Software That Depicts Real-Time Events in Three Dimensions May Offer Distinct Advantages

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IBM announces new 3-D technologies that promise to reduce costs and help better manage energy resources.


One of the greatest compromises humans have had to accept (other than our inability to fly) is having to watch replicated images in two dimensions (i.e., pictures, movies, and TV).


For some reason, which may date back to the Spanish Inquisition and threats of expressing our deeper beliefs, we have told ourselves that two-dimensional images are just fine and, if we could just see them in color, or just see them a little sharper, then we would feel quite happy-perhaps even blessed. Well, as the has-been news anchor Howard Beale says in the 1976 movie Network (directed by Sidney Lumet), "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." Two-dimensional imagery simply isn't good enough! I want my 3-D!


As the sold-out attendance to both the 2003 and the 2006 World 3-D Expositions in Los Angeles and the financial success of IMAX 3D movies demonstrates, people like 3-D movies, they cherish 3-D images, and the only thing standing between our deep-seated need to look at images in 3-D versus a boring flat dimension is technology.


Fortunately, all that is beginning to change. George Lucas has announced that he may re-release his Star Wars films in 3-D following conversion from 2-D, Steven Spielberg is involved in a 3-D cinema system that doesn't require glasses, and both Sharp and Phillips have developed 3-D displays, Sharp's being a type of liquid crystal display, and Phillips' being a multiview display called WOWvx, with neither one requiring special viewing aids.


Computer users for years were happy looking at numbers until someone said, "Wow, we can turn these numbers into a pie chart! Better yet, here's a graphic that has shadows, so it almost looks like it's three-dimensional!"


Leave it to IBM, however, to recognize the value of three-dimensional views when observing and evaluating complex environments. The company has been working on several 3-D implementations for Lotus Notes products, and last week it announced the 3-D Data Center, a 3-D environment to allow data center administrators to visualize hot spots, data flow, and server utilization and thereby better manage the entire data center or virtualized IT platform.


Based on the OpenSim Application Platform for 3D Virtual Worlds, 3-D Data Center is a multi-user virtual world complete with in-world instant messaging that can bring real-time data from different facilities into a secure virtual world.


"Viewing information about your data center in 2-D text, even in real time, only tells a data center manager part of the story because our brains are wired for sight and sound," says Michael Osias, the IBM researcher who designed the 3-D data center service. "By actually seeing the operations of your data center in 3-D, even down to flames showing hot spots, and visualizations of the utilizations of servers, allows for a clearer understanding of the enterprise resources, better informed decision-making, and a higher level of interaction and collaboration," says Osias.


Being able to see a consolidated view of the IT infrastructure and what is happening within it gives operators insight into ongoing physical issues such as how heat and energy are flowing through the data center and offers an intuitive method for grasping a firm's complete IT infrastructure. Since multiple users can share the virtual experience--either as a live view of what's happening or as a simulated view of what would happen under certain conditions--technical, business, and company business partners can collaborate on various elements of the enterprise data center, according to IBM.


The system's ability to model and simulate conditions can be used for training or exercises in space, power, and cooling planning and even disaster recovery scenarios. Users can move and interact with assets and drive them with real or simulated data. The 3-D data center is customizable depending on the user's servers, applications, and monitoring systems, and even non-IBM equipment models are available and can be plugged into the virtual world.


According to IBM, companies are increasingly finding that they are trying to manage far-flung data centers by relying on software that allows them to see those data centers as a single, centralized computing pool. Many companies have data centers in different buildings, cities, and even countries since the infrastructure was designed to scale rapidly to handle increased growth. But managing data centers located in, say, Beijing and Buenos Aires from an office in Madrid presents challenges.


IBM has actually tested its 3-D Data Center in at least one large enterprise: Implenia, Switzerland's largest real estate construction and building services provider. The company used IBM's virtual data center solutions to extend its existing virtual operations center. Providing a tailored 3-D replica of servers, racks, networking, power, and cooling equipment, the 3-D Data Center gave managers an enhanced real-time awareness of dispersed resources. Implenia manages eight pilot sites, including a data center, using different tools and technologies. It was a challenge for the company to oversee and control its own as well as its customers' properties.


"Until working with IBM, we only knew the state of our data center from the information we got through the building automation system and our virtual worlds communications interface," said Oliver Goh, Implenia IT specialist. "We didn't know the state of the server and information that was readily available to use until it was made more accessible by the 3-D visualizations that IBM built for us," he said. Goh and the Implenia team are looking forward to better control and greater efficiencies with their new tools. Already, the information has helped the company better control its HVAC and security systems. IBM says that 3-D data centers are better able to consolidate the footprint of a large number of machines being used at, for instance, only 10 percent of capacity; to get rid of extraneous machines; and to monitor power and cooling, distribute workload between data centers, and even move processing to cooler sites when weather conditions may be uncomfortably warm.


According to IBM, "The key element in the work for Implenia is linking IBM's virtual world integration middleware, Holographic Enterprise Interface (HEI), that links real-world data center operations in cyberspace to their building automation interface (VWCI). HEI has a modular and flexible design that allows clients to customize the desired interactions between real and virtual worlds. Each physical data center linked through this technology has an HEI instance that will transmit messages over the private network using Internet standard protocols to the 3-D virtual world server."


Expect to see more three-dimensional implementations of business-related software coming from IBM in the near future. The company is convinced it holds the promise of improved efficiency and therefore a reduction in costs, which is one of the main benefits of technology. At the same time, users should be able to satisfy their innate need to visualize real-world events in something other than the traditional, and somewhat lacking, two-dimensional depictions.