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Apple's iCloud Patent Emerges Pointing to 1TB Storage Capacity

1 - Apple's icloud patent emerges pointing to 1TB Storage capacity
The year began with news that Apple was working on a new cloud-based safety-deposit box followed by an iTunes Cloud service before it was officially unveiled weeks later. Then in August Apple introduced us to future iCloud based printing services. To round it all out, Patently Apple posted an in-depth special report titled "iCloud: Winds of Change" which discussed how iCloud services would eventually push us into the era of the NC or Network Computer. Something that the naysayers have vehemently claimed would never ever happen. Well, today's patent application as revealed by the US Patent and Trademark Office, interestingly reveals how Apple is using a "librarian Service" on iOS devices to coordinate iCloud services and also create unique user credentials effortlessly. But more interesting perhaps is that the patent reveals that storage in the 1TB range is already on Apple's roadmap – and that certainly paves the way for the Post PC era's entry of the Network Computer – plain and simple.


A General Overview of Today's Cloud Services


Apple's overview states that with the increased availability of high speed Internet connections, many devices have the ability to connect to remote services or sources. In addition, as the cost of high speed Internet connections decreases, many users may maintain a constant or near constant connection to the Internet. Furthermore, as wireless communications systems expand, users could connect to remote sources at many different locations, including far from the user's work, home or other areas where the user typically could access the Internet. For example, wireless communications networks have expanded to the point where a device could connect to the Internet on a mountaintop in nature (e.g., while skiing or hiking).


Because of the enhanced ability of devices to connect to the Internet as a user moves or travels, a user could make an increased use of remote storage. In particular, a user could store information in one or more remote locations, while knowing that the information could remain accessible so long as the user has an Internet connection available. This could allow a user to expand the amount of storage available to the user beyond the actual storage within the device (e.g., the storage of a hard drive or solid state drive in a device).


A device could connect to any suitable remote storage source to store or access content. In some embodiments, one or more cloud storage solutions could be available to a user. A cloud storage solution could typically include one or more racks of storage devices geographically located in one area and connected to each other and to the Internet.


The storage devices could be managed by a system administrator, who ensures that all of the storage devices operate properly, run appropriate profiles, and manages the storage of information by users on the cloud storage. While such cloud storage may be of use to a user, it may also come at a cost. In particular, the cloud provider could charge a monthly or other recurring fee in exchange for use of the cloud storage.


In addition, the cost of operating a cloud storage system could include not only material costs (e.g., storage devices) but also network administration costs. In particular, each time a user wishes to provide access to restricted content to another user, an administrator may be required to generate and provide the credentials to the other user, and to release access to the restricted content for the generated credentials. This could require both time and administrator resources.


Apple's Local iCloud Solutions Begins with a Key Librarian Service


Apple's patent application covers systems, methods and computer-readable media for providing access to content stored on a local network storage system (e.g., a local cloud) using a single step. In particular, this is directed to providing access to content stored on a local cloud that includes devices identified by a user and administrated by a device providing a librarian service.


Defining a Local Cloud


A user could define a local cloud by selecting a list of devices controlled by the user to include in a cloud. The devices in the list could identify themselves and their owner to a librarian, which could allocate resources of the identified devices for the local cloud. In addition, the user could elect to trust one or more other users, whose devices could also be made available for a cloud. The librarian could select a set of devices to combine to form a local cloud, where the devices are owned by one or more users.


In some cases, a user may wish to give another user access to content on the local cloud. For example, a user may wish to share an image, audio, video, or other content for review or editing (e.g., a group project). As another example, a user may wish to give another person access to some or all of the local cloud (e.g., a directory and sub-directory, content associated with a particular tag, or any content associated with selected metadata). To do so, the user could provide an instruction to the librarian identifying the content or local cloud to share, and the other person with which to share the content or local cloud. For example, the user could identify a particular file or directory, and an email address associated with the other user.


2 -  Apple's iCloud, Device Librarian

The Device Librarian Generates the Appropriate Credentials for Users


In response to receiving the instruction, the librarian could determine whether the user or email address is known to it. For example, the librarian could determine whether the target user has provided devices for use in a local cloud, or whether the user has already been provided with access to content on another local cloud. If the librarian determines that the user is new, the librarian could generate credentials (e.g., a key) for the user.


The librarian could update one or more access control lists associated with the local cloud or content to include the identified user. Alternatively, the librarian could receive, from a user, an indication of the devices to which the user wants to grant access, and could grant access to those devices in response to the user indication.


In some embodiments, the librarian could revise or edit a database from which local network information is pulled by each device or user managed by the librarian to indicate that the other user has access to the local cloud.


