A Bright Canopy set to open over Second Life and OpenSim

BC logoBright Canopy, the new streaming service, which allows users on low-end computers to access both Second Life and OpenSim has announced it will officially launch on Saturday, August 29th at a single monthly subscription price, which for the first 90 days (at least) will be $17.00 a month.

The service, which was established by SL users Bill Glover and his wife, Jeri (known in-world as Chaos Priestman and Beth Robbani respectively in-world),  arose directly as a result of the May 2015 closure of the SL Go streaming service provided by former on-line streaming games supplier, OnLive. What’s more, and on a personal note, I’m pleased to be able to say that this blog had a hand in bringing things about – although my involvement as a beta user hasn’t been as extensive as I’d hoped.

As a result of the cessation of SL Go as a result of OnLive’s decision to sell, I ruminated on the potential of the Lab running a streamed SL service through Amazon AppSstream. This caught Bill’s eye and imagination, prompting him to comment:

Let’s just do it ourselves! You really got me thinking. I’d can launch a service right now if I get enough folks for Beta.

Bill and Jeri Glover: heading the Bright Canopy team, and long-term Second Life users
Bill and Jeri Glover: heading the Bright Canopy team, and long-term Second Life users

Things further progressed when I wrote about Nebadon Izumi’s work in getting the viewer and OpenSim delivered over AppStream.  My article prompted Nikola Bozinovic, founder and CEO of Frame, a cloud-based service focused on delivering Windows applications to users,  to suggest his service could be used to deliver Second Life through the cloud.

Bill and Nikola quickly got their heads together, and within 24 hours, they had their own proof-of-concept running, delivering the official SL viewer over Frame via Amazon.

Bright Canopy streams SL and OpenSim directly to your web browser, offering those on low-specification computers to enjoy the full graphic richness of both platforms with (allowing for network vagaries) low latency
Bright Canopy streams SL and OpenSim directly to your web browser, offering those on low-specification computers to enjoy the full graphic richness of both platforms with (allowing for network vagaries) low latency – note the data, bottom left (via Bright Canopy)

Not long after that, and with the support of SL and OpenSim users, a small alpha test commenced, which expanded to an invite-only pre-launch beta, which again in turn gradually opened its doors wider and wider as time as progressed and issues dealt with.

Nikola Bozinovic, founder of Frame, who extended an invitation to try the service as a possible means of accessing Second Life (and other grids) from the cloud
Nikola Bozinovic, founder of Frame, who extended an invitation to try his service as a means of accessing Second Life (and other grids) from the cloud – and thus paved the way for Bright Canopy to deliver

While operating as independent companies, the synergy between Frame and Bright Canopy has been impressive, with the former working hard to ensure the latter can provide a scalable, robust service, as Bill has worked to ensure the viewer behaves itself when streamed and can support the services users expect – notably voice.

“Frame is excited to provide infrastructure support to make projects like Bright Canopy scale globally,” Nikola stated during the official launch announcement. “Bill has captured the imagination and the energy of the Second Life community. We’ve been impressed by the cooperative and open approach of the Bright Canopy team.”

One of the core benefits of running with Frame, is the company has an established track record in delivering Windows applications over cloud services (indeed, in June 2015, Frame closed a further US $10 million round of funding, such is the scope of interest in their approach). This means they have the technical expertise to be able to help Bright Canopy scale over time, and to offer the kind of delivery speeds users expect (local network vagaries allowing). The company already has a global presence itself, notably utilising Amazon’s backbone, with points of presence across the United States, Europe, Asia and South America.

Initially, Bright Canopy ran using only Frame’s presence in California. Even so, and for many in the USA and Europe, results were impressive. Later, Dublin was added to the mix, offering greatly reduced latency to beta users in Europe.  With the launch on August 29th, Bright Canopy will additionally leverage Frame’s presence on the US East Coast to again enhance the service.

One of the key aspects of Bright Canopy being partnered with Frame is that the latter already has multiple points-of-presence with Amazon around the world - so Bright Canopy can leverage these as global demands requires. At launch, Bright Canopy runs out of California, serving the USA, and Dublin, serving Europe
One of the key aspects of Bright Canopy being partnered with Frame is that the latter already has multiple points-of-presence with Amazon around the world – so Bright Canopy can leverage these as global demands requires. At launch, Bright Canopy runs out of California, serving the USA, and Dublin, serving Europe

The new monthly pricing plan, which will completely replace the hourly plan used during the beta period, has initially been set at US $17.00 a month for the first 90 days. However, Bright Canopy warn that this may be subject to increase – although they hope very much to avoid this.

