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Cloud computing explained, Amazon launches service

Amazon says its cloud service will now offer

Amazon says its cloud service will now offer 10 times more storage space than Apple's, for the same price. Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Amazon has launched a new music streaming service based on cloud computing technology,  dubbed the Amazon Cloud Player. Although cloud computing is quickly becoming this year's cliche among geeks, what does it mean for the average consumer?

Using cloud computing, instead of keeping your data (music, movies, pictures, documents) with you physically on your computer's hard drive or mobile device, you can pay a company (like Amazon or Apple) to host it on their servers.

To access the data, your gadget will need an Internet connection to connect to the servers. In theory, the user experience should be exactly the same as if they were accessing the files from their own, local hard drive.

The benefit of cloud computing is that users don't need to worry about running out of hard drive space. Also, all those files -- music, movies, pictures -- can be accessed from different devices without having to be physically loaded onto each gadget.

The drawback is obvious: No Internet connection, no access to your stuff. If you're traveling and you don't have a smartphone and/or laptop with a mobile data plan or if the Internet connection dies, well you won't have access to your family pictures.

If you're an Amazon customer, you can test drive the new tech today. The company is giving you 5GB of free cloud space to upload MP3s or digital documents. As a bonus, any new purchases from the Amazon MP3 Store won't count against your storage quota.

As of today, you'll be able to access these files using any Internet browser or a free Android app. No iPhone or iPad app has been announced yet.

If you're happy with the service, you'll be able to upgrade to a one-year 20GB plan for free upon purchasing an MP3 album. If 20GB isn't enough, there will be cloud plans starting at $20 a year.

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