The International Herald Tribune breaks the news that IBM is launching a new mainframe platform specifically designed for next-generation virtual worlds and 3D virtual environments. In concert with Brazilian game developer Hoplon, IBM will use the PlayStation3‘s ultra-high-powered Cell processor to create a mainframe architecture that will provide the security, scalability and speed that are currently lacking in 3D environments — a lack that is one of the factors keeping them from becoming widely adopted. If it works, it sounds like worldmakers working on IBM’s platform should be able to support concurrencies far above todays’ capabilities, and implement commerce systems far more secure than is currently possible.
The IHT story talks about a server system that will permit higher levels of concurrency at greater levels of rendering and realism. The machines will be priced beginning at hundreds of thousands dollars, according to the story.
While it probably won’t have much impact on the state of virtual worlds right off, IBM’s new infrastructure could make a big difference in the long run, by enabling much greater numbers of concurrent users in next-gen virtual worlds, and by creating more secure possibilities for commerce. Big media and entertainment companies continue to be interested in virtual worlds, but they are also skeptical in many cases because there is no way to support many thousands of audience members at a single event.
The new mainframe infrastructure also doesn’t answer questions of fragmentation and convergence. Even at higher concurrencies, IBM’s new system doesn’t move the virtual world toward a more unified state, in which only a single browser or client is necessary to access any 3D space. Some other force will have to come along to push that.
Since IBM started poking around in virtual worlds in the middle of last year, it has had its devs, hackers and other geeks quietly peeking under the hood at companies from Linden Lab (makers of Second Life) to Multiverse and more. While the company has been doing a lot of work in Second Life and even some in Multiverse, it hasn’t been very clear just what tack it was planning to take — though its enthusiasm has been plain: for some time now, its execs have been comparing the advent of virtual worlds to the advent of the Web in terms of its impact on business and communications.
The new mainframe architecture looks like IBM’s big bet to capitalize on the shift toward the 3D Internet. Look it for to have a big impact on the state of affairs over the next couple of years.
[Read more on IBM’s new mainframe architecture on 3pointD, including an interview with IBM’s David Gelardi.]