media, so Wi-Fi has become a welcome alternative for connecting mobile devices with rich media content.  Consumer storage has had to assume that you are not sitting at someone’s computer in a robust broadband work environment.  Users want to be able to fill their tablets or smartphones as a transport bucket for this week’s reading, listening, and viewing – at least under the current models of mobile monthly bandwidth contracts.

Content Provider:


Commoditization of Services, Migration, and Survivability

Consumers will want perfection: permanent tools for low cost.  Users will want migration and survivability if a SaaS fails, closes, or is sold, with the ability to transfer their “digital stuff” out.  Consumers will be afraid of “lock in,” as it would make them dependent on the terms of use, which might change.

Meanwhile, IaaS and PaaS will allow new systems to launch, cannibalizing existing systems and putting them at business risk.  Pure storage, with limited barriers to entry, can be a race to the bottom in terms of both service and pricing

Competing with Freemium

Many digital consumers have become trained to seek freemium business models, which give them a fairly large bucket of storage for free with extended product abilities and storage for a certain amount per month.  Dropbox, which has gained market share with its integration with the iPad, provides 2 GB for free, with more storage given for referrals (up to 5.5 GB), and even more for pay or for organizations.  Amazon’s CloudDrive is free for 5 GB, while Microsoft’s SkyDrive offers 25 GB for free.

Device Abundance from the Consumerization of IT

Increasingly, many consumers have gained the attitudes that their device is their stronghold and they have the right to use it for work and home. Publishers for mobile have been working on this question for years, and entire ecosystem layers have stepped into media platforms to digest digital output into the various carriers and devices.


Mutual Challenges:


Per the Betamax Case in 1984, users have the right to make a personal copy for their own use and time shifting. Questions repeat as to who owns what with what rights to digital copy, on what drive in what location.  As noted above, different companies are setting different rights rules as to cloud-based media.  As a consumer, the pitch seems to be rights to my stuff anywhere, everywhere, and all the time.  Start-ups, especially in music, have been pushing back on the physical-media based licensing structures while trying to launch readily on IaaS backbones.

In music, Echo Nest has launched a PaaS that connects licensing rights with new music platforms. So far, however, it only has EMI (which now has been sold) as its core.  220 young start-ups so far have launched new SaaS services based on this Echo Nest PaaS licensing-fluid platform.

Personal Cloud

Second of a Series of Blog Posts from Maremel's White Paper: Opening Pandora's Digital Box


Cloud: Assumptions and Definitions

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).

[ii] Chip Walter (2005,July 25). “Kryder's Law: The doubling of processor speed every 18 months is a snail's pace compared with rising hard-disk capacity, and Mark Kryder plans to squeeze in even more bits,” Scientific American.

[iii] Francis Cairncross (1997). The Death of Distance: How the. Communications Revolution Will Change Our Lives (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press).

[iv] Bianca Schroeder and Garth A. Gibson (2007). “Disc failures in the real world: What does an MTTF of 1,000,000 hours mean to you?” 5th USENIX Conference on File and Storage Technologies, p. 1-16.