Last week, while the Apple fanboys all flocked to San Francisco to have their collective minds blown by the iCloud, the real action in cloud was happening down the 101 in Southern Cal at Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).
I was really surprised with what I saw at E3. While everyone else was buzzing over the Wii U, my mind was blown by several technologies that stream gaming experiences from the cloud. You see, one of the challenges in modern gaming is the high barrier to entry for hardware. An affordable gaming PC from Alienware starts at $1200 and can easily surpass $5000 with a custom built rig utilizing multi core processors, multiple GPUs, and solid state drives. Gaming is a compute intensive application and the manufacturers are in an arms race to deliver more powerful hardware. Not to be outdone, the game developers will consume all of the improvements as quickly as they are released.
So what’s the big deal about a Cloud based game service? The technologies I saw replace the need for that $5000 monster machine with a fast internet connection and an internet enabled device. This really changes the economics of gaming, for example:
- Lower costs to entry can grow the consumer base
- No need to upgrade hardware as new games come along
- Hardware dollars can be spent on higher quality monitors, sound systems, and input devices
- Any game can be played on any internet enabled platform
Ok, that’s great but what does it mean to me? As a Mac user I often find that my favorite games aren’t available for the Apple platform or it’s a pain to get them to my 60” TV and of course you can’t play a full-featured version on your mobile device or tablet. With cloud based services, the device suddenly doesn’t matter. Want to play a PC game on a Mac, no problem – stream it. Have to catch the subway to work, keep playing on your network connected tablet. Feel the need to see it on the big screen, fire up the internet enabled 60” with your killer sound system.
Let’s take this beyond gaming for a moment. This same technology can be applied to the business world. I’m a heavy PowerPoint and Excel user but I prefer PowerPoint for Mac and I also prefer Excel for Windows. My solution today is not very elegant; I can either run two machines or use a virtual machine on my Mac. In the new world, with applications running in the cloud, I could have access to any version of software, from any platform, delivered to any other internet enabled platform. My version of business nirvana: fully featured enterprise applications available from my tablet, with access to all of my files.
So, lots of potential with this, but there are still some technology hurdles to overcome. One of which is the network that cloud solutions like these will need. The network will need to have a combination of high throughput and low latency. Depending on who you ask, the average broadband speed in the US is somewhere between 3-5 Mbps with mobile connections being slower. At these speeds the performance of cloud applications is passable but can’t compare with the non-cloud versions. Once speeds reached 10 Mbps+ performance starts to get indistinguishable between cloud and native. As happened with video, these numbers will get better over time.
Second, even with a high level of throughput the networks need to deliver low latency in a bi-directional manner. Given the complicated nature of the relationships between the network providers this may be the more difficult of the two to achieve. The good news is that both of these challenges seem to be on the radar for network providers. It’s my belief that the value created by cloud services will entice network providers to find ways that enable both high throughput and low latency.
Between iCloud and Gaming in the cloud, entertainment nirvana (anywhere, anytime, any device) is almost here and consequently global productivity is about to get a massive whack.
Have a thought about Gaming in the cloud, leave a comment.