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IBM, Sony, Butterfly.net Team To Speed Game Development

The three companies will combine to make it easier and cheaper for Sony's PlayStation 2 system.

When Sherman3D unleashes its VibeForce online role-playing game on the market next year, it will be one of the first to take advantage of an agreement disclosed Thursday among IBM, grid software maker Butterfly.net, and Sony Computer Entertainment. Together, the three companies will provide the infrastructure and networking services needed to more cheaply and efficiently develop games for Sony's PlayStation 2 system.

IBM will host at one of its data centers the Butterfly Grid, developed and built over two years with software from Butterfly.net. The game grid, powered by rack-mounted, Linux-based IBM BladeCenter servers, has the potential to accommodate millions of simultaneous PlayStation 2 users, compared with the hundreds of thousands of players supported on current networks.

Sherman3D expects that access to the grid architecture will save the company $2.7 million annually, equal to half the company's research and development costs. "Up until now, gaming companies have done a mad scramble to keep up with technology," says Curt Benefield, CEO of Sherman3D, a video-game developer with offices in Malaysia and the United States. The new grid will let Sherman3D devote the majority of its resources toward developing VibeForce, a futuristic game depicting a war between a city that favors technology and one that favors nature. The alternative for Sherman3D would be to find another hosting company or host the game itself.

Sherman3D's developers are writing VibeForce so that players in different countries will each access a particular blade server within IBM's data center. Once a server approaches capacity, it can still draw additional resources from another server, Benefield says.

The Butterfly Grid operates according to the Open Grid Services Architecture standard for grid availability, security, and performance. This means that when the grid determines there are too many players connected to any particular server, it can automatically reconfigure underutilized blade servers to support the user base.

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