Hardware Today -- Scaling Mythical Realms With Dell

Last week's Dell Server Snapshot showed the vendor adding Nocona-based servers to its arsenal as it continues to couple open standards commodity computing with invincibly low prices.

Mythic Entertainment is banking on Dell for victory in the online gaming space. The company is using combined clusters of hundreds of Dell machines to drive its flagship multiplayer online game, Dark Age of Camelot.

This week, Hardware Today puts on its chain mail and grabs a +1 magic sword to cast a light spell in the direction of Mythic Entertainment, a company using combined clusters of hundreds of Dell machines to drive multiplayer online games including its flagship, Dark Age of Camelot, which it claims is the world's fastest growing online role-playing game. Another product soon to be added to the stable is the Imperator, a game based on an alternate Earth in which Rome never fell.

Hardware Quest

Mythic's wide-scale multiplayer online games connect client software, which individual players purchase in shrinkwrap for $9.95 or download on a trial basis, to a massive Linux back end where each player interacts with others online. Think of it like Xbox Live, but with centralized hosting and thousands of players instead of a dozen or so per game. The bulk of Mythic's revenue comes not from software sales, but in the monthly fee it charges players after the first free month.

Not surprisingly, facilitating simultaneous online game play for 30,000 to 40,000 people at any given time requires Herculean efforts.

A Mythical Creature
One of the many characters in Dark Age of Camelot

"To actually create these games is an intense challenge that most companies underestimate," Mythic Entertainment COO and co-founder Rob Denton told ServerWatch. He adds that most single player game companies say, "'Hey, let's take our game and make it multiplayer!' fail miserably because they grossly underestimate the challenges involved."

Mythic credits its 10-odd years of success in multiplayer games in part to its focus on back-end development in messaging, bandwidth management, and load balancing. The hardware, of course, is a critical component of these three areas.

Dell Shall be King

Mythic's vendor quest began four years ago. "We were looking for a Linux-compatible hardware solution," Denton said, "and we opted out of more expensive technologies like Sun and HP because we didn't want to license the OSes." That left a choice between Gateway rack-mounted systems and Dell racks. In the end, Dell's "best price-performance ratio" and "good track record of reliability" won out.

Mythic then standardized on Dell for its servers, laptops, and desktops, Denton said. At first, the now-retired PIII 2U PowerEdge 2550s ruled the rack. Over time, they abdicated to dual-Xeon rack servers, 2U PowerEdge 2650s, and more compact 1U PowerEdge 1750s.

Mythic currently has several hundred Dell servers in the United States; additional game hosting locations in France and South Korea have also standardized on Dell. The company has on order 40 Xeon-based PowerEdge 1850s, which are scheduled to begin shipping by October.

Denton notes that Mythic has passed on Dell's software offerings, "We look at Dell as primarily a hardware solution," he said. Thus, Mythic has avoided Dell's pre-packaged Linux solutions in favor of a customized version of Red Hat Linux. "We do software, so we're pretty good with that," he jokes.

>> Bringing the Mythical World to the Real World

This article was originally published on Aug 23, 2004
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