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Apple Heads to the iCloud

The cloud has been a concept that enterprise and datacenter computing buyers have embraced over the course of the last year. It's now becoming a mainstream consumer concept too with Apple's announcement today of iCloud.

Announced at Apple's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), iCloud is a suite of free services for users that enables them to synchronize and store content. The iCloud initiative is an evolution of Apple's MobileMe services which had been providing Apple users with a number of cloud services including iDisk storage in the cloud.

"We're going to move the hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud." Steve Jobs, Apple CEO said in his WWDC keynote.

Moving beyond simple cloud storage, iCloud will offer email mailbox synchronization across computers and iOS devices. Calendar sharing is also part of the overall product suite.

Apple is also set to introduce a photo syncing service for iCloud called Photo Stream that will publish and sync user photos in the cloud and across connected devices. Apple has said that the iCloud Photo Stream will store photos for 30 days.

From a backup perspective there is set to be an iCloud Backup service that automatically backs up iOS device data to the cloud. The new feature will be integrated with the newly announced IOS 5. With IOS 4, users were required to physically plug in their device to a computer via a USB cable in order to backup and synchronize data.

Music is also a key part of the overall iCloud strategy with the new iTunes in the Cloud service.

" iTunes in the Cloud lets you download your previously purchased iTunes music to all your iOS devices at no additional cost, and new music purchases can be downloaded automatically to all your devices," Apple stated in a press release.

Not including Photo Stream, purchased music, apps or books, Apple announced that they'll be giving users 5GB of iCloud storage. Additional storage capacity can be purchased by consumers if needed when iCloud becomes publicly available in the fall. A beta of iCloud is currently available for IOS and Mac Developer Program members. The iTunes in the Cloud service is available as of today.

While all of Apple's WWDC announcements revolved around software updates, there is a large amount of hardware that supports the new effort. The iCloud release is being supported on the backend by a $500 million investment from Apple in a new data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.