Posted by: Peter Quirk | May 29, 2008

A failure to admit

A lot of innovation grows from the need to improve products and processes incrementally. Another source of innovation emerges from observing the complete failure of a critical product or service – a planetary probe, a regulatory process, or a perhaps a blocked toilet on the International Space Station.

 

The failure that stimulated this posting on an innovation for virtual worlds was my inability to attend the weekly meeting of the Gronstedt Group in Second Life because the region was full. Neither I nor the parcel owner could do anything about it, nor could we predict it very well. The problem is bad enough at the island level, but even worse at the parcel level because each parcel competes for the common avatar resource limit of the island, thus repeating the Tragedy of the Commons.

If enterprises are going to use virtual worlds like a utility (such as the phone service) they will need ways to monitor resource usage, predict resource usage, schedule resources, measure service levels and provide ways of dynamically adjusting to oversubscribed resources.

If I had been attending a meeting in a physical conference room and the room were full, the meeting organizer might have been able to move the meeting to a bigger room within a couple of minutes. No equivalent procedure exists in Second Life or any other subscription-based virtual world that I know of. (Ogoglio has two sizes of rooms, and they can be rented for the day, but I don’t know of any way to grow a room on demand for a fee.)

The whole experience got me thinking about admission control, resource calendars and VMware mobility.

Second Life has no built-in facilities for temporary admission control such as tickets which admit you to a region or parcel for a specified event at a particular time. However, there is a mechanism for selling an unlimited number of tickets which permit visitors to be present for a maximum time limit, but no good control over the concurrent number or start time of the event. You can also name up to 300 avatars allowed onto the land at any time (even though there is an upper limit of 100 concurrent avatars.) With scripting you could automate the management of the list, but you still need to implement a calendar and use it to drive the changes to the allowed avatar list.)

Combining admission control tickets with in-world event calendars would enable the creation of load prediction systems for an entire simulator (island). Without such a facility, all you can do is hope that you won’t hit the theoretical maximum of 100 avatars or the more practical limit of 60 or so, beyond which “lag” becomes an annoying feature of the user experience.

With good admission control tied to resource calendars, various good things can happen:

  1. your users can know well in advance whether they will be able to attend the event (whether it’s free or not) and they know they will have a satisfactory experience.
  2. you could implement an admission charge which pays for incremental grid resources only when needed.
  3. the grid resource scheduler, using information from the admission controller, could move your region to a more powerful server for the duration of the event. This could be paid for by the incremental fees you collected from item 2. VMware’s VMotion technology enables this kind of seamless reallocation of resources.
  4. on-demand usage of grid resources could be tied to a congestion-pricing model to even out demand.

There is an interesting alternative suggestion from a blog run by Dr. Dario de Judicibus, an employee of IBM Italy. On L’Independente blog, he proposes a new class of “ghost” avatars which require no server resources for rendering or interaction. All they can do is view and listen to a live event. (He also suggests that they can use IM to applaud and comment on the performance.) I suspect that the resource savings would not be significant unless these ghost avatars shared a single viewport. Perhaps a combination of the ideas, using admission control up to some limit, and allowing people to attend as ghost avatars when the admission limit is met, would best meet the needs of event organizers.

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Responses

  1. Peter,
    Great post and great ideas! In the past, my response to this problem has frequently been: Why would you want to attend a meeting with more than 40 avatars, it becomes just another one-way, sage-on-a-stage, dronathon meeting. However, watching IBM’s Chuck Hamilton at today’s Gronstedt Group meeting (I was one of the lucky who made it in, being the organizer has its privileges!) interact with the group in a rapid-fire Q&A, I could see how that would work even for a group of 300-400 people, perhaps even in the thousands. Most participants typed their questions, some used voice. Chuck gave quick and hard-hitting responses. It was very engaging. Of course, it requires a skillful leader like Chuck. Some virtual world platforms boost capabilities of up to 2-3,000 people in the same meeting. I can see how that would be useful to replace the traditional sales kick off meeting, for example.


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