For Science! OpenSim Research

Open-Source Software tends to invite a sense of adventure and discovery, which is why we have been actively testing all sorts of new solutions in the past. Apart from DDoS mitigation and CDN based asset delivery we also explore the bare metal side of things. One of the biggest arguments for OpenSim has always been its more cost-effectiveness and we are taking that idea further.

One idea is to isolate customers on their own virtual machine, this makes resource allocation simpler and can improve security. However, most of these systems trade overall low overhead for hard resource restrictions. As a result customers may still be able to overdraw on their assigned resources. The only way to counteract this is to isolate them on physical hardware. Sounds easy enough, but in practice cost-effective hardware for just a single simulator is difficult to find. This is why we are exploring technologies like ARM and specifically the Odroid line of small ARM-boards by Hardkernel. While ARM is a great technology and certainly capable of running OpenSim, ARM can be a bit tricky to deal with due to lack of support for some of the software we use alongside OpenSim. Another solution is the APU-board line of products from PCENGINES. These book-sized boards offer the more widely used x86 architecture and thus have all the usual software available to them. Size is key here, after all space inside datacenters is not cheap. There are many factors that will ultimately have to be evaluated before we can move ahead with these solutions, but that does not make them anymore less exciting to explore.

Apart from tinkering with hardware there is more general testing going on as well. From reproducing issues our customers encounter, to building new systems, requires testing and that brings along cost associated with running long term tests. To reduce this cost and to allow for a versatile testing environment capable of replicating very complex systems, we opted to run dedicated hardware locally at our headquarters. This allows for hands-on configuration and makes adding or removing parts very easy and above all affordable. Since some of you might be interested in the specifics of this system the next paragraph will go into some detail on what we have set-up. Most of this will not be overwhelming, but it does not need to be to provide adequate performance for testing.

testsystem

Our main testing is done on an ESXi v6 cluster with various virtual machines. The cluster sits on an HP Proliant DL580 G5 with 4 Intel Xeon X7350 processors, 128 GB of Memory and 800 GB of drive space. Most of the ARM testing is done on the two Odroids with one of them serving as an external proxy to make navigating the testsystem a bit easier, because remembering ever-changing IPs is not easy. The Odroid U3+ ARM Cortex A9 1.7GHz, 2GB Memory all within a creditcard formfactor, the X2 has similar specifications and is pretty much the bigger, uglier brother 🙂
The PCENGINES Apu is more designed as a pfsense router, but the formfactor makes it a contender for stuffing a bunch of them in a server enclosure to reduce hardware cost. It features an AMD G series GX-312TC 1GHz quad core with 4 GB of Memory and three gigabit lan ports, all with a mere 12W TDP. Excluded from the above graphic are the backups, since they are just some older HDDs that happen to be spares, one of them has failed already. If any of you want to know more feel free to ask.

Now that all the geeks and sysadmins have had their fill back to something more easily comprehensible. We obviously also test on the actual systems that will be used to deploy these solutions on. This forces these solutions to be solid enough to be deployed on any hardware or system. It also helps expose problems caused by conditions we cannot simulate on our internal systems. Only after that should solutions be allowed into a production environment. Now, we are not completely free from pushing solutions without doing thorough testing on them, this is something that cannot be helped sometimes. We would be lying if we did not admit that this has happened, but frankly this is the nature of IT. We aim to keep service interruptions to a minimum and that usually causes such solutions to be pushed out quicker than we would normally like. Rest assured we always go back and re-evaluate these and make sure it was the right thing to do and make changes where needed. Fortunately for us with nearly a decade of experience between everyone at Zetamex Network we have become fairly proficient at this and our customers profit greatly from that.

Obviously we will be expanding on our testing equipment and will continue to conduct research on all things OpenSim. At the same time we are looking onward to what the future holds and with the rise of VR gaming and increasing interest of the education sector we hope you are as excited as we are for what this will evolve into. We would not be here if it was not for our pursuit of improving what we have and create new and better things, but there come times that this road has been rocky and innovation brings with it a sense of uncertainty. We hope that our approach of being transparent and sharing some of the technology and ideas gives you a greater sense of understanding our goals.

Tax-Audit

Zetamex has customers all over the world and we have seen business from countries as far away as Australia. As a result we have been dealing with all sorts of different laws regarding business and more particularly taxation. As we are based within the European Union we have to pay VAT or Mwst. This means that a percentage of our income directly goes to the customers government. Additionally we are required to pay taxes on all of the servers and systems we receive from outside the EU, which means 19% on top of the bills for servers, services and products we acquire to provide our service to you.

Of course all of that can be difficult to handle and requires a large amount of paperwork. This invites people to use shadow companies to launder money into other countries and there is a potential for tax evasion. To counter this the German Ministry of Finance audits new business and existing international businesses regularly to make sure everything is in order. They make sure everyone pays their taxes and that no schemes are being employed to shovel money past the taxman.

We highly welcome these audits as a measure to provide a level playing field for businesses and customers alike. They provide the needed security and allow for the market to grow without leaking funds into dubious schemes. These audits also help us judge how well we are keeping track of our books and allow us to optimize our billing process. With the audit complete we have found a few things that required improvement and this gives us a much better footing to grow. As of now we have opted to stay without full taxation, which for our size is the most cost effective option. Eventually our growth will force us to opt to full taxation, which means a number of things. More on that once we have hit that point, rest assured not much will change any time soon.

Another thing this audit has provoked is a hard look at our expenses. We have found a few ways to reduce our cost and, at the same time, increase our effectiveness. As a result a few migrations will take place over the coming weeks and months. These will increase the quality of the service we provide. Eventually these savings will allow for funding to new projects and never before seen features. We hope you are as excited as we are.

