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Flight Simulator soars in the cloud

Flight Sim 

By Mitch Simcoe, Director, Solutions Marketing at Ciena

After almost a year of lockdown due to COVID-19, the travel destinations for many remain on hold. However, there is one game that has removed all boundaries of traveling around the world. A game that allows you to visit some of your dream destinations and see some of the most renowned locations worldwide. Although it is completely virtual, the realism is breathtaking to the degree that the imagery you're seeing is being pulled from Bing Maps Satellite imagery and projected onto your screen in an augmented reality (AR) approach.

Flight Simulator (Sim) 2020 highlights a transition within the gaming industry where the networks are engineered with edge computing to locate servers closer to the end users which is known as cloud gaming. In order to deliver such a realistic gaming experience, Flight Sim is incorporating a CDN (Content Delivery Network) approach - similar to streaming a movie from Netflix - where the most frequently requested scenes that gamers fly to are cached at the network edge for the lowest latency performance.

Gaming at the edge will really drive the opportunity for cloud gaming that still in its infancy of mass adoption. The initial install of Flight Sim 2020 requires a 130 GB download and needs frequent 1 GB updates.  Moving to a pure cloud gaming model will allow gamers to avoid these updates and even eliminate the need for an advanced gaming desktop. Gaming at the edge and cloud gaming will rely on the underlying telecom network to maintain the high performance of a local gaming set up. 

On the EDGE of my seat

Microsoft exclusive Flight Simulator 2020 is leading the charge of gaming at the edge. It leverages the cloud to recreate Earth and build an immersive and realistic experience. The game presents the challenge of learning how to operate and pilot more than 30 different aircraft model planes in a realistic simulation. You select the type of aircraft to fly, your origin and destination airports, and even the flight plan similar to what commercial pilots actually do.

For some context, Flight Simulator is one of Microsoft's oldest and longest-running titles - first introduced nearly 30 years ago.

flight simulator 

And, while previous versions gained popularity way before the cloud in the networking world became table stakes, the latest version of Flight Sim pulls in more than two petabytes of Bing Maps satellite imagery. It also relies on artificial intelligence to extrapolate geometry from a blend of satellite and flyover imagery, giving the gamer a more realistic virtual flight. The game features 3D replica models of buildings, airports, natural terrain, and virtually every square kilometer of the planet. Microsoft has recreated the world as we know it with unlimited exploration capabilities. Flight Sim comes alive as gamers can fly in real-world weather conditions with live air traffic and physics perfectly replicating air turbulence. An impressive feat of this magnitude that is extremely data-intensive could have only been made possible through the cloud.

Flight Sim's model is very similar to augmented reality in the case that the satellite imagery is the reality, and the plane is the digital element being overlayed. This is only the start of a shift within the gaming industry where hyperscale cloud capabilities are delivering more interactive and immersive experiences. But are today's networks built to support the required high performance and low latency Service-level Agreements (SLAs) this oncoming evolution of gaming at the cloud edge will require on a wider scale?

It's all about the Network

Edge cloud inherently transforms the gaming model as we know it. A high-bandwidth internet connection is required to deliver the content being streamed from the data centers directly to the user. The success of game performance depends heavily on the underlying networks and how much controlled-latency traffic they can support during periods of peak demand. The sheer number of gamers within 2020 alone approximated 2.69 billion and this number is only projected to rise annually. It is the role of service providers to ensure their networks are reliable in handling the traffic surge, hopefully resulting in a consistent gameplay experience being delivered to end-users. Network analytics and automation are vital in displaying a holistic view to service providers of their network's performance and allowing them to efficiently meet bandwidth demand.

This is a great value-add opportunity for service providers to create network slices with specific SLAs to support cloud gaming and host the edge cloud infrastructure in edge data centers for their customers. For instance, cloud gaming can greatly influence and enable the in-game mechanics and graphical capabilities of games. Less data is being stored locally and instead of being pulled directly from the data centers. From a gamer's standpoint, this is a huge opportunity and leads to the many pros associated with cloud gaming. It eliminates the need to install games and title updates, as the hardware does not define the game's performance and you are able to play across a plethora of devices.

Flight Simulator 2020 excels in highlighting the role of the cloud in gaming. The onus on service providers to deliver these capabilities at scale is to employ an adaptable, intelligently automated network infrastructure enhanced through edge cloud that can scale up or down in real-time, self-optimizing the available resources to peak demands. Cloud gaming sets the stage for mainstream services to begin truly leveraging the full potential of edge cloud networks.

Additionally, Flight Simulator has more recently offered a virtual reality (VR) version of the game that is further demanding in terms of bandwidth, network performance, and leveraging 5G capabilities. Between cloud gaming and VR/AR applications, the cloud edge model becomes even more ideal to support these new immersive experiences. Network providers' stake in the gaming industry will only continue to grow as 5G is adopted on a massive scale. Cloud gaming could very well be the next technology boom that has gamers flying to new, unimagined heights.

‘If you build it, they will come,' and the same goes for network infrastructures supporting the next flight path of the future.

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About the Author

Mitch Simcoe, Director, Solution Marketing

Mitch Simcoe

Mitch is the director of solution marketing at Ciena where he is responsible for supporting utilities to modernize and automate their networks and positioning Ciena’s solutions for Edge Cloud.    

Mitch Simcoe has more than 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry starting with Bell Canada and later with Nortel in numerous roles in marketing and product management in groups including voice switching, broadband access and optical networking.  He later joined GENBAND as the director of application marketing and built an application showcase for communication-enabled IT applications.  

He received a Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical) and a MBA (Marketing) from McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Published Friday, February 05, 2021 7:34 AM by David Marshall
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