The Rise of Virtual Reality – Are Data Centers Ready?

Some interesting applications of VR have emerged in Big Data. A primary challenge of big data is extracting information in a way that the human mind can understand, as too much information at a time makes data incomprehensible

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Virtual Reality (VR) is transforming gaming, entertainment and numerous other fields, potentially delivering a long-term impact that may exceed today’s most disruptive new technologies, possibly even the Internet of Things (IoT). As per a report by CCS Insight, shipments of VR headsets will rise more than fivefold between 2017 and 2021, from 16 million in 2017 to almost 99 million in 2021.

This is not a game

Gaming is the primary commercial application for VR today. However, it has the potential to make dramatic contributions in many industries – education, healthcare, retail or travel to name a few. A school project in Ireland experimented with VR, where elementary grade students recreated a historical monastery. The students successfully designed a 3D building they could then virtually explore. 

In another instance, industry analyst Rob Enderle discussed the impact of VR on telemedicine where remote doctors will be able to see as if they were looking through the eyes of a technician or doctor next to a patient. Or in robotics, where remote operators can use VR to place themselves in the head of a robot or a drone. 

In space exploration, NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab is using VR to allow scientists to work as if their offices were actually on Mars. In retail, VR could radically change the shopping experience. If a car catches your eye online, you can take it for a spin and instantly discover if it's right for you. Architects and developers are working on transforming 3D models into VR experiences of a home or building, designing and adjusting as they walk from room to room. 

The travel industry is also experimenting with VR. Marriott Hotels is using VR not as not just an alternative to travel but as a means to what people’s appetites, enticing them to want to go to actual faraway lands. 

The Data Possibilities in VR

In addition to these, interesting applications of VR have also emerged in Big Data. A primary challenge of big data is extracting information in a way that the human mind can understand, as too much information at a time makes data incomprehensible. Which is why, EU researchers at CEEDS (Collective Experience of Empathic Data Systems), are working on ways to transpose big data into an immersive, interactive virtual environment, at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. 

Funded by nine countries in the EU, the ‘eXperience Induction Machine’ deploys VR technologies that enable users to step inside large data sets. The aim is to help visualize data in a more “empathic” way so that we can make better sense of numbers without a brain overload. This is just one of the ways big data researchers are exploring VR technologies for new ways to visualize and analyze complex and dynamic datasets. 

Another notable example is of the Wall street journal. A few years ago, the graphics department at the Wall Street Journal created a 3-D chart of the NASDAQ stock exchange. It can be viewed on standard devices or through a headset that turns a smartphone into a VR device. 

Needless to say, accurate data visualization can make a big difference in how we experience data and make decisions that impact businesses.

The impact on the world of storage

All these use cases make one thing quite clear. The use of VR is likely to increase demand for storage. Facebook, Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA have been discussing the impact VR will have on telecommunication and data centers for quite a while. According to Facebook, by 2020 more than a zettabyte – that’s 1,000 exabytes – of information will be exchanged over telecom networks, much of it in data-intensive formats like video and virtual reality. 

This means that enterprises would need anywhere from 10-20x. increase in storage capacity, depending on video resolution, equipment plus compression techniques used. This requires access to really fast storage. Like Flash. But, to handle a 10-20x increase in capacity demand, data centers will either have to learn how to balance the use of flash storage with traditional disk-based storage or explore different options such as All-Flash Datacenters. 

Also, there are infrastructure benefits for data centers from VR adoption. Companies have been exploring the uses of VR to create new realities in data centers - visualizing cloud structures, virtualized environments, real-time system diagnostics, and self-learning/healing data centers. In the future, it will be interesting to see some tangible results on the impact VR has and the subsequent changes. 

Are we prepared? 

For decades, VR has been the province of futurists and science fiction writers. Today, it feels like a very real probability that will ultimately lead to full immersion experiences for users. As the VR revolution grows, data centers across the world will need to reimagine their storage, backup, and recovery. While Flash-based storage technologies might just be part of the answer, there are several other variables that need to deploy. We all need to start preparing and get ready.


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