(Ping! Zine Issue 51) – What does it take to host a world? Not just any world – a world beaming with digital life – whether it be millions of players partnering up to take on monsters, fighting amongst themselves, leveling, selling and trading digital goods and weaponry, or traveling long distances across vast landscapes. Yes, we’re talking about online gaming. But have you ever wondered more specifically what technological ingenuity goes behind making such a platform possible?
Like any online presence, the centerpiece of powering the online gaming world is the data center. Blizzard, the popular game developer behind titles like the World of WarCraft, StarCraft and most recently, Diablo III has certainly expanded its technical footprint as demand for hosting its gaming worlds has increased with rising popularity.
In 2009, the world was given a glimpse of what Blizzard required to pull off providing for millions of gamers constantly playing three of the most popular titles in PC gaming history. The occurrence happened at the Game Developer’s Conference in Austin.
According to a report from Data Center Knowledge, Blizzard employees Frank Pearce and Allen Brack detailed Blizzard data center statistics, most notably referring to the fact that the hugely popular game developer had been hosting with AT&T for nearly a decade. At the time, the two indicated an impressive infrastructure with ten data center facilities operating on a global scale – located in areas like California, Germany, China, France, Sweden, Texas and Taiwan.
At the time, slightly over thirteen thousand server blades were operating seventy five thousand CPU cores, according to the report. Overseeing the vast operation were 68 employees. And since the release of Diablo 3, we can only imagine how much the scope of things has grown.
Earlier this year, game and tech enthusiasts alike got a further look at a critical piece of Blizzard engineering when the game developer auctioned off hundreds of server blades that formerly powered realms for the World of WarCraft, according to Geek.com. The types of blades were HP p-Class and the auctions went to a good cause, benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Each, now seen as collectible memorabilia, featured plaques accounting for how long the servers operated, a description of why the hardware was so integral to the game along with Blizzard employee signatures.
“Blizzard Entertainment has carefully preserved and archived our retired server blades, releasing only a limited number for a noble cause. To us, this server blade is more than just hardware: within the circuits and hard drive, a world of magic, adventure, and friendship thrived. From fishing in quiet lakes to defeating Arthas in Icecrown Citadel, this blade was home to thousands of immersive experiences across the world of Azeroth and beyond. We thank you for the safekeeping of this important part of our history,” read one of the sold tech items.
Whoever said technology can’t surpass its initial use after all?
Last year, tech giant Sony faced any provider’s worst nightmare when a data breach forced the company to pull its PlayStation network offline. The company had to revamp technical security standards during downtime that persisted for over three weeks. Ouch! Surely, there were quite a few unhappy PlayStation 3 owners. Like Blizzard, Sony housed some of its data center infrastructure at an AT&T-owned facility. It’s located in San Diego, California. However, when the massive attack hit, Sony had its sights on a data center resource transfer. That’s right, the company worked to expedite the process, transferring PlayStation Network hosting to a data center it had been working to construct for some time, according to a press release on the company’s blog in May of 2011. It appears the new data center came online just in time to save the day.
If you’re a user of social network Facebook (of course you are!), you’re probably familiar with the game FarmVille. Even if you don’t play the title, you’ve more than likely experienced an invite or two from social network friends. So how is the world of social gaming powered? Zynga, the game developer behind the title partly relies on power and infrastructure from Amazon’s cloud platform. And as of July 2011, the company had set its sights on eventually constructing more of its own infrastructure. That much was revealed when the company filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last year. During that time when entering its initial public offering (IPO), the game developer signaled that it was its goal “to invest more in play than any company in history.” Zynga said: “To accomplish this, we will continue to make big investments in servers, data centers and other infrastructure so players’ farms, cities, islands, airplanes, triple words and empires can be available on all their devices in an instant.”
Then of course, you have specific hosting providers specifically directing their services towards the needs of multiplayer game developers. Enter hosting provider dx, a company that lists some of its clients as EA, Capcom and Microsoft. “Unlike traditional hosting companies dx is solely focused on the gaming industry. With over two decades of expertise in building solutions that consistently deliver performance to meet and exceed our client’s requirements dx has both the knowledge and the track record for delivering,” reads the company’s About Us section 0ia dx.net.
And with multiplayer gaming becoming increasingly popular, perhaps hosts like dx have a point. Could we see more providers gearing their services more specifically towards the online game platform? Only time will tell.
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