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Game On

Typically at this week of the year, I'd be in Los Angeles, where I step into a phone booth and emerge as my heretofore-unknown alter ego, Video Games Reporter. (Don't give away my secret, OK?)
The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 to the gaming masses, is where the year's new products, games and other innovations are finally unveiled, setting up the rest of the year and especially the crucial holiday selling season in November/December. It's usually a blast and a chance to take the pulse of a piece of popular culture that, believe it or not, outgrosses Hollywood's movie theater take (not counting DVDs). I didn't go this year, as it happens, but I'm watching from afar, as are many of you server admins who blow off steam when you get home by slaying some aliens or driving through the mean streets of Vice City.

But....what's it got to do with servers? Way more than you might guess, actually. More and more, video gaming is becoming a server-dependent platform, and some of this week's announcements bear that out. The hugely popular online "massively multiplayer" game World Of Warcraft is set for a huge expansion that should boost its player numbers over the 6 million mark, according to the New York Times. Do your company's servers have to serve 6 million customers? There's a lot that could be learned from the administrators of games such as World Of Warcraft or Everquest about uptime, server optimization, and wide-area efficiency. What about cross-platform? Well, Microsoft's news is a new online network that'll let players mix and match from different gaming platforms--the Xbox 360, games running under Windows Vista (whenever it comes out), and even games on cell phones using Windows CE. I'll bet Microsoft is going to use the newest version of Virtual Server to sort out those data streams on its network servers.

I've always said that games lead the way for innovation and expansion in much of tech. It's been the case for computers forever--it's gamers who have to have the newest graphics boards, fastest speeds and most capacity, and who drive those expansions much faster than the corporate enterprise market. And now it's the case as well for servers. Serving 6 million players for World Of Warcraft is an authentication, service and optimization task for servers that rivals anything happening in the corporate world, even the most aggressive supercomputing clusters (which may well be what it amounts to). It takes a lot of work to be able to play.