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Amazon Sumerian an experimental service with enterprise potential

AWS' foray into virtual reality and 3D apps simplifies certain tasks for developers, but the vendor could struggle to find an audience among enterprise customers.

Virtual and augmented reality present a learning barrier that some organizations simply aren't willing to overcome. But, as it has done with other cumbersome technologies, AWS hopes to corner the market by making AR more accessible to developers.

With Amazon Sumerian, a developer can build VR, AR and 3D applications in the AWS cloud without any prior experience. In the past, on-premises products enabled these kinds of 3D environments and virtual actors for different use cases, including marketing, training and simulations. The Sumerian managed service brings that technology to the cloud and works on several different platforms, such as mobile phones, web browsers and VR hardware.

Amazon Sumerian aims to simplify the app build process. First, developers upload or create their 3D environment in AWS Management Console. Next, they can add 3D animated characters, called Sumerian Hosts, which can use automatic speech recognition and natural language understanding to answer verbal questions or read scripts. Developers can customize Sumerian Hosts by gender, appearance, clothing and other distinguishing features and then add them to any virtual scene.

But how does Amazon Sumerian fit into the enterprise? Let's take a look at some possible enterprise uses, what users can expect to pay for this service and some potential snags.

Where Sumerian could find an enterprise fit

First things first: Amazon Sumerian isn't a hardcore IT tool. An enterprise can purchase other vendor products -- such as 3ds Max Design, Maya or Cinema 4D -- that generate comparable results to Sumerian. However, they can be pricey. In addition to some cost advantages, Sumerian helps accelerate speed to deployment.

While accounting and manufacturing departments probably won't find a fit, marketing and HR could use Sumerian in training or advertising scenarios. And the service could help any sector of an organization that wants to create user-friendly or interactive demos.

Also, as an AWS-hosted service, Sumerian has deep integration with other Amazon offerings. For example, the service integrates with Amazon Lex and Polly to enable voice interactions between end users and Sumerian Hosts. A developer can also integrate real-time data from other Amazon services into Sumerian scenes. That said, it's unclear how much need there is to integrate VR with live data and other cloud processes, though there could be more use cases in the future. I expect Sumerian to be more of a shadow IT service that enterprises will use mostly for one-off ventures than long-term scene and application creation.

I believe that Sumerian is a tool of convenience and speed. Enterprises that need to do some quick VR development will turn to Sumerian because it's fast, easy and cheap. It's a good way for enterprises to dip their toe into the VR pool, without having to worry about the major server and processing requirements necessary for larger VR tools.

Also, while AWS built Sumerian for developers inexperienced with VR- or 3D-related code, I do recommend a certain level of technical confidence before you start building scenes and applications. A user will need to understand the basic premise of running a service in the public cloud, such as cost monitoring and security. Without this experience, enterprises open the door to potential threats and billing nightmares.

Amazon Sumerian costs

The service includes a free trial for the first 12 months. In this tier, a user can create a published scene up to 50 MB that can receive up to 100 views per month. After 12 months or when your enterprise surpasses its free trial limits, Amazon charges $0.06 per GB a month for scene storage and $0.38 per GB a month for scene traffic.

On average, your enterprise can expect a Sumerian project to cost between $5 and $25. This is fairly inexpensive compared to a dedicated, high-powered server and display, which can run upward of $10,000 and doesn't include software, support or power.

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