Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cloud Computing: Invasion Of The Client Snatchers

I was recently interviewed by Ian McNaughton of AMD for his AMD At Play blog, the full article can be found here.

Check out the interview portion:

"I spent some quality time this week with Charlie Boswell, the guru behind so many cool programs at AMD. Think OTOY, LucasFilm, the digital music recording Industry, and you quickly understand that Charlie has one of the best jobs at AMD in working with these customers and technology partners. Here’s our conversation:

Ian: Charlie, thanks for taking the time today, can you give us the background on our efforts at CES around demo’ing “gaming in the cloud”?


Hello Ian…I’m really pumped about this so I appreciate the chance to discuss. …’s the deal.

At this year’s CES AMD rolled out a demo that shows how our platform technology (CPU, GPU, combined with Direct Connect Architecture) is enabling fully interactive cloud gaming. Sounds cool but what exactly is that?

Cloud computing on AMD Fusion technology allows fully interactive game play from virtually any type of client over the Internet because the heavy lifting is being done “server side” in the cloud. The user logs on, clicks open a browser and then starts blasting away. No hours of game installation, no exotic authorization dances, just instant gratification and that’s why I’m excited. My team’s role at AMD is to ensure our technology removes barriers so the user can be about his/her task rather than the technology. That is the main story of cloud computing. Enough preaching but I had to let that fly because it’s a powerful look at a better future for gaming.

The CES demo consisted of an AMD Fusion Render Node (based on AMD “Dragon” platform technology PC platforms) that hosted an off-the-shelf version of EA’s amazing “Mercenaries II” served up via the Internet. The laptop powered by AMD technology was given a URL to click and Mercenaries II fired up. Playback was full screen at 60 frames/sec.

How is this accomplished? Is it a parlour trick? Well, this is not easy to pull off. Jules Urbach, the CEO of OTOY, is the wizard of GPGPU. The software that made this work is from his company. He is to the GPU what Robert Rodriguez (another artist who employs AMD technology) is to digital moviemaking.

Jules is a true innovator and someone who chose AMD because we have all the pieces to make this work. We are the only one-stop-shopping platform solution for cloud computing hardware. The OTOY software harnesses the full power of the AMD platform including CPU, GPU and our Direct Connect high bandwidth interconnect.

In short, the game source code unaltered is hosted on the AMD Fusion Render Cloud hardware and served up on the web via breathtaking OTOY compression technology made possible by the AMD combined platform power. The OTOY software allows multiple instances of a game to be hosted on the AMD Fusion Render node so the solution scales for all the right economic reasons such as energy efficiency, space, quiet operation, etc.

Ian: That technology seems very cool, how is it similar or different to OnLive?


Yes, after the CES announcement of the AMD Fusion Render Cloud with OTOY, OnLive announced their solution at GDC in March. I was thrilled to see their announcement because it was further validation of the space. Both OTOY and OnLive have their unique business models and architectures, but they are similar in that they both require a truly scalable enterprise class backend solution. Implementing a technique I call “Invasion of the Client Snatchers” where you simply connect up a single client machine in the cloud to a user won’t work. It’s not practical or adaptable. You’re just snatching the client from the user and housing it. The Cloud server must behave like a compute cluster and scale organically with the statistical behaviour of the Internet user traffic. It must adapt to available power and bandwidth. It must scale for energy efficiency. It must allow for extensibility. This is where the AMD Fusion Render Node comes into play. You can host multiple simultaneous users on these devices and cluster them in true enterprise class style. Anyway, it’s great to see more teams jumping in. We celebrate the free market because it’s good for the user. Cloud computing is happening and OnLive is another fantastic example.

Ian: TechCrunch had an article a week ago, where they highlighted a game character jumping from a monitor to a notebook while the game was being served from 400 miles away, can you explain the technology behind that?


This is OTOY’s server side rendering in action. The heavy computing, drawing, and encoding are happening server-side in the cloud through the magic of the OTOY architecture host on an AMD Fusion render node. The client is entirely browser based. The bandwidth and latency required for full on interactive game play is made possible by/through the OTOY codec architecture. The performance of this codec meets the “real-time” requirements for first person shooters. Enough said. The AMD Fusion Render Architecture is the scalable foundation that could make this practical, scalable, and deployable across the global Internet.

Ian: To take it a step further, TechCrunch was given an exclusive this week that showed off the AMD/OTOY technology at work on a cell phone! Is this the future of mainstream gaming?


As I said a few moments ago, the uniqueness of the OTOY approach is their ability to serve to a variety of client types: smart phones, PDA, thin client, etc., etc. This is a great proofpoint that the heavy lifting is all done server side on OTOY-AMD Fusion Render Cloud. This is one future for Cloud Computing…turn it on and play. You never get exposed to the seedy side of technology (drivers, installation, updates). All that stuff is under the street just like in Disneyland. This is the future I want….Walt Disney had this figured out a long time ago.

Ian: So, gaming in the cloud is real, when might we see availability?


Ian, you’re seeing some of the promise now. We expect that you’ll see implementations later this year and full-on deployments in 2010.

Ian: Thanks Charlie, one last question, What’s next?


Let me answer that loaded question first by stating the cloud offers the planet at least the hope of a better user experience. My cause celeb on the past 10 years has been to help lobby for a better user experience by shielding the artist from both the tech and its culture. Technology can be unbelievably needy. Example, “hey man, you forgot to load the latest driver or OS update.” I don’t want that ever even said in my presence. I reject that. That is an example of technology sitting on top of humanity. The cloud is going to help eliminate the entire culture that perpetuates useless complexity. The revolution is next because the users demand it. The revolution is next because the economics demand it. If you only market to the geeks, the numbers don’t work do they…"

Have any thoughts? Let me know on Twitter.

- Boswell

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