Turbine's a Fan of Blades

Online gaming company plans major blade deployment to support the launch of two highly promoted games

August 6, 2005

3 Min Read
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Online gaming company Turbine Inc. is deploying 1000 blade servers in an AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T) data center over the coming months to support the launch of its new games.

Internet gaming is big business these days: Analyst firm DFC Intelligence estimates that the worldwide market for online games was worth $1.9 billion in 2003, although this figure is expected to jump to $5.2 billion next year and $9.8 billion by 2009.

Turbine wants its piece of the action. It currently offers two versions of its Asherons Call game via the Internet. These run on 200 rackmounted Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL) servers at one of AT&T’s Internet Data Centers in Linwood, Wash. However, Turbine also uses 50 Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) processor-based blade servers, also from Dell, at another AT&T data center in Watertown, just outside Boston. The Watertown facility is used to support Turbine’s day-to-day operations, such as billing.

With the launch of two high-profile games over the next 18 months, Turbine has had to rethink its data center strategy. The company is adding 1000 more Dell blade servers to the Watertown site. Some 400 of these will be used to support Dungeons & Dragons, which will launch later this year, and the remaining 600 will power Lord of the Rings, which will be available in late 2006.

Both the Linwood and Watertown sites rely on Gigabit Ethernet to connect their servers, and the new hardware will bring Turbine’s total server tally to around 1,300 by the end of the year.Turbine's move to blades was prompted by two things: flexibility and space constraints, according to Mike Hogan, Turbine's vice president for technology and operations. The exec tells NDCF that blades let the company “reduce the footprint at the facility and make it easier to fix things if something breaks. You don’t have the issue of having to unbolt one or two rack-unit-high units.”

Previously, cost was a major sticking point for data center managers looking to deploy blade servers in large numbers. But not any more, says Hogan (see Research & Markets Scopes Blades. ”It has now got to the point where the prices are at the right price point,” he says.

Dell, for example, recently introduced new features for its PowerEdge 1855 blades, which it claims can reduce the technology’s total cost of ownership (see Dell Intros New Blades and Dell Releases Blade Server).

Turbine originally developed games for Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), although the company went its own way in 2003 when it purchased all the intellectual property of Asheron’s from the software giant. This also prompted the move into the AT&T data centers -- previously, Microsoft had hosted the company’s servers.

With its Microsoft background, it is hardly surprising that Turbine’s servers run Windows 2003. But are there any plans to use Linux, which is regarded as both a flexible and cost-effective blade option? (See IDC Sees Growth in Linux, Blade Servers.)Hogan is of two minds about this. ”My network operations people would love it if we were on Linux,” he admits. "[But] it’s a question of how much risk does it add to our existing projects.” One challenge, he adds, would be testing the Linux servers.

The exec is also considering a new virtualization feature that AT&T will introduce in its hosting centers in December. This will enable users to run multiple applications on the same server and set policies to manage the applications (see AT&T to Host Shanghai). Hogan says that this could prove invaluable when Turbine launches new games. “In the first few days of a game launch, a lot of people want to sign up and play the game for many hours. One of the challenges is how to get that capacity in place without having to invest in additional hardware.”

Hogan is unwilling to divulge either the value of Turbine’s deal with AT&T or the number of players currently using its games.

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum

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