Friday, August 20, 2010

Reducing World of Warcraft's Power Consumption

Taiwanese researchers' special take on virtualization means far fewer servers and less energy


Image: Blizzard Entertainment

19 August 2010—Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) such as World of Warcraft consume a lot of their players' time. They also consume a lot of energy, as more than a thousand servers can be required to create one game's virtual worlds. Last year, Yeng-Ting Lee, a 26-year-old online game fanatic, began to wonder if there was an easy way to reduce their energy consumption. Lee, who is a research assistant at the Institute of Information Science, Academia Sinica, in Taipei, Taiwan, says he has found a way to cut MMORPG power consumption in half. Last month he revealed the solution at the IEEE Cloud 2010 conference.

The computing needs of online gaming firms can be hard to meet. MMORPGs' hourly and daily workloads fluctuate widely, because many people don't or can't play during work hours or on weekdays, and each firm often plays host to several games at once.

Firms in the online gaming industry tend to have more computational power than they really need. One main reason is that their games use a so-called sharded architecture. Multiple identical game worlds, known as "realms" to the more than 10 million players in World of Warcraft, allow the game to be divided up into virtual worlds containing manageable populations. But servers must be capable of satisfying the largest population, even if the actual population playing in a given realm is much smaller. Such a design can be a headache, because as long as one player is active in a realm, the machine serving that realm cannot be shut down. And a nearly idle machine can still consume 60 percent of the energy of a fully loaded one.

Lee's adviser, Kuan-Ta Chen (now known as Sheng-Wei Chen), a 34-year-old assistant research fellow at the institute, is an experienced gamer. He says that the industry is desperately seeking a more cost-effective way to run their business.

Chen and Lee devised a "zone-based server consolidation strategy" to help MMORPGs reduce their power consumption. It takes advantage of the fact that players interact mostly with others situated near them within a virtual world, a property they call "spatial locality."

The researchers partitioned a game world into multiple disjoint "zones." They consider such a zone a perfect unit of computational effort that can be dispatched to whatever servers are available.

They used the zone divisions as the basis for turning a number of real servers into virtual machines. Virtualization, a strategy that is sweeping the server field, emulates one or more virtual computers within a physical one. The software installed in a virtual computer runs as it does in a physical one, and the virtual machine can be moved from one physical computer to another without causing interruption.

In Lee and Chen's system, if a game's virtual world contains n zones, it can be served by n processes. Each process can reside in its own virtual machine, or VM. VMs can be added and removed as zones fill with or empty of players, allowing the computing needs of a virtual world to scale up or down quickly and easily.

Using a set of real-life player statistics from World of Warcraft, collected over 273 days in 2006 at a Taiwan-based realm, Lee and Chen conducted a simulation of their idea. The simulation suggested that by reallocating the computing needs of each zone every hour, the number of servers needed could be reduced by 52 percent and electricity consumption by 62 percent. And it can all be done without degrading the user experience, says Chen.

"For the application in the gaming industry, we evaluate that about 30 percent of investment in servers could be saved," Chen says.

Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft's creator, wouldn't comment on its server strategy or Lee and Chen's scheme. Gilbert Hsieh, technical director at Taiwan-based Gamania Digital Entertainment, says that his company, which develops and distributes online game software, will use Lee and Chen's server-consolidation strategy. "It's based on the avatar behavior in the real world. We've decide to work with the team for at least one year to learn how good the effectiveness could be when the strategy is applied on our products," Hsieh says, though he expects that virtualization might somewhat compromise the performance of the company's servers.

About the Author

Yu-Tzu Chiu is a Taipei-based reporter. In the August 2010 issue of IEEE Spectrum, she detailed Taiwan's ambitious foray into cloud computing.


Friday, August 06, 2010

邁向永續需要角色轉移 --從消費者到文化先鋒


 地球資源的有限性在人口爆炸時代裡持續引發關注,但無論是政策導向或採用綠色科技去盯緊生產端,都無法解決問題核心:為因應快速成長的消費需求,地球資源已經過度開採。美國看守世界研究中心(Worldwatch Institute)指出,人類已經超用三分之一地球可供應的資源,最根本的解決方案就是透過文化轉型,擺脫消費主義引領的價值觀,轉往環境永續的關懷面向。

 該中心在年初出版的「2010世界現況: 文化轉型(State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures)」一書中指出,已內化於各社會中的消費主義,正透過商業、教育、媒體、政策等面向,蓄意形塑著價值觀、符號、信仰、習慣、規範與制度,不斷撩撥起消費慾望。 這些文化規範,操弄著人們種種行為,從食衣住行到休閒娛樂方式,無所不包。人們對於消費符號、口號與品牌耳熟能詳,並在消費行為中找到意義、滿足與歸屬 感。消費得起愈多商品與服務,就被認為愈成功與幸福。

 本書計畫主持人艾利克‧阿沙杜利安(Erik Assadourian) 表示,要推動這種文化轉型,必須不只針對已開發國家的消費者,也得影響發展中國家的菁英消費族群。這些人於消費主義浸潤中成長,並依照市場機制與文化規範 定義幸福與快樂,這樣的消費模式直接導致過度剝削資源與生態災難。「如果人類想安住於一個永續的世界,此刻必須進行文化轉型。讓消費主義不再是常態,而是將永續的生活方式視為理所當然。」他說。

