Virtual reality (VR) and its counterpart augmented reality (AR) are coming to an enterprise near you. But even as organizations are salivating over the prospect of new application revenue streams and new ways of managing internal data operations and infrastructure, it is important to note the substantial prep-work required to adequately support VR/AR data streams.
Just about everyone who has looked at the VR market in recent weeks says it is on the verge of exploding. ABI Research is expecting a tidal wave of new VR/AR enterprise applications as user devices like headsets and smart glasses turn in 80 percent growth or better through 2021. At the moment, most use cases center around gaming, and fairly basic gaming at that. Within a very short timeframe, however, more advanced services are due to emerge and these will start to cross over into professional applications such as simulation, training and visualized content creation.
IDC is even more bullish. The research firm pegs the compound annual growth rate at 181.3 percent until 2020, with revenue from hardware, software and services jumping from today’s $5.2 billion to more than $162 billion. The key drivers, says analyst Chris Chute, are the increase in mobile processing power and the decreasing cost of headset technology, which is finally bringing the science fiction of decades past into reality. VR is already having an impact in industries like health care and is poised to make similar inroads in education, logistics, manufacturing and other fields.
VR/AR will also revise the fortunes of the lowly PC, if Intel and Microsoft have anything to say about it. The duo teamed up at Intel’s recent developer forum to tout the creation of Project Alloy, in which Intel will pursue virtual and augmented applications through its RealSense 3D camera system and other technologies, and then link it to the Windows Holographic project that will merge camera images with 3D applications on the Windows 10 platform. The company is pitching the approach as “merged reality,” combining elements of AR, VR, wireless and advanced graphics to produce environments that incorporate real images, enhanced images and entirely computer-generated environments for both consumer and business applications.
But even though the reality is virtual, the underlying infrastructure needed to support it is very real, says Data Center Frontier’s Rich Miller. And the fact is that current data center environments, particularly on the network layer, will need to see substantial upgrades in order to deliver on VR/AR’s promises. VR data streams require high-bandwidth and ultra-low latency, which makes them tougher to support than even the Big Data/IoT workloads that enterprises are already struggling with. As well, you need continuous processing and high-storage capacity in both centralized and edge facilities, which will require multi-year build-out strategies at most organizations.
Nobody ever said going virtual would be easy, of course. But with enterprises already struggling to keep up with data loads coming from the emerging digital economy, another major escalation in traffic on the horizon can only add to the sense of anxiety gripping the boardroom these days.
And if you are someone who looks for opportunity in every crisis, it’s probably a good time to invest in VR/AR technologies, as well as antacids, stress relievers and mood-altering medications.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.