Sony Takes PlayStation 2 to the Grid

Gearing up to take on Xbox Live, Sony Computer Entertainment Thursday
partnered with IBM and gaming grid pioneer Butterfly.net
to bring the power of grid computing to its PlayStation 2 customers’ online
gaming experiences.


The three have created the Butterfly Grid for PlayStation 2, and plan to
unveil it at the annual Game Developer’s Conference in San Jose next week.
The grid, hosted by IBM and powered by IBM Dual Xeon Blade Servers running
on Linux, links together multiple servers to create a virtual supercomputer
which can seamlessly shift processing tasks between individual machines.

In this way, Butterfly’s grid can provide online games with the sort of
processing power that previously has only been available to scientific and
medical research projects. This gives the grid the ability to deliver
online gaming to millions of concurrent users, while allowing individual
game developers to scale resources to demand. It also makes server
interaction seamless and transparent to the user, creating an extremely
resilient infrastructure in which servers can be added or replaced
on-the-fly without interrupting game play.

This is a departure from the current way of hosting online games, in which
players are segmented onto separate servers which limit their interactions
while also creating reliability and support headaches for the game
developers.

“We’ve enjoyed very rapid progress and outstanding performance while
developing and testing VibeForce on the Butterfly Grid,” said Curt
Benefield, chief executive officer of Sherman3D, a video game developer
with offices in Malaysia and the U.S. “The grid has allowed us to build the
bulk of our game logic, our motion models and our artificial intelligence
systems with familiar tools and standard interfaces. Our engineers can get
close to the metal on the client, the servers and over the network to bring
the action-backed, richly-rewarding console experience online.”


The Butterfly Grid is built on the Open Grid Services Architecture (OGSA)
standard, and uses OGSA-compliant software to monitor the processing load
on the Xeon BladeCenters, which are populated with 14 dual-Xeon processors.
When the grid determines there are too many players connected to a
particular server, it automatically reconfigures the underutilized blades
to support the most popular game-play and seamlessly transfers players to
those blades.

The grid utilizes IBM’s WebSphere and DB2 software, along with
Butterfly.net’s game servers, gateways, networking software and artificial
intelligence systems to provide an integrated platform for online game
development, deployment and operation.


Unlike Microsoft’s Xbox Live, in which Microsoft is the
central hub for all online games developed for its Xbox console, Sony does
not serve as the gatekeeper for the PlayStation 2 Grid. Instead, individual
game developers register with Butterfly, and receive a software development
kit (SDK) which includes sample games, client libraries, server software,
documentation and technical support.


To reach the grid, the model depends on service providers, who use
Butterfly’s XML-based Game Configuration Specification to extend the grid
out to the edge of the network, creating the opportunity for dedicated
gaming services and networks which offer voice communications and single
sign-on across multiple titles. This, in turn, allows those service
providers to create subscription-based revenue streams.


In fact, Butterfly CEO David Levine told
internetnews.com in November 2002 that he believes the service
providers will evolve to become like cable MSOs, which offer packages of
games to subscribers much like the MSOs offer premium cable channels.

“Today, 20 percent to 30 percent of their network traffic (cable providers
and DSL providers) is gamer-generated, but they don’t make anything on the
games,” Levine said. “Yet they pay for the high-dollar circuits to Qwest,
Level 3, etc., and pass the traffic on to centralized hosting centers run by
the publishers. The publishers then pay for high-dollar access through
AT&T, Qwest, etc. So the long-haul carriers (IXCs) are making all the
money. I see a whole new infrastructure evolving (which we’re working on in
the Global Grid Forum with IBM, Cisco, Samsung, etc.), where game traffic
can be passed to the appropriate server on any network, and the service
providers can bill the publisher for utilized computing capacity. The
publishers and service providers will work out interesting marketing deals
for regional promotion of games.”

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