Bright Canopy: positive response forces change of direction

BC logoUpdate, September 4th: Please note there will be a Bright Canopy community meeting in-world in Second Life at 11:00 SLT on Saturday, September 5th, at the Bright Canopy island. All those wishing to catch-up on the latest situation for the service are invited to attend.

Saturday, August 29th saw Bright Canopy, the new cloud streaming service delivering Second life (and the viewer) directly to your web browser, officially launch.

Already extensively previewed by SL bloggers – you can catch my overview of the service here –  the launch was given a further boost when the Lab also blogged about it. announcement of the formal launch led to a huge amount of interest being shown in the service.

While there were the inevitable hiccups which tend to accompany such launches, it was the overall demand which perhaps caused the fledgling company the most problems. So much so, that Bright Canopy have been forced to revise their subscription model, and suspend the service while they do so.

The news of the change to the subscription model came via an e-mail to existing subscribers which was also posted to the Bright Canopy blog. Currently the plan is that:

  • From Sunday, September 6th, those signing-up to the service will be charged $17.00 a month for up to 20 hours of use. Additional time will be charged at $0.013 per minute
  • From now until 12:00 am on Sunday, September 6th, those who signed up for the service will be charged $7.00 for 20 hours, then at the $0.013 per minute
  • All existing subscriptions have been cancelled, and all existing users will need to subscribe to the new plan once the door is open to subscriptions once more.

Bright Canopy are the first to admit this is hardly an ideal situation, and the hope is that it will be an interim measure, until more favourable terms can be introduced in the future, once a few more things have been put in place.

Discussing the situation with me, Bill Glover, Bright Canopy’s founder said, “It’s been a whiplash weekend. We had more than 1000 sign-ups in just a few hours and that actually worked really well.”

However, there were some niggling issues as the launch progressed into the weekend. Transitioning those users who had been on the beta / pre-launch service raised a few problems, as did the migration for those users best served by it to Bright Canopy’s US East coast POP, which also came on-stream as a part of the launch. It was while working on these issues the alarms started ringing around unconstrained cost risks due to the volume of use, forcing  Bright Canopy to take action.

Bill Glover: remarkable response to Bright Canopy forced a re-think in approach
Bill Glover: remarkable response to Bright Canopy forced a re-think in approach

“The alarms required us to throttle down use,” Bill told me. “When the experience suffered long wait times, I pulled the plug [on accepting subscribers]. We’re not going to charge people unless we can be sure this is going to be there for them and they will get value for the money.”

The throttling also meant that over the launch weekend, users were limited to one hour’s in-world time before they were disconnected and had to re-log. To compensate people for this, Bright Canopy have indicated they’ll not be charging anyone for their time over the weekend of 29th / 30th of August.

To understand why the pricing structure change was required despite the good response, it is necessary to understand how Bright Canopy is provisioned. Currently, when logging-in to the service, users are hosted on individual servers, supplied by Amazon’s Spot Instance bidding system. The problems here are twofold.

On the one hand, using an entire server to host just one user isn’t terribly efficient; Frame, as Bright Canopy’s infrastructure partner, are already working to offer more efficient means of hosting without impacting individual user’s experiences with Bright Canopy. On the other, and as I’ve previously reported, Amazon’s Spot Instance mechanism, so long the most cost-effective means of obtaining server space, has become subject of bidding wars which have caused sudden and unpredictable spikes in service pricing.

Spot Instance pricing with Amazon is making it difficult for Bright Canopy to firmly pin-down their monthly subscription price – click for full size
Volatility with Amazon’s Spot Instance pricing has caused huge fluctuations in pricing, making it had to predict how realistic fees charged by small start-ups like Bright Canopy are in meeting costs – click for full size

While Bright Canopy were aware of this, and developed contingencies they hoped would be sufficient to handle pricing fluctuations, etc., until such time as better hosting options were ready to roll, the sheer volume of demand for the service meant that these contingencies were burnt through in the course of the first weekend, thus prompting the current situation.

As noted earlier in this article, Bright Canopy hope the new plan will be an interim measure.  The problem here of course is that 20 hours + $0.013 a minute isn’t going to be that attractive an offering to users – something Bright Canopy is all too aware of. With many users spending tens of hours a week in-world, the additional costs could easily mount up, and so people are understandably going to be more focused on the potential for additional costs than on the potential for improved pricing down the road.

As a result of the overall situation, Bright Canopy have opted to keep the service suspended while discussions on the situation continue.

The announcement that Bright Canopy will remain down as they continue to try to work through the price / cost issues, as Tweeted and delivered via in-world message
The announcement that Bright Canopy will remain down as they continue to try to work through the price / cost issues, as Tweeted and delivered via in-world message

“We are verifying and double verifying so that when we come up, we stay up,” Bill said to me as the announcement was sent out.

I’ll have more updates on this as further information becomes available / announcements are made.

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