In this edition of Voices of the Industry, Phillip Marangella, CMO of EdgeConneX shares insights on the infrastructure that will be needed to support the emerging Metaverse.
It’s been said that modern gaming has single-handedly revolutionized the concept of storytelling, taking what used to be passive listeners, readers, and viewers, and putting them in full control of their own stories, each game instance unique, every outcome different, all driven by the actions a players chooses to take or not take inside the gaming environment. In the best games, the player becomes the storyteller.
Similarly, up to now the Internet, while interactive and content-rich, has delivered a fairly passive user experience. Clicking and tapping, reading, watching, listening, typing in comments, forms, or URLs, but typically retrieving data or content to be consumed. But looking ahead, there is the promise of a more immersive Internet, where users will interact digital versions of other people, places, things, and experiences – the Metaverse.
In the Metaverse, users – and, presumably, devices – can be defined as participants and interact in personal, professional, and recreational activities within a modified, extended form of augmented and virtual reality. Virtual business meetings, travel, social gatherings, commercial activities, creative projects and communal entertainment like concerts, cinema, escape rooms, and more, all within an ecosystem one step removed from the physical world we all inhabit.
The social, ethical, psychological, and political implications of this new habitat will be defined and debated endlessly elsewhere. Our concern here is the impact this shift could conceivably have on how data, transactions, applications, and analytics are collected, stored, shared, and executed for a world with no physical boundaries.
The infrastructure to support a concept as bold as the Metaverse cannot be limited to a small number of physical locations. It needs to be extensive even as it needs to feel local and exhibit ultra-low latency. We know already that Virtual Reality devices can cause their users to feel ill if latency or lost packets cause the VR experience to stutter or stall. And, while it continues to grow at a solid CAGR, if VR experiences were already optimal the industry would be selling more devices than it is today.
Extrapolating those VR requirements to a wider, more powerful virtual environment will require smooth audio-visual streaming and synchronization. Will there be an equivalent to adaptive bit-rate processing for the Metaverse? Will the first 30 seconds of a user’s Metaverse experience suffer from low-res visuals and audio? Will users accept sub-optimal results initially as a trade-off for a fresh new, unprecedented experience? How quickly can the minimal infrastructure be built and made operational?
These questions don’t address things like security, acceptable meta-social behaviors, authentication, or other critical topics that will affect how users respond to this promising new environment.
In a recent post, Matthew Ball, co-founder of Ball Metaverse Research Partners, and Jason Navok, CEO at Genvid Technologies, note that, while it’s true that cloud and network processing are accelerating, end user device processors are accelerating at a faster pace, suggesting that a large portion of metaverse processing will take place locally on the device. However, even if we stipulate that they have it exactly right, that still leaves massive amounts of data, metadata, and processing power that will be needed off-device but still relatively close to end users.
No matter how those issues are resolved, it seems safe to assume a Metaverse that might be adopted by businesses worldwide, and by millions of people and billions of devices, will require an infrastructure that can scale to meet some fairly universal requirements, including:
- Proximity, to minimize latency and ensure that content and other assets can be stored at optimal points in the Metaverse network fabric.
- Power that responsibly serves the needs of the servers, storage, networking, and cooling that are crucial elements of any data center.
- Connectivity that ensures Metaverse experiences are delivered smoothly, rapidly, and across any distance to reach virtual communities worldwide.
- Sustainability, as a key focus for each of the requirements listed above, to minimize the environmental impact of new construction, new power sources, and new markets not historically considered to be data center hubs.
As we have noted previously, as flexible as it has proven to be, the Internet was not originally designed to deliver experiences like the Metaverse ubiquitously and with the speed and consistency that the platform will require. Today, even the most massively communal gaming experiences are limited by how many users can join and play at any given time, partly due to processing demands and partly due to network limitations. So, while it has evolved a lot from its earliest days, the changes needed for a true, global Metaverse will require more, faster evolution, effectively re-architecting the Internet with a greater recognition of processing, storage, and networking that will require a global fabric of edge data centers.
The Metaverse may very well revolutionize how people socialize, how they transact business, how they share knowledge and experiences, how they travel, and much, much more. But if it can’t be available to everyone everywhere, if it causes damage to the planet, or if it can’t deliver a smooth, seamless user experience, it will not thrive.
Only time will tell how the adoption rates might grow in markets around the world. Still, just as gaming has revolutionized the nature of human storytelling, the Metaverse has the potential to be a pivotal step in evolution. The stories will be endless, the storytelling unlike anything we’ve ever imagined, the collaborative process leading to problem-solving at the speed of a fiber connection. But the vision cannot become reality without an infrastructure that extends from core to edge and sustainably scales to deliver this new kind of universe wherever humans choose to go.
This article was written by Phillip Marangella, CMO of EdgeConneX, a data center provider helping cloud service providers around the world get an edge over competitors by giving their customers the easy, economical, fast cloud they expect. Contact EdgeConneX to learn more about designing an infrastructure built for the Metaverse.