As my colleague Martin recently blogged, the cloud is rapidly becoming the key focus area for technology innovation nowadays. I was brutally reminded about this when I trialled a cloud gaming service recently. I’ll come back to the “brutally” bit in a moment.
I tried onlive, a cloud gaming service which I stumbled upon in our research into cloud computing. The major benefit of onlive (and other cloud based gaming propositions) is that it offers the possibility of playing games off your PC, TV or tablet without having to install anything. This is a massive selling point as it means no need for expensive hardware, no waiting for that disc to arrive, no fiddly install and no lengthy downloads. Perfect! The games of course are run from state of the art server farms deploying the latest high powered servers, and all you have do is input the commands (i.e. tell the game what to do next) and receive the output (i.e. streaming video of the actual game). So with the minimum of effort you can play the very latest games on a very low spec computer, something that would be impossible without such a cloud based innovation.
So far so good but let’s return to the word “brutally”. I have been thinking of changing my ISP for a while now (the same old story of premium service gets bought by a big name and becomes less premium, except for the price which remains the same) and the “onlive” experience brought it home to me how much I am being overcharged. My line speed is too slow to allow me to fully participate in the cloud. It is much too slow to realistically back up all my photos and documents. As for playing games in the cloud, that simply is not an option in a world where split second reactions are the difference between winning and losing. I trialled onlive at work on our expensive business connection (yes, it is for work purposes and yes,I did get IT permission) and it worked very well. My problem is there aren’t a lot of alternatives in terms of quality of connection and value for money!
Now, it’s not just me who cannot reap the benefits of cloud enabled services because of my connection speed. UK broadband is generally expensive and slow, a fact borne out by this infograph – you won’t find the UK in the top world speeds!
It really is time the UK gets its act together and invests in the future. This lack of infrastructure is simply stifling innovation and reducing growth. “onlive” is losing potential customers because a significant proportion of the UK gaming market can’t access their services. More prosaically other cloud initiatives (both consumer and business solutions) are sprouting everywhere offering fantastic, cost effective benefits but the take up will remain small whilst the service is throttled at the customer’s site. It’s like travelling the country on superfast motorways but having to swim the last mile back to your home.
The long promised, long awaited “superfast” broadband roll-out is still dragging with the inevitable arguments over funding holding it back, so the UK customer will continue to pay a lot for very little. Inevitably we will get faster speeds, and inevitably prices will come down. But the critical question is when? You may or may not find this reassuring, but I’ll leave you with the words of Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, “We need to ensure we do not make the same mistake in broadband that we made in railways – building our high-speed network 45 years after the French and 62 years after the Japanese.”