When The Cloud Gets Graphical

Cloud computing has its roots in repetitive business and analytical processing, but as public cloud platforms mature, those resources are being used for an increasingly diverse range of tasks. Two recent examples highlight how cloud computing resources can be used to supplement local hardware for graphics-intensive tasks.

The latest version of Adobe's Creative Cloud design software, launched this morning, includes three new apps for use on iPads: Photoshop Mix, Sketch and Line. (They also include optional supporting hardware, though this isn't being released in Australia until later in the year.)

While the iPad makes for a useful and portable design tool, it doesn't have the processing grunt that some of the transformations an app like Photoshop typically uses demands. When that happens, images are uploaded to the cloud, processed there, and then sent back to the app. (Adobe uses a mixture of its own servers and resources from AWS.)

That approach solves the problem of trying to draw processing power that an iPad simply doesn't have. The one downside is that for more complex designs, it could be a slow process if you don't have a good connection.

While bandwidth may seem a problem, it isn't an insurmountable issue for cloud-connected local apps. That's demonstrated by the success of the game Titanfall, released for Xbox One and Windows earlier this year. Titanfall draws extensively on resources from Microsoft's Azure public cloud to deliver online gameplay.

"They took a big risk with this making no single player version, which means the game is completely and totally dependent on the cloud," Azure program manager Corey Sanders explained to Lifehacker earlier this year. If the Azure cloud is down, this game is down. It was a risk because no-one had done this before — but they decided to do this because of the compute power." More than 100,000 Azure virtual machines were deployed as part of the support infrastructure.

"It ended up having 360,000 concurrent cores being used worldwide across all the regions," Samder said. "They were able to do much more complex physics and they were able to model a whole bunch of additional artificial intelligence. The power of the Azure cloud to enable a huge hyper-scale game really comes through with Titanfall."


    Yeah, except Titanfall's grunt A.I. was deliberately terrible, because the grunts were meant to mimic the creeps in MOBAs. I don't think they should use Titanfall as an example of "the cloud's power." Many people equate the A.I. to incompetence, and makes the cloud look bad.

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