Here is what you will need to know if you decide to have a virtual world.
First, you need to decide where your virtual world will be. Do you want a private world accessible only by you? Or a public one, accessible by millions?
For a one-person world, go with an OpenSim standalone region, or with realXtend if you want to import mesh objects from architecture design programs. For a million visitors, go with a pseudo-virtual world like InXpo. You can get more details here: Which virtual platform is best for business?
Some virtual world providers, including InXpo, will then take care of everything for you — for a price.
If you decide to go with a grid-based region, however — Second Life, OpenSim, or realXtend — you will need to take care of a few more things.
A region on a grid-based virtual world uses memory and bandwidth. There are folks out there giving away free land — usually one-acre-sized homesteading parcels — but there are often conditions attached, and reliability issues. If you decide that you want free land in order to test out this platform, the most reliable vendor out there right now is PioneerX Estates, which has free homestead parcels available on two regions on the OSGrid.
You can also get free land by hosting it yourself, on that unused computer you’ve got sitting around, the spare server space in your data center. Directions for how to do this are available from Chapter & Metaverse, the Linux Journal, MaxPing, and from us. Additional help is available in several support forums. There’s even an automatic region creator available on OSGrid which automatically downloads the software you need to your computer and configures it (XP and Vista only).
Now, where are you going to put your region? Read on to find out.
BEHIND THE FIREWALL
If you need more control — or more space — then the next question is whether you want to be on someone else’s grid, or have your own grid. If you have your own grid, you can run it behind a corporate firewall, and restrict access, to, say, just your employees or business partners.
Currently, the only way to do this is to run OpenSim or realXtend, since Second Life’s Nebraska server is still in the pilot stage.
If you have technical skills — or an employee with technical skills (I used my 14-year-old daughter) — and a free server, you can download and install OpenSim or realXtend for free. The OpenSim downloads are here (I recommend using the latest release tagged “post fixes”) and the realXtend downloads are here. Note that the realXtend platform is not fully compatible with Second Life and OpenSim, but it does support the use of meshes, making it very interesting for architectural or industrial applications.
If you’re looking to run OpenSim behind your firewall but don’t have the technical expertise — or the inclination — to install it and maintain it youself, ReactionGrid offers the Banbury server. For $8,950, you get all the hardware you need, Opensim pre-installed and pre-configured, some basic regions designs for you to start with, plus ongoing support. The system can handle nine regions, and 25 concurrent users — nice for classes or small group meetings. Read more about it here: ReactionGrid releases OpenSim appliance.
If you’re looking for something more sophisticated, IBM released the OpenSim-based Lotus Sametime 3D product last month. For a little steeper price — $50,000 plus extra for support and additional regions — you get a product that’s integrated with your corporate directory, and comes with pre-configured business conference rooms and collaboration tools. Read more about it here: IBM: four OpenSim regions for $50,000.
One step up in control from a behind-the-firewall product is a grid hosted outside the enterprise, but that is still fully your own grid. This is like having your own website on the Internet, as opposed to a corporate intranet.
If you plan to do the tech stuff yourself, you can rent server space for your grid the same way that you rent space for a website. The only difference is that you might want to check with your hosting provider if it’s okay to run OpenSim — some of the super-cheap webhosts don’t have the bandwith to support virtual worlds. Our columnist Adam Frisby has more info on this here: How to choose a good OpenSim host. Frisby, who’s a core OpenSim developer, covers the technical requirements needed to run OpenSim, and reviews some of the most popular providers.
Server space starts at $20 a month — enough for a handful of regions — but expect to pay more for speed, reliability, good customer service, and uptime.However, if you rent just bare server space, you will still need to install OpenSim and maintain it yourself.
An easier option, though slightly more expensive, is to get an OpenSim service provider to do that work for you. ReactionGrid and PioneerX are currently the leaders in this area. They and other firms like them can help you set up your grid or standalone region, make it private or hypergrid-accessible, and set up password-protected areas if you need them. If you need extra customization — specialized currency modules, for example, or server-side applications — check with the hosting provider first. Some may be able to handle this kind of work, while others will refer you to third-party providers. Regions start at $15 a month, but you should expect to pay more for high-capacity regions, and for reliability. Read more about it here: OpenSim hosting providers.
Putting your region on someone else’s grid means giving up quite a bit of control. The grid operators will determine where your region is located, so that you won’t put it on top of someone else’s region. They will determine what version of OpenSim your region has to run. You also give up control over your neighbors — unless you buy up all the land around you, you never know who’s going to move in next door. Finally, the grid will provide infrastructure — such as a grid-wide currency system, or a freebie store, or social networking tools — which you may or may not want.
Some grids may also restrict teleportation. For example, you cannot teleport from Second Life or from OpenLifeGrid to any other grids. Some grid operators also require you to purchase land directly from them, which other grids allow you to host your land yourself, or with a third-party host.
Some grids also have age restrictions forbidding minors from accessing them. This may work fine for a mature-services firm, but not well for a school, museum, or a company that uses student interns.
And some grids restrict the names your users can choose for their avatars, creating problems for business users. OpenSim in general allows users to have any avatar name they want, as long as the name is unique to that individual grid. When teleporting, the avatar name is combined with the grid name like this: [email protected]:8002 (the 8002 is the port that the grid is accessed through).
SecondLife currently restricts teleportation, severely restricts avatar names, has minimum age requirements, but also offers an in-world currency, and has an in-world social network and vibrant community of users, merchants, and service providers. Companies looking for retail traffic would be best suited to Second Life.
If you go with Second Life, you can rent land from Linden Lab itself, or from a reseller. All land is hosted on the Second Life servers, and there is no access to server-side applications. Learn more about gettins land on Second Life here.
The next largest grid after Second Life, is the OpenSim-based OSGrid, with 2,300 regions and around 20,000 users. The OSGrid is a non-profit grid dedicated to testing and developing the OpenSim software, and of fostering a community of OpenSim users. Forced updates have been frequent and disruptive in recent months, and many business users have moved to other grids, or established their own grids or standalone regions and teleport in to enjoy the OSGrid community or shopping opportunities. The most popular community grid for business users is ReactionGrid’s main grid. All regions are hosted on ReactionGrid servers, but grid operators tend to bend over backwards for businesses that need customization work. The grid is PG rated and allows teleports to other grids.
Read more about the popular grids here: What is the best grid?
Read about how to fill your new region with content in the next article, Virtualization 102.