The problem here is that Bright Canopy is currently being provisioned via Amazon’s Spot Instances. Normally, these are the most cost-effective way to deliver a service, but they have lately been subject to an insane bidding war, resulting in massive price spikes.

Spot Instance pricing with Amazon is making it difficult for Bright Canopy to firmly pin-down their monthly subscription price – click for full size

This means that Bright Canopy need to watch the situation very carefully, as Bill explained in the launch announcement:

Our early bird price is going to be an experiment for 90 days. If you’ve been following the blog, you know we’ve seen price fluctuations on the back-end, and we still need to watch actual usage of the service. $17 is a sustainable price if the instance costs return to their typical, historical values. It is not a sustainable price with the current spike in instance price. We may need to get creative with how we split instances, or we may need to raise prices. We intend to remain transparent as always and will keep you posted. Our goal is to continue to maintain a sustainable, affordable service.

If a price increase is required, it will be announced when Bright Canopy have had an opportunity to assess the best way forward, and with sufficient time for users to determine how they’d like to proceed.

Once registered with Bright Canopy and with your account set-up, you have the choice of running the SL viewer (SL only) or Firestorm (SL and OpenSim), depending on your preference
Once registered with Bright Canopy and with your account set-up, you have the choice of running the SL viewer (SL only) or Firestorm (SL and OpenSim), depending on your preference

Commenting on this to me as we chatted about the upcoming launch, Bill said, “If we have to raise rates we will do everything we can to give people their money’s worth. And it may be that we can keep people who are already signed-up at the original rate and only charge it to new sign-ups, but I can’t promise that yet.”

And for those who might feel that even US $17.00 a month is a little pricey compared to OnLive’s US $9.95 offering, here’s a couple of points to remember: both Frame and Amazon incur overheads that Bright Canopy must meet in order to operate, and these have to be factored into costs in order for the business to be viable. More to the point, OnLive may well have offered SL Go at US $9.95 a month alongside their flagship CloudLift service for gamers – but this price point wasn’t enough to allow the company to generate the revenues it needed to remain viable.

Running Bright Canopy on my Asus PCEE 1201N notebook with the graphics turned up to Ultra and everything enabled. The FPS was admittedly hovering just under 20, but given the Asus normally only manages low single-digit FPs nowadays with everything turned-off in the viewer - this is impressive
Running Bright Canopy on my Asus PCEE 1201N notebook with the graphics turned up to Ultra and everything enabled. The FPS was admittedly hovering just under 20, but given the Asus normally only manages low single-digit FPS nowadays with everything turned-off in the viewer – this is impressive

During the alpha and beta testing periods, Chrome was the preferred browser for access Bright Canopy. I asked Bill if this will still be the case as things move towards a launch. “Chrome is still preferred,” he said. “Safari and Firestorm work but they don’t have sound yet – we’re working on that. iOS native and other native platforms are coming.”

With the ability to download snapshots to services like Dropbox, full voice support (currently on Chrome, as noted), and the ability for users to save logs and preferences (the latter currently Firestorm only, although the official viewer will soon offer the means to save and load graphics presets), Bright Canopy already offers several advantages over the SL Go service which may well be attractive to users – and have proven popular during the beta.

“Second Life offers incredible immersive experiences,” Bill stated in launch announcement. “You can literally do anything; that’s why Second Life offers everything from historical recreations, to adventure and role-play, to those very practical uses in healthcare, science, education and training. But without the raw processing power to handle the graphics, people can miss out on enjoying the incredible visual richness in the platform. Bright Canopy gives them the means to enjoy Second Life at its highest graphics settings through their web browser.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Bright Canopy, you can register your interest via their website, and keep abreast of things on their blog.

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8 thoughts on “A Bright Canopy set to open over Second Life and OpenSim

  1. Looks like a huge waste of time and resources. Why would anyone pay for something that can be accessed for free? With that price point, one could easily save up for a computer capable of actually running SL with their viewer of choice. Pushing SL through an appstream in a browser doesnt really save anything in terms of memory or CPU usage as the browser pushing the stream is going to use up additional CPU and memory usage.
    I dont think the fact was considered that, this only appeals to current SL residents, no one who is new is going to pay for this by the month, the hour, or any other way.
    I get the desire to push SL into the mobile era, but this model isnt it. Bright Canopy will only lead itself into a dark hole in the ground, hopefully it wont pull the rest of SL in with it.

