Putting Your iTunes Library on S3

by Bruce Stewart

I'm beginning to see all kinds of innovative uses of Amazon's S3 (Simple Storage Service) pop up around the net, and here's a neat one that I'm going to try myself. The problems that Matt Thommes is trying to solve around his iTunes music are the same problems I've been grappling with myself.

There are three things I wish to accomplish:

1. Eliminate the limit on my music storage capacity.

2. Access my music from anywhere in the world.

3. Access my music directly from iTunes on my laptop - not with an iPod or external digital music device.

I'm a big fan of iTunes, and when I made the leap (and the significant effort) of ripping my music library and beginning to use iTunes as my primary interface for finding, selecting, and listening to my music, I've never looked back. It's just such a more powerful and flexible method for accessing and enjoying a large library of music than dealing with hundreds or thousands of individual pieces of media. (I'm not however an equally big fan of the iTunes Music Store and the associated DRM, but I'll save that rant for another post).

Matt describes a method for storing your iTunes library on Amazon's S3 service, effectively solving all three of the stated problems. It looks easy to set up, though the cost is not insignificant. At Amazon's plan of 100 GB of storage plus 1 TB of transfer for $6.29/month (on a 1 year contract), I'll spend around $75/year for this service See Updates below. But it may very well be worth it. I'll report back on my experiences.

Update: As Chris points out in the comments, I grabbed the wrong pricing info for S3 from a hastily read comment to Matt's original post, that pricing was actually for a cheaper online storage alternative from GoDaddy. Amazon's S3 pricing structure is a pay-as-you-go scheme costing $0.15 per GB-Month of storage used and $0.20 per GB of data transferred. This makes it tough to predict what the actual costs of hosting my iTunes library would be there, since it's dependent on how much I listen to it. But clearly, it would end up being a lot more than $75/year for a 100GB library that gets used regularly. Thanks, Chris!

Update 2: After reflecting on the comments here and having a couple of conversations with people much smarter than myself on these matters, I've come to the conclusion that this really isn't a practical idea for two important reasons. First, the chances seem very slim that the performance would be acceptable, and several people who have tried managing large iTunes libraries over the internet have reported to me that iTunes hasn't performed well in this scenario. Second, S3's pay-as-you-go data transfer plan, while very attractive for some types of applications, isn't really a good option for using S3 as a remote hard drive that you'd be accessing quite regularly. I'd be willing to consider a reasonable flat fee for this kind of convenience (assuming it worked well), but the idea of having to think about how much it is costing me to listen to my music, and having that cost be variable and dependent on how much I listen to, has dampened my enthusiasm for this idea. So I guess I'm blushingly reneging on my promise to set this up and report back.


2007-01-26 11:11:01
You might want to take a look at those prices again. The figures you quote are from a comment describing GoDaddy's hosting service, not Amazon's S3. The Amazon service is pay as you go, $0.15 per GB-Month of storage used, $0.20 per GB of data transferred. I priced out uploading our 160GB library at $24/month for storage, $32 to upload the data - and that doesn't include using the files once they're uploaded.
Bruce Stewart
2007-01-26 12:36:51
Thanks Chris, you're absolutely right. I was moving too fast this morning and mis-read that comment with the GoDaddy pricing info. I've updated my post to reflect this.
Clark Goble
2007-01-26 12:47:59
I'm not sure I'd want to listen off of S3 - a tad expensive to me. But it does offer an interesting opportunity to back up your iTunes and iPhoto directories. I'm waiting until MacFuse has a good way of uploading to S3 so that I can maintain my existing Python scripts rather that having to use S3 Browser.
2007-01-26 14:44:37
Hey, I have a solution for you that allows you to listen to a large music collection everywhere you happen to be while also serving as a back up for your iTunes library. It even synchs wih iTunes. It is called the iPod.
Bruce Stewart
2007-01-26 14:59:37
Rick, that solution works well if your library is under 80GB. But for those of us with 100+ GB music libraries, the current iPod line won't cut it. Of course, I do expect to see some bigger ones soon to handle the greater storage needs of video users...
Alex Payne
2007-01-26 15:16:08
My music collection is approaching 200GB. I store it on an Infrant ReadyNAS NV device and mount an AFS network share off that. In my experience, iTunes is wonky even when its music library is on a fast local network. I can't imagine how unstable it would be on a remote network. I'd like to see a report after a few weeks of iTunes-via-S3 usage from various locations.

2007-01-26 17:25:45
I don't think the remote network would work either because it cost too much money if you listen to your iTunes all day like I do. Just think how much money that would cost. Plus, it would be too slow for video I bet. Just not something I would be interested in at this point.
2007-01-27 07:51:57
Interesting idea, but unfortunately not practical just yet. As for an iPod "not cutting it" if you have more than 80GB of music, I'll have to disagree. Do you *really* need access to that much music at once? A few well designed smart playlists will allow you to sort your library in meaningful ways (which songs you often listen to, which you don't, which songs you have highly rated, which you don't, etc). You can then use those to put just the music that really matters onto your iPod. As long as you're not hung up on the idea of having *everything* on there, it works very well.
Bruce Stewart
2007-01-27 08:36:28
Thanks icruise, I've come to the same conclusion that this isn't really a practical soluton (and I've updated my post to include that).

I've struggled with the question of how I could segment my large library in a reasonably convienent way, and I always end up with really not wanting to go there. The ways I like to listen to my music (often shuffling randomly through entire genres) doesn't lend itself to having separate collections or libraries, and I really don't like the idea of having to think about and manage this. I really *do* want all my music in one place and available to me at all times.

2007-01-27 12:13:50
Mp3tunes does all of this with an unlimited amount of free storage. In addition, they have a client that lets one listen to all their stored music through itunes.
2008-01-15 10:21:48
Thanks for the article! It looks like your link to where Matt describes a method to store your iTunes library on S3 needs to be updated. Here is the up to date link. http://paininthetech.com/2007/01/25/itunes-everywhere-using-amazon-s3-as-your-music-library/