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.
Putting GameGrid to the
Three college students from the University of Wisconsin worked on the GameGrid service—John Bethencourt, Matthew Hammer, and Kevin Damm—overseen by an MBA student, Fred Chang.
Although IBM encouraged researchers to download the GameGrid-enhanced Quake 2 application, only 870 did so. In a stress test performed Wednesday, only 80 players were on the map at any one time. IBM used its own IBM X-series servers running dual 1.26-GHz Pentium III processors purchased in 2001, Kaufman said.
“We were able to run this just fine on some white-box hardware we bought from Frys,” Kaufman said. “The back-end hardwares not really all that important. Whats really important is the interconnect—whether its 10-Mbit Ethernet or something like Gigabit Ethernet.”
GameGrid dynamically partitions areas of the game map, including players and objects, onto different servers. If a player or object, such as a rocket, moves from one server to another, the first server sends the players state—the players name, vector, velocity, and statistics—from one server to the next. When doing so, IBMs GameGrid software typically operated with latencies of 50 microseconds or less, according to Hammer.
IBM researchers performed the demonstration by color-coding objects to match the specific server. Even if a player isnt physically “on” a server, he must still be able to “see” objects stored on another. The Quake code determines the state of the world every tenth of a second, Bethencourt said.
If a group of players collects in some corner of the map, the grid software balances the load, redividing the map between servers so that no one server becomes overloaded, Hammer said. “Its a good system to handle load balancing,” Hammer said.
Initially, IBM dedicated 30 servers to the project; not as many IBM researchers downloaded the client as expected, Kaufman said, so only eight were required to run the final stress test. IBMs college interns are now involved in writing bot software to push the GameGrid software to its limits.