The New York Times ran a nice graphic on growth of Super Computers a couple of days ago. It has 2 tabs the first showing the relative size of of super computers based on geographic location.
The second tab titled Historical Computing Speeds is more interesting to me. It graphs a more than 10 thousand times improvement in top Super Computer compute speed from 1993 to 2008. It also shows more than 10 times improvement of compute speed in just the last 4 years.
If this trend continues, and there is no reason to believe it will not, we can expect a 10 petaflop (10,000 teraflops or ten billion billion operations per second) to rear its head sometime around the Fall of 2012.
It may be hard to get your head around how big of jump in compute power we have witnessed in the last 10 years. Today just 3 of the more than 3,456 server blades from today’s fastest super computer, IBM’s Roadrunner, has more compute speed than the fastest Super Computer in 1998. A physics problem that takes Roadrunner one week to do, would take the 1998 top Super Computer more than 20 years.
It is going to be very hard to compete running your own video game server infrastructure when 1 petaflop clouds are common place. There will likely be more than 30 different petaflop or faster clouds coming online in the next 4 years and well over 100 different petaflop clouds in the next 7 years (now take a look at the Top 100 Super Computers tab, all of these Super Computers have been built in the last 7 years – all are faster than 10 teraflops and the 10 teraflop record was not broken until 2001).
Keep in mind that most of these clouds are probably going to be running Linux (who wants to buy 3,500 copies of Windows Server 2008?).
You may be thinking – what do Super Computers have to do with game servers? Already more than a few of the world’s fastest Super Computers are owned by online video game companies (China’s game company The9’s World of Warcraft clusters make the list several times). As the major video game publishers work their way into the MMO video game space we can expect to see several more game companies make the top Super Computer list. Additionally, the expanding size of virtual worlds and online game worlds means that massive amounts of on the fly procedurally generated graphics are going to be required, something that can be very compute intensive when you need to do it for 500,000 gamers at the same time.
A one petaflop cloud might be able to host over 200 of today’s World of Warcraft server farms as big as The9 runs. It has been reported that The9 can support over 1 million concurrent online gamers playing World of Warcraft. This translates to the simple idea that, assuming you get enough network bandwidth connected, a single petaflop cloud will likely host today’s entire population of the World’s online gamers – concurrently !
Now we can go back and forth on my rough math and rougher assumptions in the paragraph above, however I believe it is quite reasonable to assume that there will be plenty of super cheap computing power hanging in clouds over the next few years. The question is: When will online video game companies adjust and capitalize on the new business model? And will China and India video game companies beat everyone else to the punch?
If you have not started playing with one already, it may be a good idea to start figuring out this cloud thing.