hello there kids, today’s word of the day is going to be cloud. can you say cloud? thought you could. now this doesn’t concern what you see when you look at the sky. nor will it get into a certain spikey haired character in a squaresoft franchise. what we’re talking about is cloud computing.
the concept of cloud computing and what the hell “the cloud” in fact is used to be a very simple and straightforward definition. unfortunately it got caught up in the marketing machine and they’ve decided to pick it up and run with it, and is now a “phrase du jour,” as garnter analyst ben pring would say. and those of you that know me know that “phrases du jour” and marketing buzzwords usually serve little purpose in this world other than to anger me. to tech civilians this new cloud lingo is just a buzzword that companies use to shill their software in television commercials. “to the cloud!” is the battle cry microsoft uses in their latest windows advertisements to highlight people doing things that are already easily done without cloud computing and have been easily done for the last decade. well, what most geeks have been able to easily do for the past decade anyway. and now? hey look at that! you can look at your photos online or stream tv waiting for a plane at the airport? i saw it on a tv commercial so it must mean anyone can do it now!
so what is cloud computing really? as i mentioned, it’s very straightforward – instead of data processing running on your own computer or device and using its own resources, the processing is web-based using shared resources, then pushed back to you over your network connection. in kind of an on-demand fashion. this is becoming popular with businesses because it means they don’t have to buy as much hardware for data processing, and more importantly, don’t have to hire more people to support that hardware. it’s an instant increase in power without an increase in infrastructure investments – basically outsourcing computing power. and why call it the cloud? clouds have historically been a metaphor for the internet at large for a long time. whenever i’ve ever had to do network mapping you can rest assured that the image on the other side of my cute little firewall symbol is clip art of a cloud to represent the outside internet connection coming into our network. just the way it’s always been.
boring, i know. but large enterprise isn’t the only place where “the cloud” is taking a hold. there are other far more entertaining uses. ever stream a movie from your laptop or tv from netflix? that requires a cloud stlye infrastructure. and even gaming is moving that way, with the existence of companies like valve’s steam (steam cloud, get it?), which came out in 2008, and the more recent opening of onlive. onlive is a company that’s been around since 2009 that works a lot like netflix, except that it streams PC games instead of tv episodes or movies. so what’s the advantage? much like businesses, it gives home users the opportunity to have more gaming power without a big upgrade cost. you can breath life back into an old laptop or last-generation computer and still be able to play new games with high graphics settings in HD. your machine specs don’t even have to be all that impressive, as long as you have a broadband connection. this is made possible by all the processing being done through the cloud, instead of seriously taxing your processor, GPU , and other local device resources. pay for the game, and it is instantly available for play. no trip to the store. and no media required.
|onlive’s game system, shipping dec. 2 (img: kotaku)
it may seem like i’m focusing on onlive int this and fully ignoring steam and the contributions that valve has made to this type of game delivery system. the reason is that onlive is upping the ante a bit. while steam is still on PC’s only, and facing threats in europe, onlive is beginning to take orders for new hardware for their service (pic on the right) tomorrow, and shipping on december 2. that little onlive box connects to your tv and a broadband live, and works with the included controller and a revamped pricing plan. onlive used to work on a $14.95 per month subscription in addition to the price of the games. all that’s over with the new hardware, which puts and end to the subscription fee for a one-time hardware cost of $99.
this could prove to be a viable (and affordable) alternative to pricey consoles and $60 price tags on games. granted, onlive’s library is limited right now, but it still has some decent offerings like borderlands, darksiders, and kane and lynch games. steam definitely owns it on game availability and selection, boasting the recent hit call of duty: black ops as part of its library. but again, limited to use on a computer. by opening up cloud based game delivery to more tiny console-type peripherals or even building it into to services like xbox live or the playstation network, this type of game delivery method can only get bigger.
you know, once they can make it profitable.