Applications and Tools, Business in Virtual Worlds, Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Virtual Worlds Headed for the Clouds

Now, I’m not an IT guy, and barely know what WWW stands for let along be able to make my prims rotate using LSL, or be able to really explain what PHP does compared to say HTML, but there’s something about the phrase “cloud computing” that gives me a nice little shiver, and when people like Bezos or groups like Microsoft talk about it, I suppose it either means they’re looking for new ways to hook hopeless amateurs like myself into high cost visions of the future or they’re on to something.

So I scan Wikipedia, and it’s baffling as well, I guess. But it says about cloud computing:

The applications of cloud/utility computing models are expanding rapidly as connectivity costs fall, and as evolving processor architectures favor the development of multi-core systems with intrinsically parallel computing hardware. This hardware greatly exceeds the parallelization potential of most applications. The economic incentives to share hardware among multiple users are increasing; the drawbacks in performance and interactive response that used to discourage remote and distributed computing solutions are being greatly reduced.

And there’s something in the words “greatly exceeds the parallelization potential” that grabs my attention, because as some have hypothesized, Second Life may have reached its concurrency peak for a variety of reasons, one of them being that the grid just can’t handle any more users than 65,000 or so (although New World Notes is chalking it up to Windlight).

The Wikipedia entry notes the following advantages to cloud computing:
- Location of infrastructure in areas with lower costs of real estate and electricity.
- Sharing of peak-load capacity among a large pool of users, improving overall utilization.
- Separation of infrastructure maintenance duties from domain-specific application development.
- Separation of application code from physical resources.
- Ability to use external assets to handle peak loads (not have to engineer for highest possible load levels).
- Not have to purchase assets for one-time or infrequent intensive computing tasks.

Now again, being no expert, these sound like benefits for virtual world platforms, with the automation of managing peak loads being a far better approach than a bunch of engineers in California shutting off log-ins or waiting for the asset server to die, again.

And I have no idea – maybe we need a Second Life version 2.0? And maybe it will need to be based on cloud computing or some other technology with a fancy name?

In the meantime, Trion is using $30 million it raised from NBC and Time Warner to build its MMO infrastructureMMOs. According to Trion CEO Lars Buttler:

Trion’s World Network server cloud, Buttler said, will allow high volumes of players to participate in a fully persistent online world that can be evolved at any point by the game operators – or affected by the users. And the company has big cross-platform visions, promising mobile access to the worlds as well as console or PC.

Buttler points out that the advantage of cloud computing is the ability to allow users to generate content, although he cautions against turning a game into something like *gasp* Second Life:

“It’s a fine balance. If people influence everything, it might look like a Second Life at the end and destroy the fun. If they influence nothing, it’s boring. So we have now the technical capability to improve the game constantly, to introduce new things constantly and allow users to talk about the changes they want to make.”

For all the talk of grid stability, eyes have also turned elsewhere as a way of assessing the health of the grid. Whether wondering about Sony Home, the idea of ubiquitous games over at Metaplace, or the high visual fidelity of the coming Blue Mars (all of which are behind their stated schedules, so it makes you wonder whether this stuff is as easy as people wish it were), predictions of a virtual world winter should be tempered by uptake of newer approaches to technology – stuff that I can’t really understand, but then I always have my head in the clouds anyways.


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