How the Interconnected Edge Helps the Cloud Get Its Game On

How the Interconnected Edge Helps the Cloud Get Its Game On

29 September 2020 | Greg Elliott

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It was two decades ago, at E3, a popular trade event for the video game industry, when enthusiasts were first able to witness a cloud gaming demonstration.

Ten years later, in 2010, OnLive became the first publicly available remote cloud gaming platform. But even after Sony acquired OnLive just five years later and converted this technology along with another cloud service to create PlayStation Now, the reception was decidedly mixed.

For one, the relaunched cloud gaming iteration still required powerful hardware, which runs contrary to the promise and value prop of cloud gaming. And two, most of the games were extremely vulnerable to latency. Even today, as players in multiple world markets become increasingly excited about the flexibility of console-less gaming, wide adoption depends on low latency solutions that eliminate frustrating performance delays and disruptions. To keep gamers engaged will require innovative solutions at the edge capable of powering real-time, interactive cloud gaming.

On the Cusp of Mass Adoption

In addition to Sony’s PlayStation Now, a number of other Big Tech and incumbent gaming companies have launched much-heralded cloud gaming services over the past several years, including Google’s Stadia, Microsoft’s Project xCloud, Nvidia’s GeForce Now and Tencent’s Start. There are more than two billion gamers on the planet, but until cloud gaming arrived, there was no device-agnostic means available to access on-demand videogame content.

Not unlike where Netflix stood in 2007 when it first introduced video streaming — allowing subscribers to untether themselves from their living room television sets and DVD players to instantly watch popular series and movies on their personal computers — cloud gaming stands on the cusp of mass adoption. On a subscription basis, users can now access a diverse library of videogames on demand and streamed to their console, computer, tablet, smart television and even their smartphone. Because content is not stored on the user’s own hard drive, cloud gaming allows users to play without downloading or installing the actual game, as they would do with a console title. Additionally, this allows gamers to access a range of titles without the necessity of powerful, high-end processing personal computer.

But the fact remains that cloud gaming is, like many other media platforms, delivered as software-as-a-service (SaaS). Meaning that cloud service providers deliver these videogames to end users via the Internet, which in turn increases the demand for low-latency connectivity and the mitigation of packet loss to ensure quality of experience. While a cloud service’s performance varies in part on the end-user’s home Internet speeds, it’s equally important that the data traversing the network takes as short and uninterrupted a journey as possible from one’s device to a data center and back again.

While cloud gaming is off to an auspicious start, the centralized cloud does not alone offer the connectivity to bring these platforms to life. Yes, Big Tech companies that own massive global networks of data centers are better prepared than others to succeed in an industry so reliant on infrastructure. But owning large data centers in a multiple locations isn’t enough to deliver the service levels necessary for cloud gaming. Online gaming experiences are by nature interactive, and popular multiplayer games demand real-time response rates. Due to the geographical location of cloud data centers and the limitations of latency, the cloud cannot, on its own, provide the reliable, high-quality user experiences that gamers demand.

Cloud Gaming and the Interconnected Edge Data Center

To ensure real-time, interactive gameplay, companies that develop and launch next-generation cloud gaming service platforms will need to move the processing power closer to the edge. When cloud gaming companies colocate their IT infrastructure in proximity to network providers, in edge data centers, this allows gaming platforms to maintain low latency, optimize performance, and provide the flexibility to support a sudden uptick in users — for example, upon the release of a highly-anticipated, hot new title.

Unlike centralized cloud computing, which requires companies to store content in a limited number of locations, or availability zones, edge computing enables the distribution of application processes at the edge of the network and as close to the end user as possible. Moreover, cloud gaming platforms gain significant advantages from interconnected edge data centers that are carrier-neutral and provide a range of connectivity options, including peering relationships with carriers, networks, and mobile and internet service providers (ISPs). Operating as network traffic hubs, the interconnected edge data center distributes data directly to where it needs to go. Most importantly to gamers, an interconnected edge data center enables cloud gaming platforms to solve latency issues when transferring data from the cloud to the end user, while ensuring graphically-intensive video content is delivered with a high quality user experience and reliability.

According to a new study by Grand View Research, the global cloud gaming market is projected to reach $7.24 billion by 2027, expanding at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 48 percent over the forecast period. Increasing investments in 5G technology and the trend of major gaming players partnering with telecom companies to deliver cloud gaming services globally are expected to further contribute to growth. Additionally, market prognosticators point to the potential of integrating cloud gaming in educational environments as another area of growth.

However, if performance issues such as latency and service disruptions drive gamers back to their consoles, the market potential of this exciting new gaming platform will be non-starter. The interconnected data center holds the key to the future success of cloud gaming.