Once considered a niche market, the video game industry has exploded in recent decades to become a massive $120 billion industry. Always on the cutting edge of technology, the industry has long sought to capitalize on new opportunities and innovative ways to deliver gaming experiences. One of the most promising developments in cloud computing technology over the last few years has been the introduction of cloud gaming services. While this market has yet to reach the lofty heights of video and music streaming services, the potential for success is there provided companies can get the right data center infrastructure in place.
What are Cloud Gaming Services?
Cloud gaming is a bit of a catch-all term for a number of streaming services that allow people to play video games remotely from a cloud server. Traditionally, video games needed to be run locally on dedicated consumer hardware. In the same way that people had to purchase a movie on some kind of physical storage medium (such as a BluRay disc or a videocassette) in order to watch it whenever they wanted, video games required players to own both the game itself and the hardware to run it. Although high-speed internet downloads have made digital delivery possible (digital downloads made up more than 80 percent of all video game sales in 2018), any game purchased still needs to be downloaded onto a device’s local storage in order to play it.
All of that is changing now thanks to cloud gaming services. When players sign up for these services, they’re actually renting access to a remote server capable of running a variety of games. Like choosing a movie to watch on Netflix, the server then sends a video stream of the game to a compatible device (like a computer, tablet, or smart tv). The player can input controls the same way they would on any other game and the remote server responds, adjusting the stream to reflect those inputs.
The appeal of cloud gaming services is substantial because it has the potential to give people access to cutting edge gaming experiences at a fraction of the cost it would take to build a high-performance gaming setup. With current providers constantly expanding their selection of games, cloud gaming could eventually become the standard delivery model for the industry.
Why Cloud Gaming Services Need a Reliable Data Center Infrastructure
There are a few challenges facing this innovative technology, however. Since the actual game is stored remotely, the streaming signal going to the end-user and the input signals players are sending back to the server need to be incredibly fast to avoid generating lag. The bane of any online gamer’s existence, lag is better known to IT professionals as latency, a delay created by the time it takes for a data packet to travel from one point in a network to another. High latency connections cause streaming video to sputter, freeze, and fragment. While this can be annoying for video content, it’s crippling for cloud gaming services.
Another major difficulty facing cloud gaming has less to do with the substantial processing power needed to make it possible. While streaming mobile or independent games with relatively low memory and computing requirements isn’t too difficult, if cloud streaming services are going to compete with established distribution models, they’re going to need to deliver resource-intensive “triple A” games from major developers. These games will require high-density server deployments both to host the games themselves and manage the huge volume of virtual machines running different instances.
How to Improve Your Data Center Infrastructure for Cloud Gaming Services
Fortunately, many of the tools data centers have developed to improve cloud and digital media services can be applied to the cloud gaming industry. Many colocation providers have made combating the impact of latency one of their key competitive differentiators. Edge computing architecture, which locates key processing functions closer to end-users and allows for more efficient networking design, can significantly reduce latency by physically shortening the distance gaming content has to travel.
In some cases, this could mean that a cloud gaming provider places servers in a colocation facility in a regional market and then caches its most popular content directly from that location. Working from the other direction, they could also use edge data centers to bypass existing ISP infrastructure to reduce latency. Rather than routing every streaming signal inefficiently through an ISP’s network, the cloud gaming service could instead use data center interconnections to deliver content from their primary data center to end-users by way of an edge data center.
High-quality cloud gaming services will need a great deal of computing power if they’re going to deliver the latest and greatest gaming experiences to their customers. Luckily for them, colocation data centers have been steadily increasing their server rack densities to accommodate greater processing workloads. While this trend is largely being driven by the demand for big data analytics and machine learning, the upshot is that the average server cabinet has grown from about 3-5kW to nearly 10kW in just a few years, with high-density deployments of 25kW or higher becoming commonplace.
Once confined to only the biggest hyperscale facilities, high-density server racks are now available even in smaller edge data centers thanks to improvements in power and cooling efficiency. Combined with the right connectivity options in a carrier-neutral environment, cloud gaming services can get all the versatility they need to build a robust network architecture that delivers high-performance gaming with minimal latency.
As the Marketing Director at vXchnge, Blair is responsible for managing every aspect of the growth marketing objective and inbound strategy to grow the brand. Her passion is to find the topics that generate the most conversations.