Ever since GDC 2019 in March of this year, there has been a great deal of excitement around cloud gaming technologies. Google Stadia is getting set to launch a cloud gaming service, Microsoft is messaging their Project xCloud, Nvidia has GeForce Now, Sony has PlayStation Now, Electronic Arts is doing some cloud testing, and there is more with more on the way. These are all important products that require both internal and external abilities to work well which is why The International Future Computing Association has set sights on a fruitful collaborative ecosystem that will help usher in the next era of computing inclusive and beyond games and entertainment. We have been calling the journey to this era the Client-to-Cloud Revolution. This article shares insights on how the industry has interpreted this client-to-cloud revolution and how things have been moving forward since.
The first version of the vision document was released last July, and its goal was to get engaging insights on what’s to come and what is needed to achieve this vision. In talking to different stakeholders over the past few months, we’ve learned a lot; and it has shaped and reshaped our vision of what’s next and why.
Some have interpreted the words “Client-to-Cloud” as solely referring to the movement of data and computer processing to the cloud and reducing the importance of processing on localized client products like PCs, mobile devices, and consoles. It’s understandable to hear this feedback because the words “Client-to-Cloud” have a double entendre and their meaning changes depending on how we view the world around us. TIFCA is thinking beyond this, and I’d like to take some time to explain why by using cloud gaming as an example.
Cloud gaming products require little to no local processing at the client end because the pixels are instead blasted to users through fiber optic cable and wireless networks. I’m expecting the latest generations of streaming products will achieve more than their predecessors and will be more widespread because of better compression, more available bandwidth, and new wireless capabilities like 5G.
The challenge is that even though cloud gaming products can stream content anywhere they wish, they still must contend with the pathways that get their data from point A to B to C as well as the platforms at the receiving end.
Another factor is one size does not fit all in this next era of computing. Think of all the clients like PCs, consoles, mobile devices, Smart TVs, immersive devices, and more - each with their own size, format, user experience, and ability. How will the user experience be amazing on every platform according to that platform’s characteristics and function? How will it be practical for content creators to disseminate their work to the whole ecosystem without having to recreate from scratch for every slice of the pie?
There is also the matter of data distribution. Whether it be broadband or 5G or something else, there are real costs for getting that gaming experience from point A to B to C. Multiply the data by millions of people, and it becomes clear that choices will need to be made as to how much can be sent and what level of quality the suppliers are prepared to do away with to compensate. As the market is in perpetual advancement, this is a challenge that will always be there in one form or another.
Remembering that I’ve only been speaking about cloud gaming so far, there are all kinds of products and use cases and applications that will face similar challenges, and there are all kinds of infrastructures and devices that have something to add to this next era in computing. To thrive, everyone needs a supportive collaborative ecosystem to live in, and that’s what the Client-to-Cloud Revolution is about.
This is why TIFCA has always adopted the second interpretation pictured above; something that is jointly beneficial to the industry at large. The words “Client-to-Cloud” refer to a fundamental change and enhancement across the compute ecosystem that includes both the client and the cloud and everything in-between. This is about the enhancement of all elements of the ecosystem so that data and productivity are living where it’s most effective for them to live. In this light, the ecosystem becomes complementary and supportive to streaming, and there are further avenues for compute distribution as well as application use cases which ultimately meet the needs of customers according to available and future infrastructure.
TIFCA believes computing is heading towards an era of any place, any time, and any device user experiences that are delivered through write-once reach-many content and applications across all platforms. It is beginning with cloud gaming, content streaming and software as a service (SaaS) applications and is growing into a collaborative ecosystem of client and cloud technologies, infrastructure, tools, and innovative content.
It's very purposeful that the words “Client-to-Cloud” are ordered this way. Everything from the client to the cloud is a partner in achieving that user experience, and whatever happens in the next era of computing, the experience always happens at the client level first. Case in point, do most consumers buy cars according to which engine it’s being run on, or are they judging by the way it handles on the road, fuel economy, and that the seats are comfortable for long trips? Every part of the car contributes to the whole.
Going back to my remarks about the costs and choices associated with distributing data, the ecosystem and opportunities for success grow even stronger when the full ecosystem is engaged as equal partners. Why make choices around the quality level of a user experience when we can instead have options in how the quality can be achieved without tradeoffs? Computers, mobile devices, tablets, consoles, and developing platforms are all vital access points for modern computing, and they are capable of sharing responsibilities with the cloud so that the data can be dynamically adjusted from point A to B to C with the user always benefiting from the full experience. This is less about choosing client or cloud; it’s about deciding where it’s most effective for data and experiences to live and breathe.
The final element which I think needs to get a lot of attention are the content, applications, and tools because they are going to be very important drivers of this next computing era. They are the ones that will be enabled with new client to cloud abilities, they are the ones that will be reaching and growing new audiences that were previously outside the envelope, and they will be tasked with getting their content and applications to look and work their best on countless platforms in an efficient manner.
The creators and toolmakers need to be a direct part of this ecosystem by helping shape its deliverables so that the resulting content and user experiences effectively meet their customers’ needs.
As with every future and past computing era, we are all in this together. Based on industry and ecosystem input, we’ve released version 2.0 of the vision and ecosystem document for the Client-to-Cloud Revolution. It includes a map of what the ecosystem looks like, it identifies groups that have an interest in this space and what some of their motivations are, and it discusses some of the things that can be achieved together. Many of the discussions alluded to in this document will be addressed at the upcoming International Future Computing Summit taking place November 5-6, 2019 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. We welcome you all to be part of the conversation.