by prokofy on 16/02/07 at 1:03 pm
Photo by Colin Gregory Palmer of “Atlas” by Lee Lawrie and Rene Chambellan, in the Art Deco style (1936) at Rockefeller Center. Creative Commons Attribution
By Prokofy Neva, Dept. of Worlds, Planets, Universes, Metaverses, and Server Farms So Large That Even the Men of Science Are Amazed
The news that Philip Rosedale has personally posted a want ad for a Mega Metaverse Manager called a “Global Technical Operations Jedi” to wrangle more than 5000 sims on some 2000 servers to be spread across these United States and Europe has caused some to wonder if the simulated sexverse situated on server farms in California and Texas could be in trouble with scaling issues.
It’s a daunting job, keeping this world not only running, but perkily uploading everybody’s user-made content, and constantly updating the grid with new software from the Lab itself, and now home-made open-sourced brews that the Lab will be clearing with an as-yet-unsolved method for posting and approving.
While among the problems the new world-wrangler will have to face is lag, crashes, outages, time dilation tumbling to 3, hacks to the database, etc., there’s the physical real-world problems that Something Something and other commentators have noted: the physical space, electricity, and cooling systems needed to house the servers, currently at this location physically in San Francisco, CA and at another data center in Texas. Residents report literally being unable to cross from a sim located in CA to the one in TX inworld — though the Internet is not supposed to work like that.
Apparently nobody in-house could be found for this awesome Atlas assignment, which some might thing has more akin to the job of the Cat in the Hat
“Look at me!Look at me now!” said the cat.”With a cup and a cakeOn the top of my hat!I can hold TWO books!I can hold up the fish!And a little toy ship!And some milk on a dish!And look!I can hop up and down on the ball!But that is not all!Oh, no.That is not all…
What other real-life systems are like the vast server farms of Second Life? World of Warcraft and other large MMORPG have millions of players, of course, but they are on shards or with instances of the same game on different servers, and without user-made content. You can’t play in WoW and access the same place where your friend from Russia is playing unless you both agree ahead of time to log into and create characters on the same shard.
Institutions like the United Nations have vast networks spanning the globe, with their notoriously slow-loading portal in the major world languages and clunky data bases that often tell you that you need a password to enter when you don’t, or push a cumbersome PDF file at you that freezes your computer. The challenge of keeping these portals open and accessible and with more or less simultaneous content is enormously daunting and an incredible amount of work has gone in to putting the documentation of one of the world’s largest paper-chasers online for the public. But they aren’t going for the 3-D look, voice, or avatars with sliders.
As I try to think of what this is *like* (and I hope better minds will help me out here), it reminds me of a family job I had to work for awhile called “truck dispatching”. Yikes. It would seem like a simple matter to pick up a phone order for Stella Dora bread sticks in Pennsylvania, fax the purchase order and highway directions and loading dock orders to the trucker, and keep tabs on him and the floor manager at the bread stick depo on the cell phone. You go from A to B, and you pick up C and then bring it to D.
But what happens is that perishable goods and multiple “just in time” orders complexify the job enormously. You can’t just let somebody sit with a truck idle for 3 days in Western Pennsylvania because Stella Dora is either out of the sticks, or their docks don’t open at a certain time or whatever. And you have competing companies and of course the entire 6-8 week schedule of the over-the-road driver to contend with. So you find yourself having to figure out if there is a Stella D’ora in Illinois, that could be accessed on the way to picking up another order for Lipton Moonlight Mint Herbal Tea at the Unilever plant somewhere…and then you ultimately arrive at a seeming absurdity: although the Stella D’ora breadsticks could very conveniently be picked up at a depot much, much closer to the purchase order located in San Diego and ensure they don’t get past the sell-by date, you wind up having the driver pick up in Pennsylvania and drive like hell because otherwise, you just can’t route him right to capture the other orders *and* avoid all the regulations, prohibitions, rules, and rambles that constantly plague the OTR driver.
In other words, the system becomes filled with idiocies, illogic, duplication, insanities because of all kinds of other exigencies overlaying it. Few people ever contemplate about how the Internet and its enormous capacity for shopping and shipping can only exist because of the trucking industry, which is contingent on roads and DOT insanity — yet there it is.
What are the great metaversal minds thinking about how to *do* this job? What kind of person could do it? Does that person in fact not yet exist because it is such a new and complex thing? Or is running whole bunches of MYSQL calls in fact something that people who program for medical firms and hospitals and universities find a fairly straightforward matter than in fact the folks at the Lab have made complex, either through inability or through their wacky, hippy office culture with its “chose your own projects” and Love Machine ethos? It’s hard for an outsider to understand whether Philip is a genius for understanding that the Engineering Project of the Century also requires a completely new office management culture and method to go with it, or whether his hippie stuff is going to kill what could have been the Pyramids of its time.
People who run servers for a living in real life get very, very cranky about the Lindens. They think they are nuts, and can’t do their job. And I’ve found that El Chefe himself and the coders get very touchy if you imagine that they’re using duct tape, Bazooka, and bent Coke Cans to keep their metaverse rolling. However, people in RL don’t seem to appreciate is that the servers they run with only 2-D electronic page and 2-D images on it really isn’t the same challenge as a 3-D streaming video world with constant user-generated content and user calls to the data base. Or is it?
Philip Rosedale might have solved the issue of his Atlassian struggle by only privately contacting his own feted network of beta buddies, or consulting only insiders in the business who flock to places like Sun Valley. Instead, he chose to put it out in public on a website. That may only be a feint, to make it appear that this crucial individual will have “community backing” as the community had a chance to see if it could find someone within its ranks, or that the broader public of those fascinated with Second Life could chance to see the ad. Or…it might be that he’s really, really desperate.
One thing is certain: by making this job and its description VERY public the world will be watching and placing incredible pressure and demands on this individual who will be expected to hold the world together — literally. I think that just as with planning for simultaneous translation or peace-keeping operations, the job has to be conceived as two people for each one slot, as you cannot keep the individual running 24/7, nor can you expect them not to burn out or tire at intervals of 60 minutes or 90 days. In fact, I hope the Lindens train a team of world-bearers whose egos may be less cumbersome and intrusive than the Atlas-sized individual they plan to hire for this awesome job.