Normally, creating an OpenSim grid requires not just downloading and running the grid software but also setting up a MySQL database, configuring firewall ports, editing an initialization file, and editing region files. And upgrading the OpenSim software is a hassle almost as major as installing it in the first place.
This process has recently become significantly easier.
University of California at Irvine professor Christa Lopes (“Diva Canto”) has released an OpenSim distribution already pre-configured with most popular settings, saving a potential grid operator hours of work getting all the settings right.
We tried it out here at Hypergrid Business.
First, the bad news.
- You still have to set up a MySQL database. Lopes includes easy-to-follow instructions in with the distribution, but it still took us a few tries to get it right.
- If you’re running Linux, you’ll need the latest version of Mono, an application that allows Microsoft programs to run in a Linux environment. We needed the help of a teenager here, WordPress developer and all around Linux-geek Anastasia Trombly, to upgrade Mono. It took about an hour. If you’re not running Linux, you can skip this step.
- You still have to configure your ports if you have a router. In our case, this meant pulling up the control panel for our Cisco Linksys router — located at http://192.168.1.1 — and opening up the “Single Port Forwarding” panel located under “Applications and Gaming.” We already had a couple of ports forwarded to the machine running OpenSim, now we forwarded a couple more, since the Diva Distribution includes a starting package of four regions. Previously, we’d already set up a fixed internal IP address for that computer, using the “DHCP Reservation” function to link a static internal IP address to the computer’s MAC address. This was not fun, and required quite a bit of trial and error when we first did this last summer. If there’s no router, and your computer is connected directly to your broadband modem, then you can skip this. If you have multiple computers in your house, however, then you’ll need to deal with your router. This typically is the most difficult part of setting up an OpenSim grid.
Now, the good news.
- Once the ports were configured and the MySQL database was set up, OpenSim ran and worked on the first try.
- The Diva Distribution is automatically enabled for hypergrid. We’ve been happily teleporting in and out from the minute we had our grid up. This is great for us, but some companies and schools looking for privacy might not want to enable hypergrid for their grids and require all users to have accounts. Previously, getting hypergrid working was a time-consuming, trial-and-error process that we did not enjoy at all.
- The Diva Distribution is composed of four regions joined together into one megaregion. That means that there aren’t any annoying border crossings — you can treat the entire area as one big 64-square-acre parcel (or 512 square meter parcel, if you’re into the metric system).
- The Diva Distribution includes an Upgrade application. So when a new release comes out — and, with OpenSim, new releases come out frequently — upgrades are much more straightforward. We haven’t upgraded it yet, since it’s only been running for a few days. And we don’t plan to upgrade until a new release comes out with significant improvements over the current system, which is pretty good and stable as it is. But it’s nice to have the feature available.
- The Diva Distribution is a standalone system. This means that it’s not linked to any grid. For us, this is a positive — we want our company grid to be a separate entity from the other grids out there, and the hypergrid teleports make it easy for folks to visit without having to create a separate account. In fact, teleporting between grids is now as easy as teleporting within a grid. However, it does eliminate walk-by traffic. So a retailer might want to locate a shop in a high-traffic area on one of the bigger public grids, instead.
- The Diva Distribution can be connected to other Diva Distributions to create a large grid running on different machines (though they can run on the same machine, as well, if there’s enough horsepower). This means that if my company expands, we don’t have to invest in heavy-duty centralized grid infrastructure — we can just string standalone grids together for the same end result. That makes us happy.
So what are we using this for?
Here at Trombly International, we’ve been reconfiguring the company a bit these last couple of months (you might have noticed a slowdown in posts on this site). The new company will be a virtual organization, with employees logging in from China, India, Europe and around the US into an interactive website. To some degree we were doing that already, using a combination of online databases and documents, video conferencing, and our own workflow management system.
With OpenSim, we will expand this to include virtual staff meetings in our new virtual offices. We piloted virtual staff meetings this summer with this year’s crop of summer interns, and it worked well. In the future, all regular employees will be expected to use the new platform for meetings and collaboration.
So far, the cost to us has been exactly zero. We use an old spare computer to run the OpenSim grid. This enough for us to have a handful of employees online at once. Larger meetings will take place at a different location — ValleyGrid — which is relaunching next week after a management change.
Since we’re not using this for retail sales, the basic infrastructure is very utilitarian. An office building with private rooms and a conference area, overlooking a small lake. The weather, of course, is always perfect.
As the company grows, we may move the entire grid to a hosted facility to allow for higher traffic, and more space.
But, for the time building, 64 acres is more than enough space for a small company campus.