I’ve recently been using a new video game service called Onlive. The service currently lets you login and and play high end 3D games that are streamed to you over the internet. The game itself is running remotely, on the company’s high-end servers. It is only the video of the game that is streaming down to your local computer or television. As you use your keyboard and mouse to control the game, those signals are sent back through the internet and to the server running the game. This all happens fast enough that it feels as if the game is running locally on your computer. There are many benefits to this system. You don’t have to have very powerful hardware to play high-end games. You can login and play games anywhere you are, even on low powered devices like the iPad. All you need is a decently fast internet connection…

The thing that interests me most about this service is not the games. Games was the hardest problem to solve because they require low latency to make them fun to play. But what if you could run any software, not just games? I often deal with 3D animation software. Most of the time I’m limited to using my one (expensive) desktop machine when I want to do 3D rendering.  But with a service like Onlive, you could access high-end servers for this type of work, and access them from any device - anywhere. It’s just the video interface of what you’re doing being streamed to you, so again, all the high-powered computing is being done remotely.

With this type of technology, personal computer ownership becomes less important. We still need devices to access the cloud service, but these devices need not be so powerful. In fact, all the hardware can be put to use in rendering more interesting and useful interfaces, instead of being used up processing software.

And then there is the obvious benefits of the cloud. However, with a system like this, you could have your entire “computer” in the cloud. Presently we tend to trust only certain things to the cloud… Our email, our backups, picture transfers…

With a system like Onlive, you could “rent” a “computer” that has near infinite processing and storage capabilities, that is always on, and is always accessible from everywhere. Currently we tend to think of the cloud in terms of a place to “transfer” our content from device to device. Well if you’re streaming the whole computer interface and experience, there is no longer the need to transfer files to and from  your local devices. You are always just accessing your one personal super computer cloud from whichever device you happen to be on. There is no need to sync because all your files are always in just the one location.

So then you hear the usual complaints… “But then I don’t have ownership of my data!” or “what if the internet is down” or “I don’t want a company to have control of my data, what if they go out of business.”

Just as we currently use online services to backup files of site, you could back up your files locally with a local backup in your home. Problem solved.

I for one welcome the day when I can have limitless computing power and be rid the headache that is file management  today.

I've been thinking about this the last couple weeks. I hope that day comes soon, too.
Mahon on 2010-12-28 17:33:10.0
I, for one, am a little hesitant for this shift. It's a monetary concern. Let's say you sign up for a remote account from Acme Corp. You choose them because they have a low monthly access fee, and their servers seem to be very powerful. Then, a year later, they increase your access fee slightly. No biggie, right? You continue to backup your files locally, your data is safe. A year later they disable local backups. Kinda stinks, but it's okay. They have better redundant storage volumes anyway. It's safer with them. Then they hike the price. I'm not willing to subscribe to that model. Don't get me wrong, I think that cloud computing will eventually become pretty standard, but I don't think we'd ever give up local computing for remote computing. Most people aren't willing to transfer ownership like that. I think it will be a nice mix. If you want to subscribe to a cloud computer that does real-time rendering for your 3D animation, you can. If you want to subscribe to a photo backup cloud, please do. But we can never let one company take complete control of all our computing habits. That would be dictatorship.
Devin Baldwin on 2010-12-29 11:04:30.0
You have a valid point Devin. But I think those same concerns are what will keep the market competitive and keep your data open. I would never continue to use a service that wouldn't allow me to access my data whenever I wanted. And perhaps there is not just one company but many that offer various services. If you own a website, you are probably already sorting important data on a hosted server. If you use email through gmail, you are already trusting a TON to Google. I think it will be a natural evolution that normal computer using folks will do more and more computing in the cloud, and not even realize it. It's happening already.
Mark Richardson on 2010-12-29 11:16:33.0