Rather than build a virtual world for online gaming or to give users an alternative
reality, Big Blue made a virtual world where IT executives can examine and manipulate
hardware running in their very real data centers. The IBM project -- called
3-D Data Center -- gives IT shops a 3-dimensional, real-time virtual view of
their data center resources, even if they are spread across the globe.
"It's a new way to look at systems and interact with them," says
IBM researcher Michael Osias, the man behind this new idea. "Objects aren't
just visualizations. You can think of them as little machines."
So instead of battling wizards and warriors, data center administrators get
to play with their servers and storage. And it does look something like a game,
even if it is not one, Osias notes. IBM contends its new technology will help
businesses identify underutilized machines that can be eliminated, distribute
workload among data centers, monitor power and cooling, and move processing
to cooler sites depending on the weather.
Using avatars, IT operations executives move through their virtual data centers,
viewing "a tailored 3-D replica of servers, racks, networking, power and
A combination of open source software and IBM-built tools, the virtual data
center can provide visualizations of any type of hardware, regardless of the
vendor, as long as it has a network API. Instead of reading text describing
the conditions of a data center, IT managers can look out for flames showing
hotspots, examine visualizations that show server utilization rates, or receive
alerts about system failures.
Just to make things linguistically confusing, you can even use the virtual world
to modify virtual servers (the kind made possible by VMware) in a real data
"We have an ability to basically funnel events through the virtual world
and back into the real world. Right now it's focused on power management but
we'll continue to extend that functionality," Osias explains.
"We can kick off power management of a virtual machine," he continues.
Taking an action in the IBM virtual world can send a command to IBM's Enterprise
Workload Manager, which executes the corresponding act in a real-life data center.