Ebbe and Oz talk Second Life in the cloud

Credit: Linden Lab / Amazon Web Services Inc.

It’s a huge effort. Right now the Second Life grid is a proprietary set-up in a hosting facility that we have customised for the purposes of what we’re doing – which made sense a decade and half ago. But these days, with the services from Google and Amazon and Microsoft with cloud infrastructures, it makes a lot of sense to shift our technologies to be on top of those cloud infrastructures instead of having our own.

Ebbe Altberg, VWPBE, March 15th, 2018.

That the Lab is working on moving Second Life to the cloud is becoming more and more widely known. First mentioned by Landon Linden (aka, Landon McDowell, the Lab’s Chief Product Officer) during his SL14B Meet the Lindens session, it was “officially” announced in August 2017 via a blog post.

Landon Linden, June 2017, talking about the Lab’s hope to move Second Life services to the cloud.

It’s a long-term project, which will extend well into 2019 (at least), building on a relationship with Amazon dating back to 2008, and which today both Blocksworld and Sansar (see: “Project Sansar”: an Amazon ECS case study), from which the Lab hope to gain a range of benefits, including – in time – perhaps the opportunity to offer a broader range of products at more comfortable (for users) price points.

There are some significant technology challenges the Lab faces with the move. However, progress is being made. Some non-user visible services are already running in the cloud, and more recently, the Lab has started preliminary testing with cloud-based simulators – although they are fair from ready for users to access, as Oz Linden outlined at the March 16th TPV Developer meeting:

We have actually run experimental regions on cloud servers, and it worked. There were some functional limitations that we have to do a lot of work to solve before we could begin to do regions that ordinary users can get to … It’s something we’re pursuing as aggressively as we can [but] I’m not even sure we have a sufficiently comprehensive view of the problems … some of them will only become apparent as we actually put things into production.

Oz Linden, TPVD meeting, March 16th, 2018 – full audio below.

Oz Linden, March 16th, 2018, talking about progress to date, and how things are likely to progress.

For the Lab, the benefits of the move to the cloud include things like a reduction in their capital expenditure  – no need to maintain their own dedicated hardware (or continuously update / replace it) within a dedicated operating environment. It also means they can more dynamically scale consumption according to needs – this could be beneficial for a number of the back-end systems within Second Life.

It turns it into less capital expenditure to have to buy all the equipment and doing all the maintenance on that. You kind-of pay for what you use; with Second Life [right now], once we’ve bought a piece of hardware, we have to sit on it whether it’s being utilised or not, whereas you can kind-of dynamically scale your consumption as necessary when you use something like AWS … which we believe will reduce costs for use and then ultimately, we hope to pass that on to customers.

Ebbe Altberg, VWBPE, March 15th 2018.

Once the transition has been completed and the Lab has had time to evaluate things, the move might allow them to offer a more varied land product – something again touched upon in Ebbe Altberg’s 2018 VWBPE address, and allow them to more extensively “re-balance” the revenue model – something that is also an ongoing project at the Lab.

We’re really thinking hard about the economic model of Second Life. We share a belief inside the Lab that land is quite expensive. so we’re constantly looking at ways to lower land prices and find other ways to find revenues. So I think you will see us try to shift from what I would say [are] high real estate taxes to more consumption taxes or fees to create an environment where it’s easy for people to create and own experiences, and we [the Lab] participate more in all the transactions that take place.

Ebbe Altberg, VWBPE, March 15th, 2018.

Given that land tier provides the lion’s share of the Lab’s revenue, this re-balancing is far from easy to say nothing of the potential for user outcry at any fee increases). Ergo, having better means to lower fees such as through reduced operating costs and a broader spread of more “affordable” products could – depending on the time frames involved – go a long way towards helping the Lab achieving that re-balancing goal.

So what might the move to the cloud mean for users? That’s hard to quantify at the moment, simply because the project has so far to go.However, some hints at what might happen have been offered.

For one thing – and on the subject of different land products – it might allow the Lab to offer two broad categories of region / server type; I’ll call them “always on” and “on demand”.

  • “Always on” would be simulators running 24/7 as with SL at present. These would be ideal for handling Mainland, large open spaces like Blake Sea and the larger, contiguous private estates. Such regions might have a similar type of fixed-fee tier cost associated with them as we have today (although not necessarily the same price points).
  • “On demand” would be simulators that are only active (and charged for) when in active use. When devoid of avatars, they are saved to disk and spun down. These types of region could be ideal for special events, or for private business / residential regions which don’t have any surrounding regions, and would only be charged for when avatars are present; once the last avatar leaves, following an appropriate pause, the region is saved, and the instance spun-down.

Such an approach has been alluded to by Ebbe Altberg:

Some experiences might want to have continuous persistence over time, and maybe that’s one type of pricing model, for an “always on” type of scenario. Maybe other will be fine with, “hey, I’m only using this for a few hours in a class a few times a week” or something. and if that can spin-up in a few seconds, and then I just need to basically pay for the time that I’m utilising it. Those could be potential options for us to explore.

