Apple's iTunes software has been heralded for the past decade as an example of an application that almost exemplifies what cloud computing is all about. With Monday's launch of iCloud services, Apple takes its digital music offering the rest of the way by allowing iPod, iPhone, iPad, Mac and PC users to store their tunes (and a lot of other content, for that matter) on the company's servers and access it via the Web. For those who want this option, iTunes will now be available online rather than as desktop software.

One of Apple's goals with the new service is to help its customers distribute apps, digital music, books and other content purchased through Apple on all of the Apple devices those customers own. iTunes in the Cloud, which lets Apple users download their iTunes music to any device running iOS, is already available.

A pilot version of iCloud is currently available, with the full service coming this fall concurrent with the launch of the company's new iOS 5 mobile operating system. iCloud includes 5 gigabytes of free cloud storage for Apple content as well as e-mail, documents and backup files. Storage for music, apps and books purchased from Apple, and the storage required by Photo Stream, however, do not count against the iCloud storage limit.

iCloud's introduction also marks the beginning of the end for Apple's MobileMe cloud services, which is no longer accepting new customers and will be discontinued on June 30, 2012. MobileMe was launched in 2000 as iTools to provide cross-device Web access to e-mail, Outlook, iCal and other applications. Apple re-launched this Internet-accessible service as .Mac in 2002 and required customers to pay for a subscription. Apple competitors Google, Microsoft and others also offer their versions of cloud services.

Relying on the Internet for all of one's computing needs doesn't come without risks. Computers, smart phones and other Internet-accessible gadgets that rely entirely on software and data hosted on the Internet lose all utility of course when access to the Internet is cut off as a result of a cyber attack or some other outage or interruption. As many as 77 million Sony PlayStation Network users experienced this first hand recently when the company had to shut down its gaming network for several weeks after discovering hackers had breached their network and possibly stolen customer information.

Image courtesy of Apple