Blockchain is most definitely the word of the day. More and more organisations are exploring their web3 options and as the hype around the metaverse grows, it’s time for the industry to stop for a second and ask if we’re ready.
The metaverse, a summary
The odds of meeting someone who hasn’t heard of the metaverse are quite low, but it still seems that many people are mystified by what it is exactly.
If we jump back to 1992, the metaverse was used by science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson, to describe a virtual reality world that was fully interactive. Back in 2022 the modern day metaverse is – or hopes to be – a reflection of that original vision; a fully connected 3D virtual world, joining people and allowing them to inhabit virtual avatars which can interact, shop, trade, and create.
A core component of the modern day metaverse are graphically detailed worlds, visually rich environments, and the ability to use avatars which reflect life-like movement. Possibly the most important trait for the metaverse is the ability for all of this to be instantaneously available across the world, connecting millions of people at once.
You can already see the metaverse taking shape with projects like Decentraland and The Sandbox. These projects show the potential of the metaverse but are also some of the hurdles that it’ll face going forward.
Many metaverse projects are still years behind what modern day video games can achieve graphics-wise, and interaction is slow and clunky. This begs the question; do we have what is required to deliver the true metaverse experience?
Compute, compute and more compute
Video games are probably the closest companion the metaverse has. The most graphically and visually rich games today are primarily single player only. These games are run, mostly, from a user’s own machine and require top of the line GPUs to achieve the visual fidelity the metaverse one day hopes to achieve.
While large scale, multiplayer games exist, hosting hundreds of thousands of players simultaneously across multiple instances in the metaverse isn’t quite a reality yet. These multiplayer games still put huge pressure on user hardware to facilitate detailed avatars, weather effects, and environmental impacts. However, these multiplayer games are almost never on the same level visually as their graphically rich single player counterparts.
This is where the dream of the true metaverse starts to flicker. How do you provide the same immersive experience for hundreds of millions of users simultaneously, who are scattered across every corner of the globe? Modern day computing, storage, and networking infrastructure just isn’t up to scratch to provide that experience at scale.
According to a recent Gartner report, 25% of internet users will spend at least an hour every day on the metaverse by 2026. For the average person, this will include everything from shopping and entertainment and even working. All of this will likely be supported by a virtual economy backed by blockchain, using NFTs and crypto currencies.
Look at what was needed to shrink computers down to the size of a smartphone; this process took decades and the infrastructure upgrades needed to realise this new virtual lifestyle are behemoth.
Head in the clouds
One answer to the massive computing deficit is the cloud. Raja Koduri, Head of Intel’s Accelerated Computing Systems, believes that there will need to be a 1,000 times increase in power to achieve what the metaverse proposes.
“You need to access to petaflops [one thousand teraflops] of computing in less than a millisecond, less than 10 milliseconds for real-time uses,” Koduri said. “Your PCs, your phones, your edge networks, your cell stations that have some compute, and your cloud computing all need to be working in conjunction like an orchestra.”
To achieve this 1000 times increase, cloud infrastructure for the metaverse will need a huge overhaul to meet demands.
In particular, data centres will need to see a goliath increase in power to service the large-scale servers needed for a deep metaverse. With this increased power brings the obvious need for increased cooling and storage, all putting their own strain on power sources.
As an industry, we’ve made huge strides to improve our sustainability over the last couple of years. The increased power usage of blockchain technology and the metaverse will have an impact on these green measures and new, more innovative ways of achieving sustainable operations will need to be found.
Not only will there need to be huge increases in power to data centres, but those data centres will need to be located more widely, placed closer to the users and inhabiting spaces not previously thought of for data centre placement. New data centre developments will bring higher costs, a problem already being felt by some in the sector. Not to mention the problems faced with planning and development.
Alongside the additional strain on data centres, network infrastructure will also feel increased pressure as millions of people attempt to connect at once, all while expecting minimal latency. Edge networks will need to be upgraded to ensure content and graphical assets can be stored at optimal points in the network, closest to the users streaming them. For the metaverse to be its true self, it will need to smoothly connect users from across the globe without interruption.
The internet has come leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades and we’ve seen fantastic innovations across streaming, virtual working and ecommerce. However, the network has its limits and the metaverse, in its current state, requires resources currently beyond those limits. If businesses are serious about adopting blockchain and in particular the metaverse, data centre and network operators are going to need to be tied in very closely to the development process.