The eye for Apple appears to be cloud computing – but be careful

By's official. Cloud computing has gone mainstream. We know that because Steve Jobs is apparently interested.

According to an Associated Press story, Jobs and Apple may be moving iTunes toward a model where people would no longer have to download individual songs; rather, they'd simply access the songs they want from a central server via their iPod, or computer or other device, delivered via the cloud.

From Apple's point of view, this makes sense: why not sell a device that does away with a hard drive, and allows customers to instantly access content, regardless of where they are? The device would cost less, and the service would provide Apple with a recurring revenue stream. In fact, a company named Lala came up with that precise business model for iPhones last year, offering a program that streamed songs instantly to the phone after a user spent 10 cents per song to house them on a cloud-based server. The dime would be credited back to buyers who subsequently bought an updated, permanent download. Apple, as it turns out, didn't allow Lala to market its application through the iTunes App Store, and then ended up buying Lala.

It's cloud computing, of course, that makes this kind of thinking and implementation possible. The same kind that allows businesses to outsource their production or back-end environments to a third party, while actually gaining a higher level of performance and uptime. The providers are focused on constantly keeping things up and running because it's their business. Which means their customers can actually focus on technology tasks the generate revenue while being guaranteed uptime that, only a few years ago, seemed like a pipe dream.

Apple is apparently moving in that direction; the AP story says that the company is building one of the world's largest data centers about three hours from Raleigh, in Maiden, N.C., more than three times as large as its current data center in California. While Apple won't comment on its plans in advance (it never does), it's pretty clear the company is looking at the cloud to distribute songs and other content through iTunes, as well as beef up its Mobile Me cloud-based data storage service.

One caveat for Steve, however: if you move in this direction, you'd better be prepared for howls from the faithful if and when the system hiccups, even for a second. While businesses have service level agreements in place with their cloud-based service providers, I'm willing to bet the end user license agreement on a consumer-based offering may be less stringent. That may not sit well with the Apple faithful, who have been known to be quite vocal when they're not happy with something from Cupertino.

The bottom line here is that you should take note: if (and when) Apple moves in this direction, it won't talk about cloud computing. It'll simply be part of the infrastructure. In the same way, we're rapidly moving to the point where cloud computing is becoming an accepted delivery model for providing IT business infrastructure.

We don't call it out nearly as much as we used to...and in a year or two, it'll simply be a given as more business move to toward cloud computing or "on demand" technology delivery model.