Computers have become more powerful and more portable, letting
you execute some compute-intensive tasks on your laptop. But
internet connections have also become incredible faster, making
it much easier to outsource some tasks to servers sitting in a
Most of the apps on your phone already rely on a server
component to store and process your data. When you post a video
on Facebook, it gets re-encoded into multiple formats on the
server so that other users can stream your video in SD, HD,
But I think this trend is going to become even more important
in the coming years, with all your devices acting as a simple
screen into your stuff running on servers in data centers near
First, internet connection speeds and latency need to improve
drastically for everyone. I’m lucky that I live in Paris, a
dense city with efficient infrastructure. I get around 800 Mbps
and 250 Mbps of download and upload speeds at home. And I can
ping all data centers around Paris in less than 2 milliseconds
with a wired connection.
Second, I’ve valued portability over specs for years. I’m
currently typing this article on the tiny 12-inch MacBook. It’s a lightweight,
fanless device that is more or less as powerful as the MacBook
Pro I was previously using.
Raw performance has more or less stagnated for laptops if you
opt for the lightest device you can get. At the same time, more
tasks are relying on powerful graphics processing units.
Creative people manage bigger photos and 4K video footage. Even
your browser has become more demanding.
Third, companies need to develop services that everybody can
use without any coding experience. For instance Adobe could
release thin clients of Photoshop, Premiere Pro and other apps
with all the heavy work happening on a server. I feel like
Adobe’s subscription model is the perfect opportunity to try
this with an optional add-on.
Even without reinventing the wheel, some companies are
innovating in this space. French startup Blade is working on a
service called Shadow, mostly for cloud gaming.
It is running thousands of virtual machines on server-grade
Intel Xeon processors with a dedicated Nvidia GTX 1070 for each
user. You can get your personal instance for around $32.70 per
At first, I was quite skeptical as cloud gaming has never
worked perfectly well due to latency, image compression and
restrictions. But in this case, you get a full-fledged Windows
10 desktop environment with great network performances.
The company has just released Windows and Android apps, and it
is currently working on a macOS app as well as a dedicated
device with a cheap CPU and all the ports you need. This way,
you don’t even need to have an existing computer to connect to
your virtual machine on Shadow’s servers.
After a few minutes running the Windows app on my Windows
computer, I got confused and realized I needed to use two
different wallpapers because I couldn’t tell if I was
interacting with my local computer or the virtual machine
running in Shadow’s data center near Paris.
When you run a game on your Shadow instance, your laptop fan
remains silent because not much is happening on your local
computer. It’s one of the most telling examples of outsourcing
compute-intensive tasks. These companies will have to make sure
CPUs, GPUs and SSDs are still going to get better over time.
These innovations will mostly benefit cloud companies so that
they can provide better servers.
Conversely, infrastructure is going to become increasingly
important as LTE and constrained fiber-optics internet
connections won’t cut it anymore. You’ll want gigabit
connections on all your devices. And then, it’ll feel like
you’re living in the future.