Sunday, 5 February 2012

Is OnLive using VMware? Dedicated hardware? Custom licensing? Is OnLive on Microsoft's acquisition radar?

Last week, I posted an article that breaks down my thoughts on OnLive Desktop, the desktop virtualization solution offered by cloud gaming provider OnLive. In the article and in the comments, we tried to figure out exactly how OnLive can deploy Windows 7 Enterprise desktops to users, and how that licensing is handled by Microsoft.

Without rehashing the entire discussion, OnLive was mum on how they've managed to license both Windows and Office in a way that enables them to deliver them to users either for free or for $9.99/month. We went on to wonder if they could possibly have a situation where they were using valid VDA or SA licenses in a virtualization model, if they were using blade PC's, or if they had some custom arrangement with Microsoft.

Is OnLive using VMware?

Then, over the weekend, a reader by the name of "lodani" (also on Twitter as @LoDani) sent along this screen shot that shows elements of VMware exist in the OnLive Desktop file structure.

After digging around myself, I can't find anything other than empty subfolders underneath the C:\Program Files\VMware folder, so I'm guessing that the image was probably built on VMware Workstation, but then the bits were stripped out when it was deployed as a master image. In fact, with the slight amount of cruising of the filesystem that I was able to do, I can't find any traces of other virtualization tools packages, so I'm thinking run-of-the-mill virtualization is out of the picture.

The custom hardware option seems to be more likely

What I did find while poking around, however, was a folder called Microsoft XNA. XNA is the core component of the Microsoft Game Studio, which aims to eliminate boilerplate code from Windows-based games to make them more efficient. To me, this leads me to believe that they may in fact be using blade PC's or other dedicated physical hardware to deliver these desktops. As mentioned in the other article, this also makes sense from a gaming perspective where the hardware requirements of these games are quite possibly more than virtualization can handle. It also jives with the fact that OnLive can leverage otherwise unused hardware during the day when gaming subsides, then ramp up the gaming again during the evening when the need peaks.

Keep in mind, too, that OnLive could still be taking advantage of VDI-like efficiencies, like on the fly disk streaming, rapid provisioning, single image management, and all the things that we commonly associate with virtualization, just without the virtualization aspect.

We keep getting nowhere with licensing

Dedicated hardware or not, I'm hearing murmurs that there is something custom going on between OnLive and Microsoft. Nobody is coming out and saying as much, but between conversations with some folks with a bit of inside knowledge and with Microsoft, we can start to see where the fog is coming from, even though we can't see through it. Questions directed at Microsoft were answered by saying they can't talk about specific customer's licensing. We got an equal amount of nothingness when asking about how we would go about building a similar situation on our own, though, which is odd.

Could OnLive be an acquisition target for Microsoft?

I thought it was odd that we couldn't get an answer out of Microsoft when positing a similar scenario, especially since you'd think Microsoft would want to encourage more Windows 7 adoption. Perhaps they're too focused on Windows 8 tablets, but running Windows on an iPad can't be too much of a turnoff.

Then I remembered Brian's article from last year in which he relays a conversation between him and Benny Tritsch about Microsoft's unspoken plans to use RemoteFX to deliver desktops, applications, and--gasp!--Xbox games from Azure.

Of course, this is uncannily similar to what OnLive is currently doing, minus the protocol and, perhaps, the virtualization. Still, with desktops and games from the cloud, each using the same protocol, and delivered from regional data centers around the world, I see some overlap. I wonder if Microsoft is working on something custom with OnLive, and if this is kind of an experiment to see if it will work before bringing them into the fold. It could also explain the fuzzy logic around the Microsoft licensing.

One last thing about an acquisition that might be interesting - OnLive CEO Steve Perlman has already sold something to Microsoft once: WebTV. Not that it ever took off, but it does show that the relationships could still exist and that, this time, each company's offering could be on the same trajectory.

SOURCE: Gabe Knuth at BrianMadden.

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