Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Numecent Unveiled Cloudpaging Technology and Cloud Gaming via Approxy


Numecent, a startup pioneering friction-free digital software delivery through virtualization, came out of stealth and released the details of its patented cloudpaging technology. One of the key benefits of cloudpaging is that it can reduce the digital delivery time of any native software and other non-linear content by between 20x and 100x and runs without actual installation on a client device.

Numecent’s technology can cloudify 100% of Microsoft Windows applications, (even with separately cloudified plug-ins and can even cloudify the OS itself). These are then published on a secure, scalable server component and delivered to client devices in a virtualized and encrypted form with full license control. This process does not require access or changes to the software source code and cloudified applications execute on the device at native speed, without any installation – and can even run offline.

With cloudpaging, users don’t have to wait for very large downloads to complete and can start using an application in as little as 5% of the time it would have taken for the total download. Since applications delivered this way are never installed, this means users never have to confront installation issues or resource conflicts, which often plague software deployment.

Cloudpaging accomplishes this by pre-virtualizing the asset to be delivered and then by dividing it into small fragments called pages. These pages are then fetched individually and on demand over HTTP or HTTPS by a Virtual MMU (Memory Management Unit) on the user’s machine.

The application immediately starts executing inside an encrypted sandbox (using military-grade AES 256-bit encryption) and without actually requiring any installation on the client machine. For example, in customer trials the company was able to deliver and deploy a 66GB Hyper-V Virtual Machine by cloudpaging only 900MB – a 60x reduction in delivery and deployment time.

Subsequent accesses to the previously fetched pages are locally stored in an encrypted cache so that the software executes as fast as a natively-installed application. This allows cloudpaged applications and content to be off-lined and even used without a network connection – all still under license control.

“In modern computer architectures an MMU is used to virtualize RAM to reduce the memory footprint of an application. By deploying a Virtual MMU in the communication path, we are in essence reducing the network footprint of the deliverable,” said Dr. Art Hitomi, co-founder and CTO of Numecent.

The concept is in some ways surprisingly obvious to any computer scientist, as it extends the idea of virtual memory. Modern operating systems all use a technique called demand paging to load executable code, and often data too, into memory on an as-needed basis. Every time a program tries to access code that hasn’t yet been loaded from disk, the processor pauses the running program, tells the operating system which piece of information it needs, and once it has been loaded from disk, resumes running the program. It’s a technique so important that processors have dedicated hardware, memory management units (MMUs) to control the process.

Cloudpaging extends the concept to retrieve data from the cloud. Whenever a cloudpaged program tries to access code or data not found in local memory, the cloudpaging software detects that, with a kind of Virtual MMU, and retrieves it on an as-needed basis from the cloud.

Another patented innovation of cloudpaging is the learning behavior whereby the system creates a statistical tree for a given asset from multiple users and starts pushing pages to the client in advance of an actual request – thereby further reducing network footprint and latency. This push-pull paging mechanism essentially decodes the genome of cloudpaged software and can become a valuable instrumentation tool for ISVs.

Numecent believes cloudpaging has far-reaching use cases for all connected devices. During its technology demonstrations, the company showed very large applications being delivered from a smartphone (used as a pocket server) to a local PC and also from a PC to a tablet - all at full frame rates.

“The industry is littered with customers who have tried legacy application virtualization, block-streaming or progressive download solutions and who became disenchanted,” said Osman Kent, CEO of Numecent. “Some of these approaches failed to live up to their original promise by delivering only 50% of the applications and managed to confuse the terminology of streaming along the way. With cloudpaging, we not only address the digital transport issue which has long been ignored, but also deliver a complete end-to-end solution for virtualized application deployment for consumers and enterprises alike. We want to be to software what Dropbox is to data – but with secure yet friction-free license control so the rights-holders can protect their assets.”

Numecent is targeting this technology to ISVs, Aggregators, Service Providers, SMBs and Enterprises who need a rapid digital software delivery, deployment and provisioning solution on any physical or virtual desktop. The company previously announced a partnership with Red Hat where its cloudpaging technology will be used to deliver virtualized applications to RHEV3 desktops.


In addition to its launch, the company simultaneously announced the spin-out of Approxy, a new company focused on leveraging Numecent’s cloudpaging technology into the rapidly-growing field of cloud gaming.

Approxy was incubated as a joint venture between Numecent and Dr. Yavuz Ahiska (co-founder of 3Dlabs) and is already in Beta with its instant HD game delivery service. Approxy will be offering its technology as a white-label service to game developers, publishers and aggregators.

