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24.10.2013

An engineer, and a gamer’s, view of the Data Centre

I am going to take a break out from my normal engineering malarkey to talk about something very close to my heart, online gaming. Specifically, the massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG or “mu-morpaguh”) Eve Online. I feel presently, that it is the right time to highlight this particular game, as on Monday it has reached the mainstream news outlets for having the most concurrent users in the one place at the one time ever. Shooting each other with lasers, missiles, drones, and other such marvellous weapons of galactic destruction.

While the reality of having over 4000 users in the one place at the one time to wage interstellar war is an incredible feat of organisation, forward planning and monetary cost, the Eve commentators and even the BBC have more than adequately covered the blow by blow events, and the wonderful achievement it has been for online games.

However I want to discuss something fundamental to this. The Data Centre, and the online games we know and love/hate/are indifferent to. As a little bit of background, CCP, the developers of Eve Online have been reinventing and moulding the game for over 10 years, in fact, it has recently reached its 10 year anniversary since its single shard server Tranquillity, was brought online and users could mine, trade, shoot or scam their way in the Eve online universe. Originally the system was a small system with a couple of cabinets, but on the 23rd July 2010, CCPs new data centre was built and as of the 10 year anniversary, over 500,000 subscribers are served from here.

But then I had a thought. 500,000 subscribers, and when I jump online, around 40,000 users online on average at the same time, and one battle with 4000 players blowing each other up at the same time, in the same place. Those are big numbers. They’re HUGE numbers. Eve online is a hugely social game, with player run corporations and player driven economy. The games economy is so diverse, CCP employ its own economist Dr. Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, to oversee and monitor it. And all of this is hosted from a high density 12 Cabinet cluster of servers. The community is so vast, that every year CCP hosts Fanfest in their hometown of Reykjavik, Iceland where thousands of people from all over the world spend thousands of dollars, pounds and euros to make the trip for socialising, seminars and exploding spaceships. This is a community born from a Data Centre. And it’s the online community that keeps me coming back for more.

In terms of online hosting of competitions there are hundreds, Eve Online’s own Alliance Tournament XI, Call of Duty Elite eSports, a multitude of Starcraft 2 tournaments. The list is extensive, and is only ever going to get longer. And it all has to be hosted somewhere. Online tournament TV is available through services such as Twitch TV, for those who want to watch the tournaments live from their computer.

Then, let’s stretch the imagination a bit. Back in 80AD, the Colosseum in Rome could hold 50-80,000 people to watch the blood sport of their choice.  Currently in Ireland, our national sports stadium, Croke Park, can cater for 82,000 people. For a hurling game, that’s all those thousands of people watching 30 players duke it out for their county. England’s own Wembley Stadium can seat 90,000, to watch 22 players go at the UK’s national game. Essentially since the dawn of time we have sat together and watched two people/animals/objects in competition to find a victor, for sport. But now, there is a new forum. A new way of spectating, a whole new type of competition and interaction. In my opinion, The Data Centre is the new Hippodrome, a digital Circus Maximus. Now instead of having 22 players, we have thousands, all made available through the Data Centre. People from all over the world can log on, and watch these thousands of players, or, if they feel like it, participate. All elements of the experience are available to the spectator. In our current digital age, it’s akin to jumping out of the stands onto the pitch and nailing a volley into the back of the net.

To coin an often used term in Eve, “internet spaceships are serious business”.

Related articles: What impact does your XBOX have on the world’s data centres?

Bio: Seán Halpin is an Electrical Services Design Engineer at Future-tech EMEA. He has a passion for energy security, diversity and sustainability and has a keen interest in uninterruptible power supply technologies and efficiencies. Seán is currently engaged in a Masters for Energy and Sustainable Building Design, once completed he aims to progress for CEng status.

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