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    1. “this only appeals to current SL residents”

      Yes, and that’s precisely who it is aimed at. Hence, it was factored-in. As noted in the article, Bright Canopy came into being because SL users wanted a service that would replace SL Go after that was closed. It has nothing to do with attracting new users.

      In terms of CPU and memory usage may be true in general terms. However, the fact remains that the intensive graphics processing is handled at the other end of the steam, and that does lift a significant load from the local machine, allowing the user to get the full spread of SL graphics capabilities on hardware otherwise incapable of doing so. speaking as one who has been able to test Bright Canopy on an Asus PCEE 1201N notebook, as referenced in the article, my personal view is that the service is fully capable of meeting that primary goal.

      The price-point is debatable; many initially put forward your precise argument WRT SL Go when that move to a monthly payment plan – yet that service went on to become very popular among SL users who, to repeat myself, have been demanding a replacement for it since OnLive’s demise. However, whether Bright Canopy’s positioning is seen to be attractive enough price point to garner the level of use SL Go enjoyed is perhaps debatable; time will tell on that. Nevertheless kudos to Bright Canopy is deserved in trying to fill the void.

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    2. I do see a use-case that gives it a unique advantage: SL can be played in a Browser. No need to install a software. Great for people who can use their business laptops also at tripsor at home but cannot install software…

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    3. I’ve been Selling, Designing, Implementing & Managing Thin Client solutions for more than a decade and have been a Resident of SL and a Virtual World Evangelist almost as long. You’re right, people CAN save up for a $600-$1,000+ Computer to run SL. Using the low end of the cost spectrum mentioned, this would take someone:

      >>>>> Almost 3 YEARS ((600 / 17) = 35.23 / 12) <<<<<

      For many people, with a working laptop or desktop, suitable for everything else they are doing (Document Processing, Browsing the Web, etc.), it's easy to justify spending $17 p/mnth vs replacing their computer with a new, 'gaming-quality' replacement. Not to mention the potential of running SL in an environment where installing and running large, client-server applications is complex (firewalls) or prohibited.

      While I agree, Bright Canopy may not have a long-term (+4 years) sustainable business, due to coming 'thin' (browser-based) Virtual World platform architectures (Sansa, High Fidelity, etc.), these platforms are still at least a couple of years away from widespread adoption. If Bright Canopy's business model has taken this into account and enough existing SL users with older machines get on board, it appears to be a good and needed Solution, until the next generation of VWs are established.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I Tried it today. There was a 3 min waiting time to connect to a viewer, dont know what was up with that. I was on for 15 min then got logged me off do to lag. witch is on there end, i have 7MB/s net wich was running just fine. graphics have a bit of a blur to it from the stream. and movements are not as smooth as the actual viewer. cant figure out have to save snapshots to disk or upload images on it, it seems to use some server computer for its folders not my computers folders an no instructions on how to get to it. The only thing i can see this being good for is if you go on vacation or something away from home an only have notebook or something that cant handle sl very well on its own.

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    1. For connectivity issues, and getting logged out, it’s best to talk to Bright Canopy directly, although I would point out that the speed of your local connection is no automatic indicator that the problems are at the BC / Frame / Amazon end of things – depending on how far you are from your server (shown in the lower left-hand corner of the browser window), and the number of “hops” you have to take between your local connection and the server, it could be something untoward going on somewhere in between. If you are having a high ping time (again, lower left corner of the browser window) – say a couple of hundred or more – that could indicate an issue of this kind, or simply that your distance from the server is having an impact in general. However, best to talk directly to Bright Canopy on the matter.

      In terms of saving snapshots – as everything is running from a cloud-based server, there is no means of “locally” saving snapshot, as “local” does indeed mean the Amazon server, as you note. However, you can save photos to Dropbox, a 3rd party service, and obtain them from there (you’ll have to set-up a Dropbox account).

      Instructions on how to connect a Dropbox account and save your snapshots can be found in the Bright Canopy Knowledge Base.

      Note that once you have connected a Dropbox account to Frame, you can also upload assets from your local computer to your Dropbox account, and then upload them from there to your SL inventory using the Upload options in the viewer – just make sure you select your Dropbox from the drive picker.

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