Media Distribution, Mobile Entertainment and The Cloud

Anyone who follows my blog will know three major areas of interest to me are cloud computing, mobile technology and distribution of media content around the house.  There are times when all 3 converge, others when 2 out of 3 combine and many instances where just one area in isolation is my focus.

The combination of media content distribution in and around the home, and via mobile platforms is one obvious combination.  I’m often exploring new ways to ensure I can view content in the most appropriate way for me, wherever I am and via whatever device I have available.  This often combines with the cloud as well – think YouTube, Flickr and Spotify.  The Microsoft 3 screens and a cloud approach fits with this.

Given my areas of interest (listed above), expect numerous posts on any or all of these topics over the coming weeks and months.   But in this post I wanted to look at Cloud Computing and Mobile Technologies.

In both my work and home life, I rarely stay in one place for long.  In fact, it’s often hard for me to define what is home and what is work.  Co-owning and running a business often means the edges are at best blurred.  Moving from the office to home to a meeting, back to the office to a friends to another meeting and then home again is not uncommon.  I need 3 things when I travel – my wallet, car keys and (probably most importantly) my mobile phone.  If I’m working for an extended period I would like my Macbook as well, but as long as I can access a PC it’s not vital for me to have this.

Whilst mobile platforms have become more powerful (and are continuing to do so) storage is such that I cannot carry everything I need with me on my iPhone.  In fact this is not just due to storage.  Accessibility via other devices is another reason – I wouldn’t want all files solely on my mobile phone.  If you’ve ever tried to transfer files from an iPod or iPhone to play or work with them on any other PC it certainly isn’t always straightforward!  Finally, certain files aren’t directly compatible with my mobile device and so there is little point putting them here (zip files, for example).  But, and it’s a big but, I do want access to all my files from my mobile device.

My mobile phone is the only device I am likely to have on me pretty much all the time.  So it makes sense that I need access to my data (work files, media files, whatever) from this.  However, depending on where I am and what I am doing, this may not be the optimal device available to me to do what I need.  If I have a 40 inch TV in front of me, I want to be able to play a movie on that rather than the 3.5inch iPhone screen, right?  And if I’m editing a document, this would be a task better performed on the PC with a full size keyboard that I have access to at a friends house.  But for me it needs to be accessible from my mobile device, in fact from any device, anywhere.

So this is where the cloud element comes in.  Use of cloud technologies, for me, fills the gaps (for the most part) and makes it possible to work and play effectively. 

I use a number of cloud technologies and this is very much a work in progress.  I’ve tried (and am trying) a number of services so a lot of what I do is subject to change.  But to give me what I need requires a combintion of public and private cloud services.

For the most part, I use Microsoft Mesh services and Windows Home Server to form a private cloud to store my media (music, video and photo’s).  I run a DLNA server on my WHS and DLNA renderer / controller software on my mobile devices allowing me to access content without having it stored locally.  This also gives me backups of my critical media (photos and things I cannot get back). 

I also use public cloud services such as Google Apps, Microsoft Workspace Live, Spotify, YouTube, Flickr and Picasa to store, access and share documents, videos, photo’s and music on any device to meet my lifestyle – the cloud isn’t just about storage services but about useful applications that allow me to best access my content from anywhere on whatever device I have available.  These tools also extend my media to other people who may want to access my content in a controlled way.  As an example I recently set up a Picasa web album so that my dad, who has a Sony Vaio CP1 WiFi frame can see all our latest photos on it without doing anything.  As I take a photo I can immediately upload to my web album and it will appear on the photo frame.  Far better than sharing via email. 

There are other services that may also be appropriate – MobileMe, Amazon Web Services, Sky Drive and so on.  These are constantly evolving and pushing things closer to the point where we can access media and work documents from anywhere, can collaborate on single documents with multiple people in multiple locations – all on whatever device we have to hand. 

There are obvious considerations when looking to the cloud.  One big question over cloud technology (and not just for me) is transferring data between “clouds”.  The offerings are in many cases quite different.  Taking media as an example, do you store on something such as SkyDrive or Mesh with limitations on file sizes and overall storage?  Or do you go for something such as Amazon Web Services, MobileMe, dropbox or LiveDrive which are more flexible, but at varying prices.  One approach is to try multiple services.  See which works.  But even if you make a selection that suits your lifestyle and resources, things change and a better alternative may present itself in the future.  If you’ve committed to one solution chances are you will have a lot of data to transfer if you want to move away from that.  And this is something that currently isn’t always striaghtforward.  One approach is to keep a non-cloud copy – almost an onsite backup of your cloud data!  That way you can transfer to an alternate service from that pretty easily. 

Another question is security and there are many arguments both for and against.  My view is that for the most part cloud storage is more secure than how many of us store data today.  Generally it’s more a perception and comfort issue – although there will be instances where security dictates what if any cloud services (particularly public ones) are suitable options.

So as I see it, there is an opportunity to use cloud technologies to make access to content from wherever you are on whatever device is available, very straightforward and accessible.  For pretty low cost. 

Plenty more to talk about in terms of cloud technologies, mobile technologies and media distribution but for now I hope this serves to highlight some of the potential benefits cloud technologies can bring.  In this instance with regards to access and distribution of content to all kinds of devices regardless of location and form factor.  I hope to build on this pretty generalistic post with some more specific ones exploring and reviewing particular services, so look out for those soon.

Posted by SheldonW

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