Ebbe Altberg, VWBPE, March 15th, 2018.

Land offerings could be broadened in other ways. Again, as Ebbe Altberg indicated at VWBPE 2018, there might be high-performance, high-capacity, “upper tier” servers available for those needing them for specific uses (e.g. events need high concurrency levels or similar), sitting alongside more moderate, lower-cost servers for things like residential use.

More intriguingly, cloud hosting might even allow the Lab to more readily geo-locate simulators / regions with their physical world audience. Such regions wouldn’t necessarily have to be grouped together in-world, they are simply located a lot close to the user base that most frequently uses them, potentially improving performance for that audience.

Today we are located in the US, which means that people from Australia or Asia or Europe have to travel quite a ways, which is hundreds of extra milliseconds of latency. So if you want to have a very dedicated community in Australia or somewhere, we could maybe start to distribute our server infrastructure to be closer to where the actual customers of those regions are, which would make things more performant.

Ebbe Altberg, VWBPE, 15th, March 2018.

There will be more to come on SL and the cloud and the Lab provide further updates as the work progresses, and I’ll hopefully report on them as they are made public. In the meantime, and for those who haven’t waded all the way through the VWBPE 2018 video with Ebbe Altberg (and Brett Linden), or who don’t want to read either my transcript of that event or the bullet-point summary, here’s the audio of Ebbe’s comments on SL and the cloud:

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Ebbe and Oz talk Second Life in the cloud

  1. “On demand” is fine. But the need to drop the idea that you pay for the time you use it. Judt a fixed price. And shutdown if nit used.

    A: It makes secondlife still very expensive. Because it’s still used for many hours. And you not want to have unknown costs. I think it did nkt work at the end in opensim platform to.

    B: It’s good fir new type of grieving, somebody culd keep the sim alive and create a big bill for the owner.

    Like

    1. “On demand” is fine. But the need to drop the idea that you pay for the time you use it. Just a fixed price. And shutdown if nit used.

      Sure, make the wrong choice in payment plan, and you could end up running up costs – but offering an “on demand” payment option could still be attractive to certain groups of users.

      Take, for example, those who have a private island home, but only spend perhaps 10-20% of their time in-world actually there, and the rest of the time they are “out and about” in SL, visiting events, socialising with friends, roleplaying, and so on? The “On Demand” option means they know they are only paying for their region while they are actually using it, and can budget accordingly. Fixed price means they’ll still be paying for it for the 70-80% of their in-world time they are not actually using it.

      B: It’s good fir new type of grieving, somebody culd keep the sim alive and create a big bill for the owner.

      That’s why I emphasised private residential regions for the “on demand” – people can use access lists to ensure only those they wish to have visit their home can do so, and so eliminate costs.

      That said, I agree that “on demand” pricing can be complicated, and as you point out, it was tried on OpenSim (Kitely), and perhaps proved too complex – although they also had a layer wherein those visiting certain regions would actually pay for their time in those regions).

      Another option might be for “land subscription packs” (NOT something the Lab has indicated, purely and off-the-top-of-my-head idea): pay $X for a full region per month; pay $XX for a full region + three (or four?) homesteads; $XXX for some other combination (2 full and 6 or 8 homesteads?).

      This is perhaps something that would benefit privates estates, although admittedly there is the issue of many estates having a preponderance of Homesteads, so things could get a little sticky balancing things out. It perhaps has the advantages of a) still tying homesteads to Full regions (necessary in some ways to prevent SL’s land mass ridiculously exploding without any substantive increase in user numbers, as per 2008 with the initial launch of “Enhanced OpenSace” (later Homesteads) and leading to claims SL is “empty”; b) it doesn’t disrupt the current land most used by private estates in renting-out regions while allowing them to take advantage of any price reduction that might eventually come out of the move.

      There are a lot of possible directions the Lab might take – so it’s going to be a case of watching and waiting, once they get things fully transitioned to the cloud.

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on Diomita and Jenny Maurer’s Blog and commented:
    Second Life moving into a cloud? I first thought, that will not change a thing for me as a user. But it does in several ways. First of all, Linden Lab will be able to turn fix costs into variable costs. That might help them to increase earnings and hence helps to keep Second Life running. Good News!
    But there’s more that might change by the move. Nowadays Linden Lab’s revenues mostly depend on land tiers and as land is quite expensive it limits growth – revenues are more likely decreasing today. The move into a cloud might offer new pricing models based on usage, something that doesn’t frighten most users off as much as regular recurring payments do.
    Right now the move into a cloud is decided but there’s no fixed date for it yet. The plans about a new pricing model aren’t yet fixed either, there’re just ideas.
    Inara Pey’s blog post gives us some insight of what to expect. I look forward to the change and I hope it will be a smooth move with only little unavailability of Second Life.

    Like

Have any thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.