We hope you all have had some nice holidays and survived the new-years parties without any major hangovers. We have used the last couple months of 2017 quite productively and moved to a more efficient setup, new people joined the team and new technology was deployed. As with most things the holidays have slowed things down a bit, but we expect things to start picking up again in the coming weeks.
As new-years resolution we have decided to provide our customers and to-be-customers with some insights into running a grid and what responsibilities that includes. If you are interested in opening your own grid or just curious as to what goes on behind the scenes keep reading.
The best comparison that can be made in terms of workload and responsibility, running a grid is like being the mayor of a small town. You, as the grid owner, bear the responsibility of the well-being of your residents along with all the trouble they cause each other, yourself or others. This usually goes further than most imagine however, still, it can be broken down into a few key points that are of importance.
At the moment of writing this there are over 200 grids out there that are openly accepting registrations and sit open on the hypergrid. This means that there are 200 different concepts, ideas and visions for what “the perfect grid” may look like. It is, for lack of a better word, a saturated market. This is likely not going to change either and so the competition for users, content and activity is fierce and often not all that fair either. This often leads to feuds and drama between grid owners, creators and users; everyone trying to claim a piece of the cake for themselves any means necessary. As dark of a picture this may seem to be, there is an equal opposite of genuine sharing and caring with the aim to collaborate and build a better experience for users, no matter what grid they belong to. Though, as with most things, the bad side of this is often more publicized as dirty laundry makes for greater headlines.
As mentioned previously, the responsibility for everything on a grid lies squarely with the grid owner. This means that writing up proper Terms of Service is a must. Dealing with liabilities, international laws, local laws and claims can quickly consume all your time. Lawsuits can and have happened and especially when it comes to commerce and actual money things can quickly go to court. It is important to have good knowledge over international and local laws pertaining virtual worlds, e-commerce and consumer protections. It also does not hurt to have a good understanding about content policies and copyright. These are areas often overlooked and very few grids actually have proper Terms of Service or End User Licenses covering these areas. Going into further detail or attempting to cover all bases would likely take up hundreds of pages at this point. The best option is to either seek the assistance of a lawyer or, if you like reading, read up on local laws and the laws of the countries you do business in.
OpenSim is, by definition of the project, alpha software. This means that it may not be stable, crash at any time and eat all the work you just did. While we have made some changes to it to increase stability even we cannot guarantee its stability. Making regular backups and understanding the risks is a big part, along with understanding the limitations OpenSim has. If you throw enough at it no hardware will be able to compensate and performance will suffer. Managing load and keeping users from overloading their regions is a big part of running a grid. OpenSim can handle a lot of things if done properly, but one rogue script or item can easily bring everything to a halt. Knowing these things and how to debug and solve these issues is a big part of running a grid and is of vital importance if you want to make the all so important good first impression.
Running a grid, first and foremost, is about handling money. Paying for hardware and service, collecting payments for regions and dealing with commerce. Just paying bills and making sure others pay you, however, is only a small part of it. As soon as money starts changing hands various laws, regulations and requirements come into play. From filing taxes to issuing refunds, all that needs consideration and lots of reading. While it is not directly necessary to register as business when running a grid, when things start picking up and more and more money is involved eventually it will raise some eyebrows and you might find yourself having to pay extra tax or even fines. As with the legal stuff, specific examples depend on so many things that listing them all would take up pages and we simply can’t put this much on the blog.
It can be easy to forget that each and every user is a human being and as such they have their own free will, as much as that may be annoying at times it can also be the greatest asset. Dealing with that asset is another big effort and requires constant attention. One has to realize that as grid owner, in some ways, you also represent the entire community around OpenSim. Further, since not ever user comes from SecondLife or has a Computer-Science background dealing with questions, concerns and issues in a manner from “Explain like I’m Five” to technical-moon-speak is part of running a grid. The end-user support, as it is called, is a big part of the daily tasks and can make or break a grid. As with most good deeds it is rarely recognized so beyond the work itself the commitment can be difficult to keep up. That is the other human factor in the equation. You, as grid owner, have to keep yourself invested just as much, if not more, as the users on the grid.
While having a degree is not required, having a good understanding of hardware, its capabilities and limitations does help quite a bit. OpenSim has very specific requirements in terms of hardware and it can have a massive impact on performance, stability and ultimately the money in your pocket. Beyond the physical machinery you run OpenSim on a big part of the performance comes from the network. Adequate bandwidth and connections are vital, especially if you plan to attract a worldwide audience. We generally advice on those things for our Managed plans, which have us manage OpenSim on hardware that you provide. In all that it is important to keep a watchful eye on scale and scale-ability. When a grid starts growing choosing what upgrades to make and what areas need additional hardware to handle the extra load depend not only on OpenSim itself, but also on its dependencies for Databases, filesystem and more. In all that it is important to keep an eye on what users do and if a performance impasse may not be the hardware’s fault after all.
If all this seems like a lot to consider then that is because it is. As mentioned before, running a grid is like running your own little town or a busy restaurant. It is not something to take lightly and while we generally encourage anyone looking to open a grid, we would not do anyone a good service if we did not educate about these concerns and stipulations. We hope that this has provided at least some insight into what goes into running a grid. There is plenty more that goes into all this and it is in many ways a never-ending story. Dynamic as life itself if you want to be philosophical. In the future we may touch on specific subjects with some actual examples, but for the moment this will have to do.