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GDC 2015: The Current State of Cloud Gaming or Why Azure has Sony Whipped

Last week, I had the distinct pleasure to represent InformIT.com/Pearson Education at GDC 2015. While at the game developers conference, I gained further perspective into a growing line of thought which has been growing in my mind for a while. As a Playstation guy through and through, this saddens me to say, yet: even though Sony Playstation has made excellent leaps forward in terms of providing the PS4 market with cloud gaming, the Microsoft XBox One has the competition whipped.

My contention going into GDC 2015: The Microsoft XBox One is a cloud computing platform in the form of a console while the Sony PS4 is a console reaching into the cloud gaming space.

My contention leaving GDC 2015: Not only is the Microsoft Xbox One way ahead of the Sony PS4 in terms of cloud gaming, the Azure cloud platform is flat out, incredible.

Here's why.

Playstation 4 Booth, Game Developers Conference 2015

I am a Sony Playstation guy. I grew up playing Nintendo, Sega Genesis, N64 and eventually Playstation. My older brother and I would spend hours in the basement beating each other to pulps in games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Tekken and then we would easily switch over to classics like Sonic the Hedgehog, Goldeneye 007 and Mutant League Football. And then, we got a Playstation. I remember the fist time I played Final Fantasy VII, Gran Turismo and Metal Gear Solid and I remember each time, thinking to myself, how incredible the gaming experience was. Eventually Playstation evolved into Playstation 2 and games like Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid II: Sons of Liberty, Final Fantasy X, Gran Turismo 4 and Burnout 3: Takedown.

Even though XBox debuted in 2001 and it challenged Playstation for the console crown, my older brother and I stayed true to every evolution of the PS console. We both had a PS3 and we both have a PS4. I mention all this because I am, without question, a Sony Playstation guy. I have been in their camp since I first played Wipeout 3 in 1999 and I am still in their camp eagerly awaiting the release of the fourth installment of Uncharted. I am a Playstation guy. This said, in terms of cloud gaming, Playstation has a problem and GDC 2015 convinced me of it.

PS4 Streaming Content & 1 GB Cloud Storage

If you're a Playstation fan or you follow gaming news, you know that Sony's cloud gaming experience is grounded in their purchase of Gaikai. Gaikai, a cloud gaming platform, was brought into the Sony fold to grow the PS4 cloud gaming platform and to allow for greater social integration into their gaming platform. At the time of the purchase, the Sony and possibly larger elements of the gaming community thought the purchase of Gaikai would move the company forward into the space of not only a cloud gaming provider, but a cloud gaming storage provider. While Sony purchased Gaikai for its cloud gaming platform, enthusiasts, like older brother and myself, thought the purchase was made to apply endless virtual resources to a single game to create MAG type scenarios wherein hundreds to thousands of players could connect and game simultaneously. That was the wish.

Unfortunately, that didn't and hasn't happened yet.

GDC 2015 made one thing abundantly clear for me: While Playstation 4 is excellent at streaming gaming content, XBox One is the go to cloud console platform on the block. At the moment, Playstation 4 provides its fan base with 1 GB of cloud storage to upload game files, clips, screenshots etc. The console also allows players to pause live games, send the game to a friend and have that friend beat the mission in question. While this is great, it isn't cloud gaming. It is the resemblance of cloud gaming within the console platform.

1 GB of cloud storage simply isn't enough for the console to call itself a cloud gaming platform. As noted in multiple PS4 forums, 1 GB of cloud storage, with minimum storage blocks of 11 MB and some games taking up nearly 800 MB of storage, 1 GB of cloud storage isn't cutting it.

For true cloud gaming, you have to look to the Microsoft Azure platform supporting the XBox One console.

XBox One Is an Offshoot of Microsoft Azure

Microsoft XBox One/Azure Cloud Booth, Game Developers Conference 2015

Walking around GDC 2015, you got the distinct feeling that the Azure gaming experience, Titanfall was only the start. Like Sony, Microsoft brought physical XBox One consoles to GDC 2015 yet unlike Sony, the company brought Azure powered gaming experiences via the XBox One. The games aside, what really stands out when it comes to XBox One is the potential it can fulfill with the infrastructure provided by the Azure platform.

When Respawn Entertainment was asked why they chose the Azure platform to host their game, they responded by saying Azure was/is the only true cloud gaming platform in the world which could marshal more than 100,000 servers with 300,000 dedicated virtual cores to support the virtual machine resources and that, when need arises, the company could simply throw up more servers instantly as need arose. Walking around GDC 2015, it seemed evident that XBox One was an extension of the Azure Cloud platform - a cloud based gaming system taking the form of a traditional console. If you don't believe it, here are some of the facts about the current state of Microsoft Azure:

  • More than 20% of Azure virtual machines run on Linux

  • 80% of fortune 500 companies currently operate on the Azure platform

  • Windows Server now holds about 75 percent of the market share for x86 server operating systems

  • SQL Server, running off the Azure platform, now ranks as the #1 most-used database in the world.

  • As of March 2015, roughly 10 trillion objects are stored on the Azure platform. 10 trillion.

  • The Azure platform is growing by roughly 1,000 costumers, daily.

  • The Azure platform currently contains over one million cloud servers operating within their managed data centers

  • The Azure platform services roughly 5.5 billion Bing search queries per month

  • The Microsoft Windows Azure Active Directory has handled 400 billion identity authentications since its launch. The figure equates to roughly 15 billion authentications per week

  • Since its launch, the Microsoft Azure Active Directory operates out of 27 data centers worldwide and amazingly, has consistently delivered 99.997 percent uptime

  • The figure is spotty, but conservative estimates figure there are between 100,000 - 300,000 websites currently hosted on the Azure platform

  • These stats alone should say one thing and one thing only - the Azure cloud platform is very impressive. When you think about Xbox One in terms of the Azure platform, with the backing of stats like these, it should become evidently clear that Microsoft has wholly build out a cloud network wherein the XBox One is simply a hardware tool designed to maximize the GPU and gaming power of that cloud platform.

    But here is the thing, even though 1 GB of cloud storage isn't cutting it, I don't particularly blame Sony for the lack of back end data center storage experience. The Playstation platform, for all intents and purposes, is and has historically been a gaming console platform. Every iteration and version of the platform has been geared towards console gaming. Games were packaged on a disc and eventually, by the end of the PS2, allowed for server connection platform gaming. The Playstation platform has historically been a console gaming platform whereas the Microsoft platform has historically been a computing platform which happened to enter the gaming arena nearly 26 years (1975 - 2001) after its founding.

    For this reason, I can't be mad at the current state of cloud gaming within Sony as they have never had to, until roughly 2012, invest, understand and maximize data center tech to build better gaming consoles and experiences. Additionally, for this reason I have no reservations in saying the XBox One platform is the current cloud gaming console of the future. With the backing of Microsoft Azure, the XBox One platform is ways ahead of anything the PS format can do in the cloud.

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