Last week, Blue Mars announced they were becoming a “cloud based service” featuring server side rendering. This led many people, including New World Notes’ Wagner James Au, to ask, could Second Life do the same? To settle the matter, Au posed the question to Linden Lab. Joe Miller (aka Joe Linden) the company’s VP of Platform and Technology Development offered a VERY interesting answer, stating:
“Rather than using the ‘cloud service’ metaphor here, it sounds like what you’re talking about is better termed ‘server-side rendering’ and streaming that content down to machines that would otherwise be unable to run a full 3D client. That is technically possible with Second Life, and we’ve actively demonstrated it internally, with a full Second Life client and all graphics settings set to maximum, while maintaining an impressive framerate. However, we’re not announcing any future plans for new ways to deliver Second Life today. While using the ‘cloud’ metaphor is a bit of a misnomer for the above, standing up a Second Life grid in the cloud is something that we already do; we have customers running instances of Second Life Enterprise in the cloud, and no dedicated hardware is required to stand up a private grid.”
Au then interpreted this as, “So if you pay for a private, firewalled version of Second Life, you can get the cloud option. For regular grid users, expect to access SL with a high-end computer for the foreseeable future.”
This is not entirely true, because the “cloud option” that some Second Life Enterprise customers are apparently using most likely does not provide server side rendering. A platform can operate “in a cloud” without providing server side rendering. Therefore, those paying for the private, firewalled version (Second Life Enterprise customers) and using the “cloud” option would still need high-end computers that meet the Second Life requirements, just like the rest of us. Joe Miller was simply using these particular SLE clients as an example of how they can and are running SL “on the a cloud.”
As for server side rendering (what most people are really interested in) Joe Miller said that they have “actively demonstrated it internally,” but they are “not announcing any feature plans today.” This is VERY interesting! I couldn’t believe how many people missed this important sentence! In fact, Joe Miller came back TWICE to comment and re-iterate it saying,
“I didn’t say there were no plans to offer server-side rendering. I said we had no plans to announce anything in that regard today. There is a big difference.”
“The facts are we can (and have) run the SL client on machines that render in the “cloud” and interactively stream that experience to laptops, netbooks, low-end computers, and mobile devices that otherwise aren’t capable of rendering rich 3D content on their own. That was the question that Hamlet asked.
It’s also true that we’re just not ready to make any announcements about how we might deploy such technology in the future. There are many factors involved in moving to such a model.”
While nobody can say for sure what this means, I think we can all read between the lines here and interpret this to mean that Linden Lab is looking at and considering options such as these and may even be working on something along these lines. Very exciting stuff!
Since the difference between “cloud computing” and server side rendering was very confusing for many of us, but obviously an important topic, as one of Second Life’s biggest limitations is it’s hardware requirements… I’ve asked Sand Castle Studios’ own Reed Steamroller to further explain what these terms mean and more importantly how do they affect Second Life and us. His synopsis is what follows.