Alternatively, each device in a local cloud could be initially informed by the librarian of the other users authorized to access content on the device. The device could then notify the librarian of the authorized users. This may allow the other user to see the shared content or local cloud appear as available to the user's device even if the user doesn't receive or select the link provided in the communication from the librarian.


Using an electronic device, the other user could operate iCloud to access the content or directory in the local cloud, and access the content. For example, the electronic device of the other could request, from the librarian, information regarding the location of devices forming a local cloud associated with the other user, and receive automatically from the librarian information for connecting to the shared content in addition to the other user's local cloud. This approach may allow the other user to seamlessly and rapidly connect to other users' local clouds without requiring burdensome credential generating or credential entering steps on the part of the other user when the other user is new to the librarian. And this is what Apple is famous for: Hiding complexity from the user so that the average consumer experience for setting up the cloud could be done in several tiny and easy to understand steps.


Apple's Local Cloud Control UI Example


3 - Apple's local cloud control example

Apple's patent FIG. 3 is a schematic display of an interface for providing information regarding trusted devices and available device resources to a librarian in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. Note the data storage amount noted as being 200 GB which exceeds what is available today. In fact, the patent points to up to 1TB as you could see highlighted below. A sure sign that the goal of iCloud is to eventually support full-blown Network Computers or NC's which the naysayers of yesteryear vowed would never, ever, happen.


Apple continues to describe FIG. 3 by stating that "a user could form a local network storage system (e.g., a personal or local cloud) using any suitable approach. In some embodiments, a user could provide a request to the librarian for a local cloud. The user request could include any suitable criteria or requirement, including for example a storage requirement (e.g., at least 1 TB)."


Apple's patent application was originally filed in Q2 2010 by inventor Scott Ryder.


Notice: Patently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables. Apple's patent applications have provided the Mac community with a clear heads-up on some of Apple's greatest product trends including the iPod, iPhone, iPad, iOS cameras, LED displays, iCloud services for iTunes and more. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.


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Dick Applebaum

Hi Jack - - - Yes! A missing piece of the Apple puzzle remains the "Home Server" -- i.e. Local iCloud in the patent.

Also, part of the solution includes the need for automatic: archival/backup and staging.

For example: 1) as network access permits the local iCloud could be uploaded and incrementally backed up ala TimeMachine -- but off site -- to readily-accessible primary remote iCloud storage.

2) remote iCloud content that is not frequently referenced, say hasn't been touched in 3-6 months, could be migrated to less-accesible, less-expensive secondary remote iCloud storage.

3) the local iCloud store would contain the most-frequently-used content and this would be mirrored and incrementally backed up to the readily accessible primary remote iCloud store.

4) the local Librarian and remote Librarian would mirror each other and contain searchable metadata and indexes of all the content regardless of where and how (local, remote primary, remote secondary) it is stored.

The content you regularly use will be instantly available (and updated) whether at your base site (local iCloud) or from remote iCloud when away.

Infrequently used content, like that iMovie or Final Cut video you made 3 years ago, will reside on secondary storage on the remote iCloud. However, both the local Librarian and the remote Librarian will contain the searchable metadata and indexes to this content.

Should the user desire access to the content itself, it will be migrated from remote iCloud secondary storage to remote iCloud primary storage to local iCloud storage as needed.

Then, as the access to this content diminishes, it is migrated to the remote Cloud primary, then secondary storage... all automatically and all incrementally backed up.

The concept has been around for a while and is called "staged online" or "percolate up -- trickle down" storage/content management.

We designed a similar system for the Clark County Sheriff's Office Las Vegas in 1968 for their Records Index -- involving summaries of millions of individuals that came in contact with the Sheriffs' Department. The service supported the single content source/user: the Sheriff's Office -- but was accessible to other law enforcement agencies through the Sheriff's Office.

To my knowledge, though, this (Apple's patent) will be the first time this will be attempted on such a large scale -- supplying local/remote iCloud content/storage management to millions of users.

To a lessor degree, this is already implemented in the iTunes Match service which has been beta tested for a while and due for imminent release. The music content on the users local computers is matched against the iTunes cloud library:
-- matched music is made available by adding a token (pointer) to the iTunes library item to the user's iCloud library
-- unmatched music is uploaded to the user's iCloud library
-- the match/update of changes is performed on demand or a periodically scheduled basis

The next step will, likely be to include other iTunes content (videos, TV shows, Podcasts), iOS App Store, OS X App Store -- followed by ever-increasing non-Apple-related content.

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