Here Come the Specialty Clouds

Yesterday AMD announced that it was building a specialty supercomputer to deliver gaming through a computing cloud. Aside from the coolness of being able to play your video games on an iPhone, pause them, and pick them up at home, the news bolsters the cloud business model — taking it beyond storage and run-of-the mill computing into the realm of specialty clouds.

Now that businesses and vendors are growing more comfortable with the pools of virtualized computing resources, it makes sense to start talking about what — other than the next great startup — can work on clouds. Combine this willingness to explore the cloud with the rise of general purpose computing on the graphics processor and you get the type of specialty cloud that AMD and its partner Otoy (makes software to access the graphics cloud) are building.

Jules Urbach, CEO of Otoy, tells me a GPU-based cloud could be used for gaming, creating virtual Blu-ray players and even transcoding. There seems to be demand for such clouds (I’ve heard folks in the movie industry talk about a desire for transcoding clouds) and Sun Microsystems executives have championed the idea of different hardware underlying different clouds. Yet, the idea is still a bit controversial, possibly because it’s hard to imagine achieving commodity pricing for specialty clouds.

There’s also an issue of bandwidth constraints when dealing with something as data intensive and latency-sensitive as gaming. Urbach says they’ve seen latency of 100 miliseconds between the East and West Coasts, which would be a problem in a first person shooter game, but not in a virtual world. Urbach argues that the solution to latency is to have a “server in every time zone,” but that increases the costs of running such a cloud. On the recipient’s end, there’s the issue of dealing with cloud-based data coming in over a capped or tiered broadband connectionsomething Time Warner Cable or AT&T subscribers may have to face. But as users begin to access more cloud-based data on less powerful mobile devices, these issues will be faced by specialty clouds and general purpose clouds alike.

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