DDoS Fight

With the recent news about DDoS Attacks on a bunch of grids, we have also had several clients whom have been attacked. This has motivated us to share how we were able to tame the situation within about 48 hours. This is still an evolving solution as we need to make sure we keep our customers grids and regions online.

firewall_routing.png

Now to explain the above image, I am going to be breaking it down in the sections that are listed in the image from left to right.

User: This is you, the attacker, or whomever is trying to access the grid, simulator, assets, etc.

Cloud DNS Routing: We pay extra for our DNS to be hosted in the cloud, that allows us to scan for attacks at the first level before you even hit a server. This technology also provides checking against our servers verifying they are responding with 9 different locations for the quickest resolution time for looking up our latest dns records for routing purposes.

Routing Firewall: This is a tool we recently put in place as attacks were able to make it through by bypassing DNS and going straight for our IP Addresses. This firewall detects all types of attacks, and then determines if traffic is legit or an attack. If an attack is detected that traffic is sent to the null server.

The Null Server is just a server that is a dead end, it just eats bad traffic and does nothing else.

Proxy Server: If an attack has made it this far, we have one final trick in our arsenal and that is our server with a 10Gbps connection to eat whatever has somehow gotten this far. Also from this point we can setup the server’s firewall to protect you from future attacks of known attackers. Also the proxy server doubles as a cache for assets and inventory for legitimate users giving them faster loading times on assets and inventory for commonly requested items.

Destination Servers: After going through this process in a matter of milliseconds, you will end up at your destination allowing you to make sure you have a connection that travels through all these layers of security to keep customer’s services online and functional.

I hope this process can provide insight to other grids out there and help provide a way for them to protect themselves from these attacks. Remember the largest way to protect yourself, is just to make sure not to feed into the attacks. There is no 100% attack that will ever be fully protected against, hackers will always find new ways to attack. The best course of action is to be proactive at always improving protection, while not antagonizing the attackers, this only fuels them to find new ways to cause issues.

New Open Position at Zetamex

With our development moving ahead with full steam it sadly leaves us mostly unable to attend to the needs of the ZetaWorlds residents. We realize this needs to change and that we have to take better care of ZetaWorlds as a community. For that purpose we have opened up an internship position which you can read more about here

Plans for 2016

We are already well into 2016, but up until this point we had not fully determined our plans for this year. After some consideration and running into a few brick walls our schedule appears to be mostly complete.

This year will bring a few major changes to the Zetamex customers and residents of ZetaWorlds. Our new and improved administration panel is still in heavy development and we will begin internal testing in a few weeks. Once completed a beta will be available to existing customers. Invites for this beta will be sent out shortly after completion of the alpha version with the aim to refine the beta version later available to all customers. Our goal is to fully complete this new panel by the end of this year. The reason for this long term testing phase is our aim to provide a lite version for everyone to use, not just Zetamex customers. The details of how we will provide this are still being determined.

ZetaWorlds is providing an ever improving experience for its residents and the number of hypergrid visitors is ever growing. We are very pleased so many decide to come around and see what we have to offer and as a result we want to give something back to all of those endorsing ZetaWorlds. Specifically, like some might have noticed already, we are planning to open up an Expo this year allowing any non-profit organization and grids to show off what they have to offer and encourage people to travel the metaverse. The details of this Expo are still being ironed out and we have yet to find a curator taking care of managing this year long event. It is probably worth mentioning here, that we are actively looking for curators for the Expo and that you can apply for this voluntary position by simply sending us an email. We hope this Expo will encourage the growth of opensim and its education and social capabilities.

Oh we are not done yet, don’t you worry. Another big goal this year is restructuring our product line and making it much easier to get exactly what you need. This will include a completely new way of ordering services, with advanced customization to tailor opensim exactly the way you want it be. We want to move away from standard packages and give the customer the flexibility opensim can provide. Especially for grid hosting this new ability to only pay for you need will reduce costs on both ends and allow for grids to grow easier than ever before. More details on this later, a bit of teasing shall be allowed.

Curiosity is human nature, so if you want to know more, feel free to send us a tweet or email or g+ message or a pigeon, but please don’t throw message stones through our windows, they are brand new.

Take care everyone.

Zetamex Closed [Press Release]

      For those who are not already aware, Zetamex is now called Zetamex Network and is a registered German company. It was bought out by a german citizen who was the spark for Zetamex and has since seen it flourish. The new CEO for Zetamex network is Vincent “Tampa” Sylvester, and we here at Zetamex Network couldn’t have asked for a better CEO!

With the change from Zetamex to Zetamex Network and being registered as a German company, comes with some changes to the actual company itself. Zetamex Network has grown past being a company run by one person and people who wanted to volunteer to help and is ready to be restructured into a well oiled machine! What this means is that while we are restructuring the company we will no longer be accepting new customers while the new CEO sets up a good infrastructure to ensure the best products, services, and customer service that we can provide. Previously we were understaffed which led to slow development of software for our users or bugs in the software that were never correctly fixed, but we are going to be adding more staff and specialized groups to deal with bug fixes, deployment of sims and more products for our customers to choose from.
As for our current customers, what this means for you is that we will still be giving out support and you, the customer will still be able to maintain and add regions if you so wish. There are no plans to increase pricing of any of our plans due to the change of the company itself, however new service and support packages will be provided as add-ons.
We wanted to thank you again for sticking with Zetamex Network and any feed back that you can give would be greatly appreciated to shape Zetamex Network into the best Virtual service network around!
Thank you again,
Team Zetamex Network