Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Clouds are Gathering

This past week in the Games Developer Conference (GDC 2010) in San Francisco has seen three major announcements concerning rendering in the cloud services.

First up, on the 10th March, was the GamesBeat keynote speech by OnLive's CEO Steve Perlman, who showcased the company’s game streaming technology, which allows high quality 3D games to be played  without a console, by doing all the graphic-rich rendering in the cloud, then streaming it to a lightweight client.

OnLive also put pressure in their competitors by announcing finally a firm release date, of  June 17, 2010. At launch, the service will be available in all Continental US States, but look out for international announcements later in the year.

The service will cost $14.95 per month for the base service, although this can be reduced by purchasing multiple months at a time, and then additionally users need to purchase games and rentals from a menu of titles.

For early adopters, OnLive will waive the service fee for three months for the first 25,000 users to pre-register here.

Perlman provided a remarkable demo, playing games like Crysis on a large screen TV, then continuing the game on his iPhone. Other features included streaming movies and what looked like Xbox Live community features.

OnLive will be available for the PC and Mac only at launch.

On the same day, AMD, OTOY and Super Micro announced that they plan to bring Fusion Render Cloud Servers to market in the second quarter of 2010.

Announced by AMD CEO Dirk Meyer at CES 2009, the AMD Fusion Render Cloud (FRC) is AMD's next generation breakthrough CPU/GPU server platform. Built on top of OTOY's cloud streaming technology, FRC is designed to deliver thousands of concurrent HD games, remote desktops, and live HD video streams to any internet enabled device with virtually no latency.

These servers will permit content providers to deliver video games, PC applications and other graphically-intensive applications through the Internet “cloud” to virtually any type of mobile device with a web browser in a manner designed to help maximize battery life and to efficiently process the content. The AMD Fusion Render Cloud will transform movie and gaming experiences through server-side rendering – which involves storing visually rich content in a compute cloud, compressing it, and streaming it in real-time over a wireless or broadband connection to a variety of devices such as smart phones, set-top boxes and ultra-thin notebooks. By delivering remotely rendered content to devices that are unable to store and process HD content due to such constraints as device size, battery capacity, and processing power, HD cloud computing represents the capability to bring HD entertainment to mobile users virtually anywhere.

The AMD Fusion Render Cloud will also allow remote real-time rendering of film and visual effects graphics on an unprecedented scale. Gaming companies can use the AMD Fusion Render Cloud for developing and deploying next-generation game content, to serve up virtual world games with unlimited photo-realistic detail, and to take advantage of new delivery channels as open and diverse as the web itself.

"Supermicro brings its long standing experience in the design and production of high-performance, high-efficiency server solutions, and its strengths in GPU-optimized platforms, to this exciting new breakthrough technology," said Don Clegg, VP of Marketing and Business Development at Supermicro. "With the multi-core CPU and graphics processing power of AMD and next-generation cloud development software OTOY, Supermicro CPU/GPU supercomputer server solutions now empower developers to create HD video and gaming environments delivered over the web in real time, for the first time."

"In 2003 AMD changed the server market with the launch of the AMD Opteron™ processor, ending the sole source enterprise technology barrier. The industry embraced this change as there are now more than 2 million AMD Opteron processors driving Cloud Computing today," said Charlie Boswell, Director of Digital Media and Entertainment, AMD. The AMD Fusion Render Cloud is poised to help ignite the next evolution in cloud computing by enabling server side rendering of fully interactive HD content.

"The launch of the Fusion Render Cloud platform through Supermicro’s product line marks a major milestone for cloud computing, “said Jules Urbach. “Streaming high performance games and graphics remotely is an indisputably disruptive technical achievement. The very idea has invited both excitement and skepticism during the 14 months since AMD and OTOY announced their plans to enter into this space. With the addition of a major OEM supplying servers to datacenters next quarter, this technology will be commoditized by an eco system of partners as diverse as the web itself. The future of graphics in the cloud has never been brighter."