The startup will compete against OnLive, Gaikai, and Otoy in terms of providing gaming solutions from the cloud. But the company thinks of itself as being different than the pixel pushing technologies of its three rivals, which stream a game to a client, much like a streaming movie service pushes each frame down to a set-top box.

Instead, cloudpaging works on the premise that certain pieces of a game will be immediately necessary to run the game, similar to the manner in which an MP3 file can almost instantly begin playing as soon as it's downloaded from a music service. Those pieces can be quickly downloaded, reducing the time in which a customer begins downloading a digitally purchased game, and the time in which he or she can play it.

Users who download a multi-gigabyte game like Battlefield 3, for example, might normally need hours to download and install the game. Using the Approxy technology, however, a gamer could install and begin playing the game in as little as 15 minutes, said Bartu Ahiska, Approxy's chief operating officer and Yavuz Ahiska's son. Each application needs to be cloudpaged or optimized by the developer and Approxy before a user can download it.

The advantage? For a publisher and company like Approxy, a single Approxy server can serve 10,000 customers, far cheaper than a dedicated pixel pusher server that must dedicate an entire rack-mounted GPU to rendering a game. Users can also own the game locally, on their own machines.

However, the game must still be downloaded, and users must also invest in their own top-of-the line graphics hardware to play the most advanced games, a disadvantage that OnLive and similar companies don't have. Bartu Ahiska said that cloudpaging does not change the minimum specification of the 3D and CPU hardware users must have on their machines - with one exception. Approxy performs its own pixel pushing operations to other machines on the network, allowing a tablet, for example, to play Battlefield 3 over a local network.

Numecent breaks applications up into 32-Kbyte "pages," which are then fetched on demand over a secure HTTP connection by a Virtual MMU (memory management unit) on the client machine. Approxy said it has sliced these pages down to even smaller "partials," which will allow the game to immediately start executing inside a virtual console, without any installation. Approxy can even slice a game's massive .EXE file down into the critical partials needed to run the game, Ahiska said.

The game then quickly downloads the files necessary to get the game up and running, such as the title screen, configuration screens, and the first level of the game. The full game is then downloaded in the background while the user plays it - or not, Bartu Ahiska said. It's possible that just the current level could be stored locally on the machine. A publisher could also design a Web site that automatically "preloads" featured games onto a user's PC, allowing the user to begin playing them instantaneously. 

"In terms of needing the full game, cloudpaging is quite a flexible technology," he said.

The Numecent/Approxy technology allows the game to be accessed via the Windows Start button, and once the game is uninstalled, it vanishes, as it simply ran virtually on the client PC anyway. Only between 5 to 10 percent of any game needs to be "buffered" on a local client, according to the company.

Approxy claims that the company can also quickly know if a user has a license to a given game, and the license can be tracked and secured using military-grade encryption. Like Valve Software's Steam, games that were previously purchased can be redownloaded, the company says.

More importantly, Approxy claims that games can be played offline, even if the internet connection is severed. That's something that OnLive can't offer, although OnLive's recent initiative with connected tablets over 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi connections helps mitigate that. Games can also be patched by the publisher, the company said.

Approxy also includes its own pixel streaming, like OnLive or Gaikai. "Pixel streaming is that if somebody else is using the computer, checking Facebook, the kids can carry on playing the games on their tablet PCs," Bartu Ahiska said. "The PC is actually doing the rendering on it."

"Pixel streaming works fantastically well," he added. "As you can imagine, there's no latency within the home network, and if the local internet connection is down, it will work."

Approxy even does something that Bartu Ahiska called "gesture virtualization," which interprets possible input gestures and stores them as an XML file that accompanies the game, during the cloudpaging process. That, in part, will allow peripherals like the Microsoft Kinect to work with Approxy cloudpaged games, he said.

The initial development work was performed by DARPA in the late 1990s. Numecent has developed the technology and is taking it in several different directions at once, and created Approxy to develop it for gaming markets. Numecent’s core product is Application Jukebox, which allows for cloudpaged delivery of pretty much any Windows application.

“We plan to do further incubations and spin-outs in well-defined vertical use cases,” added Osman Kent, CEO of Numecent. “Cloudpaging is a very broad and fundamental technology foundation with far-reaching applications. As the Approxy example has shown, cloudpaging can jump-start a young company with 90% of the R&D complete and enable them to apply a very sharp marketing focus.”

SOURCES: PC Magazine, Wired.

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