August 27, 2009

The v-Business Grid: A vision of the future Immersive Internet

IBM has soft-launched a new community called the v-Business Community. This community’s objectives are three-fold: 1) promote the use of immersive technologies – particularly those that are OpenSim-based — for business, 2) provide an environment for businesses to showcase immersive products and services, and 3) provide a “sandbox” environment for early adopters to experiment with immersive technologies. The community currently has about 10 named member companies, all of which offer hardware, software, or  services related to government, education, and business use of immersive technologies.

Standing in the hypergrid teleportation area choosing our next destination

This week I visited the community’s OpenSim grid, called v-Business Grid, to meet with Peter Finn. Finn is an IT architect who has been responsible for v-business (virtual business) strategy at IBM in the past and is leading the v-Business Community charge from the IBM side. I walked away from this meeting realizing I’d seen a compelling vision of the future Immersive Internet: a universe of virtual worlds and campuses, immersive learning simulations, and 3D business applications and tools that are connected together to greater or lesser degree. The v-Business Grid, which is currently in alpha:

  • Is a sandbox for Immersive Internet advocates, implementers, and explorers. The initial work on the sandbox is being done by members of IBM’s Virtual Universe Community. The initial use cases Peter Finn is focused on are retail, marketing, and events. Initially, the tech provider members of the community will use the grid as a meeting place and demonstration ground for their products and services. Finn’s hope is that within a year, when the OpenSim platform goes “gold” (becomes generally available) large retailers will begin to use the technology to create immersive 3D product showrooms of their own.
  • Runs on OpenSim, in grid mode. IBM is a huge proponent of open source technology overall and is a big believer in the OpenSim open source enterprise immersive platform. The v-Business Grid runs OpenSim in grid mode. This allows individual OpenSim servers to be connected together into a bigger virtual world. In grid mode, avatars can walk, fly, or teleport from one connected region to another in a relatively seamless fashion.
  • Utilizes hypergrid technology. The v-Business Grid uses an OpenSim extension called hypergrid, which allows multiple OpenSim-based virtual worlds to be connected together. With this extension, avatars can now travel not just among regions but across virtual worlds. The snapshot above shows my avatar and Peter Finn’s standing in a hypergrid teleportation area. I used my mouse to click on the red arrow on a heads-up display and scroll through our options. As I clicked, the display around us showed fuzzy images of the various virtual worlds available to us. When Peter said, “This is a good one – let’s visit here” we flew right through the display into another virtual world. It was like passing through a portal in the sci-fi show Stargate (see the image with the blue background on this MGM Web page).
  • Will be increasingly integrated with the 2D Web. The v-Business Community is already leveraging the Web. I created my v-Business Grid account on the Web. And during my tour, one of the ways we switched from one grid to another was via the Gridhop Web site (see snapshot below). Peter Finn’s vision is that the 2D Web and the 3D Internet will become tightly integrated over time. For example, in the retail scenario, shoppers will go to a retailer’s Web site and then seamlessly click on a link to go to the 3D showroom., a Web site that can be used to transport an avatar from one virtual world to another

IBM’s v-Business Community presents a great opportunity for Immersive Internet advocates, implementers, and explorers to learn about available technology options and experiment in the v-Business Grid sandbox. One of the questions that remains unanswered by this early V-Business Community effort is how IBM’s vision of an interconnected 3D Internet will play out in a world of heterogeneous, non-standards based technology. While IBM and Linden Lab have demonstrated that it’s possible for an avatar to travel back and forth between OpenSim and Second Life, these are just two among dozens of enterprise immersive platforms. For IBM’s vision of an interconnected Immersive Internet to play out, one of two things must happen: open standards emerge that multiple vendors adhere to, or one platform rises up as the de facto standard, forcing others to integrate with it. The jury’s still out on this one.

Erica Driver

Erica Driver was a co-founder and principal at ThinkBalm. She is a leading industry analyst and consultant with 15 years of experience in the software industry. She is quoted in mainstream and industry trade press including the Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CIO, and Computerworld. Prior to co-founding ThinkBalm, Erica was a principal analyst at Forrester Research, where she launched the company’s Web3D coverage as part of her enterprise collaboration research. She was also the co-conspirator behind Forrester’s Information Workplace concepts and research. Prior to her tenure at Forrester, she was a Director at Giga Information Group (now part of Forrester) and an analyst at Hurwitz & Associates. She began her career in IT as a system administrator and Lotus Notes developer. Erica is a graduate of Harvard University.