OTOY’s software fully leverages AMD’s CPU core density and graphics leadership to create an open streaming platform for cloud delivery. OTOY software, hosted on the AMD Fusion Render Cloud is designed to achieve a scalable solution, lowering the average power footprint per user. This is first order requirement of economic viability for any Cloud solution. AMD’s Fusion Render Cloud specification, now productized by Supermicro, is designed to scales to thousand of users per rack. Together, this consortium of technology partners is enabling the massive deployment of Cloud rendering technology in 2010.

FRC Hardware Specifications:

  • 125 1U rackmount servers - available pre-racked in Super Rack configuration
  • 500 ATI ‘Cypruss’ based GPUs
  • 250 AMD Opteron™ 6100 series processors
  • <100 Kw, 40 sqft of space per 1 PetaFLOPS of computing power

FRC Technical Specifications:

  • Up to 3,000 concurrent HD streams (720p/1080p or higher @ 60hz) for streaming AAA video games, high end CAD programs and full virtual desktops for all major Operating Systems
  • Up to 12,000 concurrent SD streams @ 120 hz
  • Ultra fast HD encoding < 1ms per megapixel
  • Token based metering system built into driver stack for easy cost analysis and resource provisioning

About Super Micro Computer, Inc. (NASDAQ: SMCI)
Supermicro, the leader in server technology innovation and green computing, provides customers around the world with application-optimized server, workstation, blade, storage and GPU systems. Based on its advanced Server Building Block Solutions, Supermicro offers the most optimized selection for IT, datacenter and HPC deployments. The company's system architecture innovations include the Twin server, double-sided storage and SuperBlade(R) product families. Offering the most comprehensive product lines in the industry, Supermicro provides businesses of all sizes with energy-efficient, earth-friendly solutions that deliver unmatched performance and value. Founded in 1993, Supermicro is headquartered in Silicon Valley with worldwide operations and manufacturing centers in Europe and Asia. For more information, visit

About OTOY
OTOY is a leading software and content developer and provider of convergence technologies and special effects for the video game and film industries. OTOY works with a wide range of studios, game developers and visualization companies to create leading-edge visual and entertainment experiences. In 2008, Variety magazine listed OTOY CEO Jules Urbach as one of Hollywood’s top 10 innovators to watch in the next 12 months.

About AMD
Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD) is an innovative technology company dedicated to collaborating with customers and partners to ignite the next generation of computing and graphics solutions at work, home and play. For more information, visit

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Marie Sheehy

Finally, David Perry, chief creative officer at Acclaim said he has a new company, Gaikai, that will do the same thing as OnLive but without some of its drawbacks. Gaikai only requires broadband, a browser, and the leatest Adobe Flash Player [note this, folk with iPhones, or those with iPad ambitions, Apple does not support Flash on either of those devices].

“I was going to reveal it at the E3 trade show, but the OnLive news has forced my hand,” said Perry. Gaikai is nowhere near as developed as OnLive or the AMD/OTOY offerings, but it was interesting to see that other companies are also thinking hard about rendering in the cloud.

But what ARE the drawbacks of rendering in the cloud to which Perry referred?

By far the biggest obstacle to overcome is latency. In Role Playing Games and Virtual Worlds, this is not so much of a problem, but in fast-paced high-action games, where life and death is measured in millisecond reaction times, the latency involved in you pressing the trigger, and that information being relayed back to the servers, then the stream being sent back to your (and other's) client, so that action is reflected on-screen is maybe just too long for serious gamers to bear. Most of that latency is also not under the control of the Cloud companies, in it mainly in the hands of the Internet Service Provider between the gamer and the Cloud. One figure I heard mentioned, was that users must be no further away than 1000 miles from the Cloud servers. If that is a partial solution to latency, then that in itself introduces another problem, of geolocation. Will the Cloud companies install large server centres in places such as Alaska, or Iceland, or other remote locations, to serve the gaming communities there?

We'll see.