Cloud computing and the metaverse

How does cloud computing factor in to the metaverse? Here are some thoughts before you put on your VR glasses and buy digital real estate.

Cloud computing and the metaverse
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Again, I’m writing about buzzwords I did not make up. Since the end of the last year, it’s been “the metaverse.” The core question to me as a cloud geek: What does the metaverse mean for cloud computing?

First, it’s interesting to note that Jon Udell talked about the metaverse in a 2006 article as related to the game Second Life. Indeed, just last year Andrew Oliver called the metaverse “A Second Life with VR glasses.”  Perhaps it’s the best short description to date. 

We do know that the concept of the metaverse, which is still being defined, is hot. It’s among the fastest-growing technology segments. According to a 2021 Bloomberg Intelligence analysis, the metaverse could unlock a nearly $800 billion market opportunity.

I’m not sure if that comes from buying and selling digital houses that are near other fake houses owned by celebrities. However, we went through the same thing with the rise of traditional social media, which is where the metaverse will likely find its audience, certainly since the social media giant Facebook has jumped all-in to the concept and the technology.

The truth is that the metaverse will be a boon for cloud computing, considering the amount of storage and processing required to support a virtual reality universe. As more performance and details will be demanded, remote cloud-based computers will become the only cost-effective way to solve that problem. 

There will be two large areas of growth here. First, the metaverse providers themselves, keeping in mind that we’re likely to see several pop up if technology investors view this as a true opportunity. Some of these will be built with private data centers and some with managed services, but most of these compute- and graphics-intensive systems will be built on public cloud providers.

Access to on-demand compute and storage using pay-as-you-go models will be attractive to those charged with building out a virtual world. The larger draw of public cloud providers is that they can provide distributed points of presence around the world, thus removing some of the latency in sending rendered graphics back to the user so they can obtain a believable experience.

Keep in mind that we already know how to build these types of systems. Virtual reality has been part of most public cloud providers for years now, and the technology often provides training simulators and other teaching methods. We know these types of systems are compute, network, and storage hogs.

What do we need to do as cloud professionals to prepare for the possibility that the metaverse will be a thing? I have a couple of suggestions:

First, figure out what this technology is and does. VR processing and the technology that makes it happen are not as well understood as traditional graphics and audio processing. Public cloud providers provide VR development systems today that are cheap enough to get some initial skills in how to build things in a metaverse.

Second, figure out the business case. If it’s just profiting on the bitcoin-like hype, then you can certainly figure out a way to build a business around it. That will be the sillier stuff, such as purchasing digital real estate or investing in digital artwork through NFTs (non-fungible tokens). 

For most businesses, the use cases for the metaverse will be far more pragmatic. I can see how this can take remote collaboration to another level by having virtual meetings that feel more like the real thing.

Also, consider building and deploying business systems within the metaverse, such as logistics management or business analytics. These systems can find new ways to access an emerging market. That market could explode by offering a better user experience within the virtual world, as well as by accessing better support virtually. Training is another segment. If the VR experience is rich enough to create more engaging training, that will be a huge growth area for this technology.

These kinds of “revolutions” come forward every few years. Some become real; others just fall by the wayside. I’ve learned to watch where they go and be cautiously optimistic. If this does become more of a thing, cloud computing and those who build systems in the cloud will be the primary benefactors.

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