Friday, February 22, 2008

Virtual Business

Most of us remain skeptical about practical uses for virtual worlds. What we've seen of Second Life, for example--scantily clad avatars, simulated sex acts, bizarre creatures flying about--leaves us doubtful that it's a place where serious business or governance could be conducted. That's why we scratch our heads over the presence in world of many companies--Sears, Wired magazine, Reuters, Adidas, Sun Microsystems, Toyota, IBM-- let alone federal agencies such as NASA, NOAA, CDC and others.

But yesterday, IBM announced that it has developed a way to recreate companies' data centers in 3D in secure virtual worlds. Is there anything more deadly serious and businesslike than a data center? Hard to think of what it might be, so this might just begin to allay some skepticism.

Apparently, we all, even data center managers, think better in 3D than 2D, hence the desire for a synthetic, but wholly accurate, representation of servers, racks, networking, power and cooling equipment that data center managers can virtually walk through and monitor.

Here's how IBM's press release puts it:

"Viewing information about your data center in 2D text -- even in real time -- only tells a data center manager part of the story, because our brains are wired for sight and sound," said IBM researcher Michael Osias, who architected the 3D data center service. "By actually seeing the operations of your data center in 3D, even down to flames showing hotspots and visualizations of the utilization of servers allows for a clearer understanding of the enterprise resources, better informed decision-making and a higher level of interaction and collaboration."
A key advantage of visualization is that it lets managers "see" which machines aren't being used to full capacity so as to consolidate. Another advantage is being able to view how heat and energy flow within the center. Indeed, IBM made its first foray into virtual data centers in Second Life last year as part of an effort to conserve the huge amount of energy its own servers suck up.

The nation's data centers consumed in aggregate some 61 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity--1.5 percent of total U.S. consumption, at a cost of about $4.5 billion. My Goverment Executive magazine colleague Katherine McIntire Peters chronicled federal conservation efforts here.

The new virtual data center was built using IBM's virtual world integration middleware, Holographic Enterprise Interface in the OpenSim Application Platform for 3D Virtual Worlds for a Swiss construction company, Implenia. It uses the multiuser center to better manage heating, cooling, ventilation and security at dispersed data centers.

Companies with data centers in many locations already are beginning to manage them as a single computing pool. IBM argues that it can further improve on that model by allowing managers to collaborate across centers to make better and faster decisions. It touts the in-world instant messaging and shared 3-D experience of virtual centers that allow multiple users not only to manage and monitor current conditions, but also to play out "what ifs" for disaster recovery and to better deploy assets.

IBM says virtual data centers illustrate "the future of work and how business will be conducted in the 21st century workplace. " Could be.

Hat Tip: Virtual Worlds News

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