Virtualization And Cloud Computing

There is more and more talk of cloud computing lately, however what is not clear is how data center managers can integrate this into their capacity planning in a standardized way. Most of the various approaches to external cloud computing on offer today work differently from vendor to vendor, or based on the technology area they are trying to solve. To be truly valuable the data center manager needs to be able to take advantage of this technology using extensions of their current processes and management technologies.

As regular virtualization has shown it has become far easier for a new environment to be brought online. This is a huge boost to datacenter flexibility, allowing for far easier management of environment growth, whether this is ongoing or to deal with spikes in demand or seasonality. It also allows for rapid failover of environments and easier launch planning when new environments are needed.

These advantages however have downsides. They can lead to environment sprawl and a lack of control in terms of change management. This can lead to security risks, reliability issues and a lack effective business continuity planning.

Recognizing these issues, vendors of virtualization software are working to offer management tools to support both environment deployment, as well as the processes that have allowed datacenter managers to gain control of their environment such as change management, security, reliability and continuity planning.

Based on this a logical conclusion is that access to the cloud should be managed in a similar way to access and control of virtual environments. What is better than being able to reuse the tools and processes built to manage my virtualized datacenter to access the cloud? This allows to some extent the scaling back of physical procurement and planning processes, replacing those with contracts with the cloud provider. They should be able to specialize in physical capacity management and setup, and in theory get better pricing on HW based on their relative size.

For this to work however, standards will need to be developed to support deploying and managing virtual environments based in the cloud. Given the fragmented state of this market between virtualization providers, cloud providers with their own technologies and ISPs, how this will happen remains to be seen.
This being said VMware appears to recognize this potential and are approaching it via their vCloud Initiative. Given the attractiveness of this model it seems likely other virtual environment vendors will follow the same approach.

One needs to recognize that the cloud still presents issues. As anyone who has worked with a hosted application knows, interacting with its APIs brings very different security and performance challenges than a purely internally hosted application environment. That being said if these constraints are known upfront, application design and deployment approaches can take these issues into account. This should allow for this potenital approach to datacenter management to be realized.

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Will Used Games Sales Drive Video Gaming To Downloads?

Recently Rockstar Games introduced a new update to the popular Grand Theft Auto Franchise, The Lost And Damned. This was a download only extension to the Grand Theft Auto IV video game and is available on XBox 360. The user pays for the software and they download it to their Xbox via XBox Live. 

Unlike commercial software or some consumer market software which require registration to run, continue to operate or access content as in the case of antivirus software, video games do not require registration to run. The user is able to and expects to buy it or rent it like a movie. They expect to be able to use it on multiple consoles and to sell it when they are done.

This is in contrast to commercial and registered SW where a license to use is granted and resale is not permitted. Any disk supplied is purely the media used to load the SW which the license is then applied to.  This has a couple of key advantages. Firstly you generally avoid resale of the SW. Secondly with good customer registration you can drive customer retention selling such as upgrades, support agreements, patches and continued content if needed.

With video games on the other hand some of these basics of the software industry start to break down. The ability to rent and resell undermines the total volume of initial sales. What better way to ensure less renting or reselling than to launch an initial game and then offer a series of extra content online. The content has to be purchased and downloaded to the target machine, meaning renting and buying it used are not options. In addition the requirement to have the original game for the content to work drives up the chances of a purchase of the original game. Indeed if one can issue three updates at $20 each before a new major revision of the franchise, then there is a chance to potentially double sales if a game had an initial purchase price of $60.

Full game downloads may be a harder sell as the only way to distribute right now. It’s probably not possible for a franchise to go to full download yet, partly due to the customer’s perception of being able to get a game by purchasing it either new or used, or by renting it. I suspect however we’ll see a lot more installment based content between major franchise releases from more and more studios.