Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Cloud economics: Lease unused processing power from gaming cafes

Idle capacity is a terrible thing to waste. Now you can lease high spec machines left idle by COVID-19.

Cloud computing data center. Storage cloud on computer data center background. 3d illustration

(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Like most patron-supported brick-and-mortar businesses, scores of gaming cafes and esports arenas across the USA and EU are struggling to stay alive in the face of mass lockdowns. But unlike your neighborhood coffee shop, gaming cafes are sitting on a potential income-generating asset they might unlock with a little ingenuity: Processing power.

Thus, in our new reality of strange bedfellows and improvised solutions, do we find a London-based cloud startup called FluidStack partnering with gaming center management company iGames to launch a service where thousands of gaming cafes can earn money from their unused computers by participating in a globally distributed cloud offering. FluidStack software converts underutilized servers into a cloud platform that cheaper than competitors. Closed gaming cafes are nothing if not unutilized servers. Et voila.

FluidStack's new virtual desktop service should make use of over 19,000 idle gaming computers in gaming cafes around the US and EU. Anyone can rent the high spec GPU gaming cafe machines through the FluidStack website, including companies and hobbyists for machine learning, rendering, gaming and CAD modeling. The competitive advantage here comes from a demand efficiency the provider is able to leverage. Because the machines would otherwise be completely idle, users can access machines at less than half the rate of competing cloud platforms.

"We wanted to do something to help the centers during this challenging time," FluidStack cofounder Jamie Cox. "It's a great opportunity for people to get imaginative and utilize these machines for their own projects and businesses."

It's a bright business model, both in the opportunity it capitalizes on and in its savvy use of existing capacity. Due to widespread geographical coverage, the partnering gaming centers should enable low latency services for customers. The lockdowns gave rise to the partnership, however cofounder Jamie confirms, "we plan to continue partnerships with gaming centers to lease underutilized capacity even after lockdowns ease up."

This is another example of the nimbleness some enterprises are demonstrating, reinforcing the idea that necessity and turmoil tend to be drivers of innovation.