Friday, November 22, 2013

11/22/2013: When DataCenter Tech Entered The Living Room

This will come as no surprise for those of you who have been following my twitter feed these past few weeks, I am obsessed with the launch of Microsoft's Xbox One! The Video Game entertainment industry is exploding! Recent gaming releases have raked in revenue that rivals the biggest Hollywood blockbuster ticket sales. So, it’s no surprise that the level of investment entertainment companies continue to make in games is increasing.

While which gaming system to get is a religious war to a lot of folks, I think whether you go with Sony’s Playstation 4 or Microsoft’s Xbox One, you are walking into a world that quite frankly will raise the bar when it comes to the immersion level in these games. Case in point, the ability for game developers to leverage APIs that can talk to an app on your smartphone to actually call you. That’s right, your virtual smartphone rings in the game, and the smartphone sitting next to you rings!

So aside from resolution up-scaling controversies, and number of “pixel shader” unit debates, there are a lot more subtle aspects which I feel are crucial to making this new generation of video game entertainment great.

What excites me more about Xbox One, is what is under the covers, and where the underlying technology Microsoft is using originated. It came from Microsoft’s Windows Hyper-V and Windows Azure components. One can think of it this way, essentially there are pieces of an enterprise data center technology sitting next to your television. I’ll even stretch the definition and say that it could be considered a mini Hybrid Cloud!

So what on earth am I talking about? Well, as demonstrated, the Xbox One can quickly and seamlessly switch between various entertainment modes. You can go from driving the Lotus E21 Formula One Car in Forza Motorsport 5, to watching ESPN live through your cable provider in seconds. Then, if you decide, you can switch to Netflix in seconds all while the video game and ESPN keep running in the background. So what is the enabling technology enabling this feature? It’s Hyper-V, arguably making the Xbox One a mini private cloud.

Now, you aren’t running a full blown implementation of Windows Server 2012 R2 with Windows Azure Pack inside of the box, but rather through intelligent code re-use, the ability to run 3 different OSes simultaneously on the Xbox One hardware is clearly where using Hyper-V technology makes sense.
So where is the “public cloud” component of my hybrid cloud statement? Well it’s essentially Xbox Live, Microsoft’s Online Gaming Platform. It isn’t a secret that Xbox Live is leveraging Microsoft’s Azure public cloud infrastructure. According to Microsoft Xbox Live utilizes 300,000 servers globally deployed in Azure. Leveraging Xbox Live services in the cloud, compute power of the Xbox One doesn’t stop at the console hardware.
Just like in an enterprise data center, you can augment the processing power available to you by leveraging public cloud resources. In the case of Xbox game developers coding to the Azure Development Platform, they now have the power of programming in-game capabilities that can off-load certain compute functions to the public cloud. This is where the possibilities can be limitless.

Launches like this only come around every 7-10 years. But this particular console refresh cycle to me is different and more exciting since I am seeing enterprise technology that I directly work with in my day job not simply making people productive, but bring fun and joy to life as well.

Happy Gaming!