Mobile devices in the shape of smartphones and tablets have become massively more powerful, but very often it’s the power of the connected backend that makes them really functional and special in the eyes (and hands and fingers) of the user.
Although users can download portion of a selected location on Google Maps for use offline, it is the power of the backend cloud datacenter servers capable of delivering geo-related information about anywhere on the planet that makes Google Maps so appealing for many of us. It’s not hard to find other examples in language translation apps, travel and logistics apps and so on… the power comes when the device is engaged and the cloud is connected.
But there’s a challenge; users demand ultra-low latency (time lag) and don’t want to wait for device connectivity — equally, they don’t to wait for their tiny little device to perform the massive computations that would normally put a fully-blown (server) machine through its paces.
Mobile gamers are especially impatient in this regard, because they want fast-performing mobile games to run with just as much burnt rubber as they get on their home Xbox or Playstation.
Be my guest, operating system
Open source operating system company Canonical is attempting to bridge the gap here and create a platform for games and higher-end enterprise software to be run in ‘containerized application workloads’ in the cloud and then deliver them to devices, all using using Android as a ‘guest operating system’, regardless of the actual mobile operating system on the user’s device.
Techies call this process computational offloading.
By containerizing the task of running what could be a highly complex piece of software in a cloud datacenter, Anbox Cloud is capable of creating some fairly meaty backend power, but then delivering it to the device, independently of a device’s capabilities. Yes users will still have to make a connection from their devices, but this way there has been an ‘offload’ of the compute (i.e. processing), data storage and energy-intensive requirements that the app needs, so that that part happens at the back end. In other words, it’s an advanced software application workload, streamed directly to the device.
The promise from Canonical to software developers is to now be able to deliver an on-demand application experience through a platform that provides more control over performance and infrastructure costs, with the flexibility to scale based on user demand. Director of product at Canonical Stephan Fabel says that enterprises are now empowered to deliver high-performance, high-density computing to any device remotely, with reduced power consumption and in an economical manner.
Fabel and team point to a Canonical Intel whitepaper which notes that, “Despite (device) proliferation and rapid technology evolution, mobile computing form factors are still constrained. For any given device, battery life is finite, processing power is fixed and data storage capabilities are bounded. These constraints limit the extent to which mobile computing form factors can be seamlessly integrated into our daily activities. This means that gamers (or indeed enterprise software users) may experience a lag in game response time or a service time-out. These issues negatively impact the continuous experience and restrict (software) companies from easily scaling their services.”
Anbox Cloud is hoped to enable graphic and memory-intensive mobile games to be scaled to a vast amount of users while retaining the responsiveness and ultra-low latency demanded by gamers. Games (or other apps) do not need to be downloaded because Anbox Cloud creates an on-demand experience for users. The commercially minded might also notice that this provides a protected content distribution channel for software developers.
Canonical points out that enterprises could use this technology to reduce their internal application development costs by providing a single application that can be used across different form factors and operating systems i.e. you don’t ‘have’ to run Android to run the software built here.
Developers can also utilise Anbox Cloud as part of their application development process to emulate thousands of Android devices across different test scenarios and for integration in continuous software integration and delivery pipelines. Anbox Cloud can be hosted in the public cloud for infinite capacity, high reliability and elasticity or on a private cloud edge infrastructure, where low latency and data privacy are a priority.
The technical details
Anbox Cloud is built on a range of Canonical technologies and runs Android on the Ubuntu 18.04 LTS kernel. Containersation is provided by secure and isolated LXD system containers. LXD containers are lightweight, resulting in at least twice the container density compared to Android emulation in virtual machines – depending on streaming quality and/or workload complexity.
Anbox Cloud runs inside the Ubuntu containers and powers Android (based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP)). Virtual Android instances contained within system containers can interface with mobile devices via a client application. Canonical partners with Packet, a cloud computing infrastructure provider, as an option to deploy Anbox Cloud on-premise or at target edge locations in the world. Canonical collaborates with Ampere (ARM) and Intel (x86) as silicon partners.
“With Anbox Cloud, Canonical is bringing to market a disruptive product that is both powerful and easy to consume. As small, low-powered devices inundate our world, offloading applications to nearby cloud servers opens up a huge number of opportunities for efficiency, as well as new experiences. We’re excited to support the Anbox Cloud team as they grow alongside the worldwide rollout of 5G,” said Jacob Smith, co-founder and CMO at Packet.
It’s not hard to start wondering just how much power we’re going to really start demanding on our mobile devices. With the advent of quantum computing (it’s kind of here already, but IBM and Google are tussling over who’s really achieved what so far), we know that most of us will never own our own physical quantum computer i.e. it will be a case of Quantum-as-a-Service (QaaS) delivered from the cloud datacenter, where the super-heated quantum machine enjoys space-age air conditioning to wipe the sweat off of its brow.
Gamers may ultimately start demanding quantum-charged games on their smartphones as enterprise users follow suit and demand quantum business management as a service — and both of those actions will take some serious computational offloading.
If all this progression means we get a workable version of Assassin’s Creed on the tablet one day, then that must be a good thing.
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