“…. Personal computing has come to be about ecosystems — primarily Windows, Macintosh, and many flavors of Linux. Though there are emulators and virtual machines that allow one machine to pretend to some extent to be another, most personal computing is still native — Windows apps on Windows machines for example. Phones and tablets, too, have their ecosystems — primarily iOS and Android. Well, that’s all about to change as our data moves to the cloud and the processing goes with it. And the very folks who created those ecosystems will have little choice but to go along.
Personal computers in the 1980s were standalone. Even when they were networked and used so-called network applications those were primarily standalone apps loaded from a server with the real work still happening on the PC. In the 1990s computers became more powerful and it was possible to run true client-server applications, the most powerful of which we called the World Wide Web. But even web browsers don’t really do much actual processing. Sure you can download this column or you can watch a video, but truly processor-intensive applications still required a powerful desktop machine. This trend continued in the cloud, which was until quite recently pervasive and always available but puny. Even mighty Google Apps hardly impress with their innate power.
But now there’s something called Mainframe2 from a company of the same name, led by Nikola Bozinovic, a very sharp software developer originally from Serbia who has, over the years, worked for most of the usual-suspect American software companies. Mainframe2 runs Windows applications in the cloud in a whole new way that will change everything.
Normally moving an app from a PC to a server and then virtualizing it in the cloud is a multistep process that can take weeks or months and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get running smoothly but Nikola says Mainframe2 can do the whole job for free in about 10 minutes.
The application code runs across many virtual machines in the cloud and — this is especially important — supports nVIDIA’s virtual GPU standard, so graphics performance is especially strong. And that’s the point, because it’s graphically-intensive apps like video editing that Mainframe2 is targeting.
Here’s what I find exciting about this. First, it’s cross-platform. The apps are mainly Windows so far but Google Earth is there, too, with thousands of other apps soon to come. The user can be on a Mac or anything else that supports HTML 5 including every tablet and smart phone. Next, Mainframe2 supports an application rental model. I use Adobe Photoshop maybe six times per year so renting makes a lot more sense for me than owning. By renting the software I can pay a few dollars rather than hundreds. I don’t have to worry about keeping the application current. I don’t even need a powerful computer, since all the crunching takes place in the cloud.
Need 100 virtual GPUs on your iPhone for the next 10 minutes? Okay.
If I used Photoshop all day every day I’d probably want my own local copy, but even then I can see emergencies happening where being able to edit on a smart phone in the back of a taxi might meet the deadline and save the day.
Mainframe2 does all that cloud processing then sends the screen image as an H.264 video stream taking advantage of decoding circuits that are now included in pretty much every modern microprocessor, so there’s no real overhead and the screens can be blindingly fast. Yes, you can play games on Mainframe2. Understand this challenge is nothing compared to Nikola’s last job which was processing commands from pilots sitting in Oklahoma flying Predator drones over Afghanistan then cleaning-up the return video signal so the pilots could see what they were shooting at, all in real time of course and over a multi-link satellite connection. Compared to that, remote AutoCAD is easy.
Mainframe2 is a form of remote computing but it isn’t the usual screen sharing VNC or RDP, it isn’t VMware or Citrix, it’s something totally new that can scale power like crazy (as many CPUs and GPUs as you like) which those others can’t. Software vendors either love it or hate it, but most seem to love it. Remember this application-in-a-browser idea was what turned Bill Gates and Microsoft against Netscape in the mid-1990s, but times have changed and Mainframe2 will likely be available on Microsoft’s cloud called Azure, too, along with Amazon Web Services, Rackspace, and almost every other cloud you can name. Microsoft might be threatened, but it won’t be able to stop the tide and doing so would hurt its cloud strategy, so it will eventually go along with Mainframe2.
Really nerdy companies like Adobe and AutoDesk seem to be going all-in for Mainframe2. Using variations on the rental model they’ll expand to casual and occasional users, keep current customers by allowing they and their data to work on any platform in any location, and the apps, themselves, should become markedly more resistant to hacking…..”