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  IBM Cells Virtual-World Severs  
Posted 2007-04-26 by Tony Walsh
IBM has created a new-generation server by stuffing Cell microprocessors (which power the Sony PS3) into the guts of a mainframe computer, reports the International Herald Tribune: "The result is a server system capable of permitting hundreds of thousands of computer users to interact in a three-dimensional, simulated on-screen world described as a 'metaverse.' [...] IBM said its new 'gameframe' system was being designed in collaboration with Hoplon Infotainment, a Brazilian game developer that is interested in creating a software layer it calls a 'bitverse' to support virtual online worlds."

IBM has been monkeying around virtual worlds such as Second Life since last year as part of an official initiative. A group of IBMers over at Hursley Park Lab in the UK have been blogging about Second Life since last April. IBM IT Specialist Ian Hughes wrote today that "The very powerful cell processor is not solely in home consoles, but is being applied to other major applications that need lots of power and speed and reliability... it is a nice evolutionary step in using computing power, and very exciting in the mainframe business...The virtual world industry is certainly hotting up, having the mainframe business, which is core to IBM gives even more credibility to whats happening."

Obviously with a huge investment like this, IBM isn't just going to support Brazil's Hoplon Infotainment. IBM's VP of industry solutions David Gelardi told's Mark Wallace "I expect us to partner with many different kinds of clients and aid them in creating a world that exists on top of a fundamentally strong infrastructure."

With IBM's involvement in Second Life, I wouldn't be surprised if the next major version of Linden Lab's virtual world was built atop the "gameframe" platform. That might solve many of the crippling technical limitations the current platform suffers from, such as the inability to stuff more than several dozen avatars into the same space. There's even a glimmer of hope for a smaller environmental footprint, as Gelardi stressed to 3pointD "the mainframe architecture should make running virtual worlds more energy-efficient."

IBM's move comes a day after Gartner tech analysts pronounced that by the end of 2011, 80% of active internet users will spend a substantial amount of time in virtual worlds. Earlier this year, a few bloggers, including myself, tried to picture Second Life in the context of Gartner's Hype Cycle--my biggest concern was whether SL's platform would hold out long enough to reach Gartner's "Plateau of Productivity." Perhaps latching on to IBM's "gameframe" quickly enough, Linden Lab can buy a second life for Second Life.
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