IBM Tests Grid With Games

Fun with an enterprise purpose: Big Blue is using the Quake 2 first-person shooter as a torture test of its grid-computing system.

IBM Corp. has begun a real-world test of its grid-computing system by turning to a familiar geek pastime: games.

In conjunction with IBM, a group of college students from the University of Wisconsin developed GameGrid, a derivative of IBMs OptimalGrid effort. The students adapted the open-source version of id Softwares Quake 2 first-person shooter, and attempted to scale it across the grid to stress the system.

It didnt. Although a total of 80 players logged on simultaneously to play a custom map, IBM officials said theyre going to have to develop custom AI opponents, or "bots," in an attempt to test the OptimalGrid/GameGrids weak points.

Armonk, N.Y.-based IBMs grid-computing strategy has been to ask third-party application developers to design middleware that they could run on IBMs grid systems, which link a number of servers. While IBMs current customers include members of automotive, aerospace, financial and scientific communities, IBM is also exploring the entertainment sector with projects such as the GameGrid.

GameGrid fits somewhere between a research project and a development program. "Although were not commenting on our product plans, we are talking to game developers and encouraging them to work with us," said Sandra Myers, a member of the Global Emerging Development portion of IBMs grid-systems team.

In a typical first-person shooter, players connect to a single server that can accommodate up to about 32 players at one time. IBMs GameGrid technology acts more like the technology used by massively-multiplayer online games, which shares the game world across several servers or groups of servers. GameGrid could be used both with a traditional networked first-person shooter as well as a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, or MMORPG, said James Kaufman, a computer-science research staff manager at IBMs Almaden facility in San Jose, Calif.

However, there really is no comparison between IBMs GameGrid and the servers powering MMORPGs like EverQuest Online, said Adam Joffe, chief technical officer for Sony Online Entertainment.

"Its not immediately obvious that what IBMs done with their technology and what we do is the same thing," Joffe said. "The way we do clusters and work with game environments is different, from what I understand. They take a more generalized approach."

Joffe declined to comment specifically on the back-end infrastructure needed to power EverQuests virtual world of Norrath, but said the software used a collection of Intel-based servers linked together by an in-house clustering application. Currently, more than 47 "worlds," backed by clusters, are online within the United States, he said.

EverQuest II, due out this winter, will use its own, completely different clustering technology, Joffe added.

Next page: Putting GameGrid to the test.