 書中還引述了普林斯頓大學生態學者帕卡拉( Stephen Pacala)的研究結果指出:世界上最富有的五億人排放了全世界約一半的二氧化碳,而那些最貧窮三十億人卻只排放百分之六。這雖然只是從二氧化碳排放量觀察,也可一窺地球資源在貧富之間不成比例消耗的不公平現象。


 高消費的生活方式能確保幸福嗎?答案因人而異。但可以肯定的是它有不少後遺症:工作壓力變大、負債增加、病痛纏身、死亡風險升高。當今主要死因不外乎癌症、 心肺疾病、糖尿病、以及車禍等等,而這些與生活方式極有關連,像是抽煙、工作久坐、飲食中少蔬果、以及長期體重過重等等。

 該書指出,許多看似常態的社會現象,都是文化價值觀使然。1960年代,從二戰後逐漸富裕起來的日本社會中,只有電扇、洗衣機、以及電鍋被認為是幸福生活的條件。之後,汽車、冷氣及彩色電視也被列入「生活必需品」清單。美國2006年調查顯示,83% 的美國人認為烘衣機是必需品。另外有些物品出現的歷史儘管不長卻也需求孔急:有一半的美國人認為必須擁有手機,約三分之一的美國人認為高速上網的服務也是必需品。

消費習性 難改

 耶魯大學在 2009 年公布「全球暖化的六種美國(Global Warming's Six Americas)」民意調查,呈現出美國大眾對全球暖化從不相信(dismissive)到很相信並警覺(alarmed)六類不同等級的態度。2010年七月份公布的最新調查顯示,不相信暖化的人數略有下降,而因暖化有所警醒的人數已經提升。不過,調查發現,大部分警醒與關心暖化議題的人會根據企業應對氣候變遷議題的表現,以消費行為去鼓勵或制裁該公司,卻只有極少數願意成為倡導者或者義工去提倡解決方案。

 美國環境作家克莉斯汀•麥唐諾(Christine MacDonald)說,人們通常不關心也不了解該如何把美國式的生活變得更永續。一般人要直到生態大難臨頭,才能完全明瞭全球暖化的後果。

 麥唐諾曾是資深記者,後來轉往大型環保組織任職。在 2008 年出版的「當環保變成企業 (Green Inc.: An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone Bad)」一書中,她仔細檢驗有如大型企業般運作的跨國環保組織,並點出部分坐領高薪的環保領導人士的作為甚至無異於企業 CEO 的腐化與不環保:例如常搭私人客機與開昂貴名車。


角色 必須轉換


 台大政治系助理教授林子倫認為,每個人都可產生強大力量去影響社會行為。以飲食為例,台灣從關懷生態角度出發並推動素食的宗教力量就不容小覷。但人們也不該只把自己定位為消費者,還要提升公民意識。「不要認為自己只是政府的顧客,政府提供怎樣的政策服務就只能被動接受。如果是公民,就會更積極參與公共事務並 促成政策甚至結構性的改變。」



Sunday, August 01, 2010

Taiwan Sees Clouds in Its Forecast

The nation plans to invest hundreds of millions to seed cloud-computing efforts

By Yu-Tzu Chiu / August 2010

Think Taiwan and you think manufacturing, not services. But the island's government wants to change that. Taiwan plans to invest NT $24 billion (US $744 million) in the development of cloud-computing technology and services over the next five years. The government predicts that the cloud-computing sector will be worth US $31 billion globally by 2014 and wants its industry to get involved now in order to get a piece of it. Cloud computing uses the Internet and remote servers to store data and run applications for devices such as computers and smartphones.

"We should take advantage of Taiwan's strong information and communications technology industry, further upgrading it in order to seize business opportunities involving cloud-computing technology," Premier Den-yih Wu told reporters in April. Officials said that the development of the technology would help push integration among the hardware, software, and service industries, so that eventually Taiwan would be able to export cloud services.

According to Wu's administration, the government's five-year investment is expected to be matched by NT $112.7 billion in investments from the private sector, including NT $12.7 billion for R&D. The government estimates the efforts will create 50 000 new jobs.

To speed things along, Wu ordered the establishment of a cabinet-level advisory task force, to help government agencies choose projects to fund and find ways to remove barriers to investment in private sector cloud efforts.

Ming-ji Wu, director general of the Department of Industrial Technology under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, told reporters that the government cash will go to help with supply, demand, and governance of cloud-computing services. On the supply side, it will go toward the integration of cloud-computing systems, data centers, application software, new products, broadband networks, and testing mechanisms. On the demand side, the government is building its own cloud to combine the information systems in over 4000 government agencies nationwide into two or three cloud-computing centers to be located at the country's science-based industrial parks.

The government push follows some investment by foreign firms. Last November, Microsoft signed a deal with the Taiwanese government to jointly establish a cloud-computing research center. Microsoft inked a separate agreement with Taiwan's largest phone company, Chunghwa Telecom, allowing the carrier to deploy the Windows Azure operating system for its cloud-technology applications.

Though its hopes for the cloud-computing initiative are high, Taiwan's track record with government science and technology programs is spotty. Just weeks after the plan was announced, the Control Yuan, the highest supervisory organ of the central government, censured the National Science Council for poorly designing seven ongoing national science and technology programs. According to the Control Yuan, by the end of 2008, NT $84.15 billion had been invested in those programs, but little of industrial use had been gained.

Many other large, cross-agency programs besides those censured by the Control Yuan are also failing, says Chih-cheng Lo, an associate professor of political science at Soochow University in Taipei. "The policymaking process deserves improvement," he says.