Gamasutra has published an interesting (and Intel-sponsored) article that gives us a better perspective of the backend architecture that's required to keep a massively multiplayer RPG like Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning up and running.
In the midst of the worldwide gaming enterprise, Andrew Mann bears the responsibility of overseeing the server infrastructure that keeps the world alive. He describes his role modestly: "I guess you could say the areas that I oversee are fairly broad. But, the way I like to look at it is from the bottom up. The software engineers work from the code side, and they essentially try to look at things at a high level and work downward."
"I work up from the hardware level. So I work with our system administration team, I work with our IT team, our networking team here, and then I work up into the code level at that point, as well. Along with all of the operating system details, all of our database software, and everything like that. That's basically my purview."
After pausing thoughtfully for a beat, Mann continued, "My day-to-day work is actually extremely varied. Some days it'll be just a lot of discussion with team members. I usually touch all of those divisions on a day-to-day basis. Some days, however, are heavier in the system administration side. Sometimes we've got to do a lot of work on hardware. Sometimes we've got to swap equipment around.
Running the vast server farms underlying the Warhammer Online world cost-effectively requires using each server's resources efficiently. The Mythic technical team relies on the blade server architectures and application design to maximize server resource usage.
"We use blade architecture heavily for Warhammer Online," Mann noted. "Almost every server that we deploy is a blade system. We don't use virtualization; our software is somewhat virtualized itself. We've always had the technology to run our game world across several pieces of hardware. It's application-layer clustering at a process level. Virtualization wouldn't gain us much because we already run very close to peak CPU usage on these systems."
"We're watching developments in the virtualization area with interest," Shaw said, "as we plan for achieving maximum server efficiency with minimal power use in the future." Currently, power budgeting is handled automatically by the Dell powering options within the blade server cabinets. Mythic doesn't attempt to control any of the power usage at the application level.