Second Life architect: boundary-crossing users present database, network management issues

 Calling Second Life a "virtual world" is selling their millions of devotees quite short. For so many, Second Life is an extension of this life.

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Calling Second Life a "virtual world" is selling their millions of devotees quite short. For so many, Second Life is an extension of this life. You know, the carbon-based- as opposed to the silicon-based- esistence.

For Second Life database architect Ian Wilkes, the limitless life-mirroring possibilities of Second Life creates consistent challenges. 

In his presentation at OSCON, Ian paid Open Source all due props.  

"Second Life wouldn't have happened without a massive foundation of Open Source," he said. "We need to rapidly change configurations globally and on the fly, related to the way users navigate or manage data."

Now this is where Second Life's indescribable uniqueness becomes challenging to manage on a technical but practical level. 

"There are a lot of interesting artifacts in Second Life," said Wilkes. "People go across regional boundaries and are interested in networked effects. They want global communication and global services within Second Life, such as broadband data and video streams, but the network slows down."

Ah yes, Ian. Networks, their characteristics and their temperamental proclivities. A fact of life in this First Life. 

"I did a count recently, and over an entire cluster there are five million user processes going on at any given time," Ian told us. "There's geographical mapping at the front end, but at the back end you are looking at a huge cross-connect where data stores can be movable."

Moving data stores- now that will keep your back-end (in both senses of the term) busy.

Another big issue for Second Life: what about opening up APIs so that Second Life applications could be exported into other functions, kind of like Google Earth and Google Maps are now.

Admitting that Second Life "right now is a walled garden," Ian did not sound totally convinced that opening up their platform and releasing code would be all that useful. The reason is not so much a corporate culture of proprietariness as much as the arguable contention that doing so isn't all that necessary. 

" People are reverse engineering our network protocol to get at our data," Ian said, "and writing ecommerce applications and other tools to help them in Second Life businesses."

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