Cloud computing and the metaverse

Once again, I am writing about buzzwords that I did not invent. Since the end of last year, it has been “the metaverse.” The central question for me as a fan of the cloud: What does the metaverse mean for cloud computing?

First of all, it is interesting to note that Jon Udell discussed the metaverse in a 2006 article in connection with the game Second Life. In fact last year Andrew Oliver called the metaverse “A second life with virtual reality goggles”. Perhaps the best short description to date.

We know that the concept of the metaverse, which is still being defined, is fashionable. It is one of 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 homes that are close to other celebrity-owned fake homes. However, we went through the same thing with the rise of traditional social media, which is where the metaverse will most likely find its audience, certainly since social media giant Facebook has jumped on the concept and technology.

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

There will be two big areas of growth here. First, the metaverse vendors themselves, bearing in mind that several are likely to emerge if tech investors see this as a real opportunity. Some of these will be built with private data centers and others with managed services, but most of these compute- and graphics-intensive systems will be built on public cloud providers.

Access to compute and storage on demand through pay-per-use models will be attractive to those tasked with building a virtual world. The biggest 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 to the user so you can get a credible experience.

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

What do we need to do as cloud professionals to prepare for the possibility of the metaverse becoming a reality? I have a couple of suggestions:

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

Second, find out the business case. If you’re just profiting from the bitcoin-like hype, then you can certainly find a way to build a business around it. Those will be the dumbest things, like buying digital real estate or investing in digital artwork through NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

For most companies, metaverse use cases will be much 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 implementing 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 accessing better support virtually. Training is another segment. If the VR experience is rich enough to create more engaging training, it will be a huge growth area for this technology.

These types of “revolutions” occur every few years. Some get real; others just fall by the wayside. I have learned to see where they are going and be cautiously optimistic. If this becomes more important, cloud computing and those who build cloud systems will be the main benefactors.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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