The cloud computing revolution takes shape

OnLive logoA year ago, “cloud computing” and “Web 2.0” were buzzwords that were flying around a lot but didn’t really have a solid definition. Now however, applications like Spotify and OnLive have created a much clearer picture of what cloud computing is and most importantly, are defining how exciting it can be.

I sang the praises of Spotify a while back and my feelings that it’s the future of music distribution and consumption have only been grown. Now OnLive has been added to the fray as a vision of what cloud computing could do for gamers and the potential of cloud computing really is becoming a reality. OnLive promises for PC gamers what Spotify has done for music fans – provide an enormous amount of top quality games for free via your internet connection.

Of course, strictly speaking, cloud computing is nothing new. Hotmail, Flickr and YouTube all fall into the cloud computing category but it is only recently that highly data intensive applications such as streaming music and computer games have started to fulfill the cloud computing vision.

Online ezine VentureBeat saw just how far the technology has evolved when they took OnLive for a test-spin. The results were very impressive as they recount:

Last week, (OnLive co-founder) Perlman showed me a demo of the technology. He was playing Crysis, one of the most demanding 3-D shooting games ever made, running on a simple Mac laptop and also on a rudimentary game console, known as a micro-console, which does almost no computing but merely displays the images on a TV in either standard or 720p high-definition. The graphics ran smoothly.

So it seems, OnLive means that Mac fans will not longer have to agonise about choosing between a Mac or a Macbook Pro when it comes to gaming – OnLive itself will handle all the hard work leaving you to enjoy the game.

OnLive equipment

However, the dream is not quite as straightforward as that. A service such as OnLive requires you to have at least a steady 2 or 3 megabit connection which as all home users know, there’s no such thing as “steady” when it comes to ISPs. As one astute commenter points out:

3 megabits per second is way too much data for DSL, and it’s too much for even a typical cable modem. This cable modem I’m using right now maxes out at around 250 kilobytes/sec downstream during the day, and is often lucky to hit 150KB/sec in the evening, despite Comcast’s claim that it can do 6 megabits/sec. That’s simply not enough data. There’s a *reason* that services like YouTube and Hulu still show relatively blocky-looking movie streams compared to even standard-definition TV, and it has everything to do with bandwidth. OnLive’s service is going to be a prisoner of Comcast and Cox and Time Warner and Verizon, and there’s absolutely nothing they can do about that.

Even so, such technological problems will eventually be cleared-up and the bigger problem facing cloud computing may be fought-out in the boardrooms. The big boys are starting to take all things cloud very seriously with a battle for turf already warming-up. Google, Amazon and Microsoft amongst others recently shot-down a plan by IBM to bring some consensus to the whole concept and launch an industry wide “open” cloud strategy. IBM told the BBC:

The aim was for this (Manifesto) to serve as a rallying cry to the industry to get focused around the importance of the cloud environment being open.

Microsoft however became one of the first to draw the battle lines by rejecting the proposal saying:

It appears to us that one company, or just a few companies, would prefer to control the evolution of cloud computing, as opposed to reaching a consensus across key stakeholders through an ‘open’ process

As the Cloud Computing Expo takes place in New York over the next few days, let’s hope that political disagreements over how it should move forward don’t hold back the excellent innovations that have emerged from it so far.

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