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Pokémon Go's lessons for storage pros

The Pokémon Go craze – mainly its augmented reality capability and server crashes – contains lessons for storage administrators.

Pokémon Go demonstrates how next-generation applications can drive cloud adoption as well as the pitfalls of handling that rapid adoption, according to Varun Chhabra, director of product marketing for EMC’s Advanced Software Division.

“A lot of the applications we use today already use geo-location,” Chhabra said. “What is interesting about Pokémon Go is the scale of usage when combined with geo-location tracking and data. That makes it especially challenging. Tens of millions of people are playing it, and the numbers are still going up.

Chhabra said while Pokémon Go developer Niantic has not disclosed its back end or storage infrastructure for the game that is attracting millions of users, it has clearly mastered the use of location-based applications. At the same time, it has been plagued by server crashes – delaying the launch of the game in Japan – and security issues that suggest it is growing too fast for its own infrastructure to keep up.

“When we talk about cloud-native apps, the assumption is, everything will work out OK if you have the infrastructure,” he said. “But you still need to manage data, manage the scale of users and figure out where the bottlenecks are.

There is speculation that Niantic is using NoSQL or PostgreSQL as its back-end database and Google Apps for its Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) layer. But it has suffered server crashes that cannot be traced to any public cloud problems.

“It seems like they’re using the public cloud today, but even then they’ve had a fair share of outages even when there have been no outages in the public cloud,” Chhabra said. “So you can still have challenges with the public cloud. It’s how you write the application, and how you’re handling access for an avalanche of data.”

Chhabra said commercial enterprise application developers  can copy Pokémon Go’s success. For instance, retail stores can create apps to show shoppers in a store where a specific item is located. Or real estate agencies can develop an app with pop-ups showing which houses are for sale, where they are located, and their specs. These applications would tap into data that already exists.

“It should be easy to do, now that people are more comfortable holding up their screens without being embarrassed,” Chhabra said. “It’s more about creating an immersive user experience.”

He pointed to existing storage technologies such as object storage and data lakes that use analytics as tools that can be used in creating these immersive applications. But the development process is different than IT organizations are used to.

“You can’t throw the same approach at building an application for a geo-location mobile app than you do for traditional apps,” Chhabrasaid. “A lot of customers we talk to are talking about building apps from the ground up and learning how to use microservices.

“What is your storage platform doing for you natively to relieve the burden on developers? We’ve seen way too many examples of applications that don’t scale, and they crash the servers. Most businesses don’t expect to scale apps this fast, but they still have to test. Pokémon gets a pass, but most businesses don’t.”