The challenges of powering the metaverse

With the fast adoption of web3, blockchain and the metaverse, technology is moving at incredible speeds but has anyone stopped to ask how we plan to power it? Jon Lucas, Co-founder and Director at Hyve Managed Hosting discusses the role cloud and data centres will play in powering the metaverse and if it is even a feasible option going forward or will this new tech need to find a new way of working?

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This is a contributed article by Jon Lucas, Co-founder and Director at Hyve Managed Hosting.

It’s safe to assume that blockchain is here to stay in some capacity. As more and more organisations align their web3 offerings, looking to tap into crypto, NFTs and the “metaverse”, one question is being overlooked. How will it all be powered?

What is the metaverse?

Like all buzzwords the definition of the metaverse is a blurred one; its surge in popularity has only made that definition trickier as various influencers, futurists, and the next tech wunderkinds compete to carve out a space for themselves.

Originally used by science fiction author Neal Stephenson back in 1992, metaverse was used to describe a virtual reality world. The modern-day metaverse is, or hopes to be, a fully connected virtual world joining people and allowing them to inhabit 3D virtual avatars which can interact, shop, trade, and create. One of the core components of the metaverse is that it is a visually rich world that facilitates life-like movement of avatars in a graphically detailed environment, all streamed instantaneously around the world.

Projects like Decentraland are great examples of where the metaverse is taking off. These projects show the potential but also the hurdles that the metaverse is going to face going forward. Graphically, many metaverse projects are still years behind what modern-day video games are able to achieve and interaction is still somewhat limited and clunky. So, what is actually required to deliver an immersive metaverse experience, at scale?

What’s needed to deliver the metaverse?

The closest companion to the metaverse is video games. Currently, the most advanced games graphically, are mostly still single-player. They run entirely from the user's own machine and need top of the line CPUs and GPUs to achieve the graphically rich experience that the metaverse hopes to facilitate one day.

Large scale multiplayer games exist, hosting hundreds of thousands of players simultaneously across multiple instances, so the metaverse can’t be that much harder? These games still put huge pressure on user hardware to facilitate detailed avatars, weather effects, environmental impacts, and audio. However, these multiplayer games are almost never on the same level visually as their graphically rich single-player counterparts. The major juggling act right now for games development is graphics vs performance.

Herein lies the problem for the metaverse. Imagine trying to provide the same immersive experience for hundreds of millions of users simultaneously. Modern-day computing, storage, and networking infrastructure just isn’t up to scratch to provide that experience at scale.

According to a recent Gartner report, 25% of internet users will spend at least an hour every day on the metaverse by 2026. This will include shopping, work, and entertainment, all supported by a virtual economy backed by blockchain, using NFTs and digital currencies.

The infrastructure upgrades needed to realise this immersive lifestyle will be a mammoth job. One good comparison is the journey of shrinking computers down to the size of a smartphone, a process that took decades.

How can it be done?

One answer to the massive computing deficit is the cloud. Head of Intel’s Accelerated Computing Systems, Raja Koduri, believes that there will need to be a 1,000x increase in power to achieve what the metaverse proposes.

They said: “You need access to petaflops [one thousand teraflops] of computing in less than a millisecond, less than ten milliseconds for real-time uses,” Koduri said. “Your PCs, your phones, your edge networks, your cell stations that have some compute, and your cloud computing all need to be working in conjunction like an orchestra.”

To achieve this 1000x increase, cloud infrastructure for the metaverse will require a huge overhaul to meet demands.

In the case of data centres, there will need to be a goliath increase in power to service large-scale servers. This brings the need for increased cooling and storage, all putting their own strain on power sources.  If power is a worry, so is sustainability. This increased demand can’t impact the sector's progress when it comes to sustainable operations. Not only will there need to be massive increases in power to data centres but those data centres will need to be located more widely, placed closer to users, and inhabit spaces not previously thought of for data centre placement.

Alongside the additional strain on data centres, network infrastructure will also suffer increased pressure as millions of people attempt to connect at once, all while expecting minimal latency. Edge networks will need to be upgraded to ensure content and graphical assets can be stored at optimal points in the network, closest to the users streaming them. For the metaverse to be its true self, it will need to smoothly connect users from across the globe without interruption.

While the internet has improved leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades and we’ve seen innovations in eCommerce, video streaming, social media and virtual working, the network has limits and the metaverse requires resources currently beyond those limits.  If we’re serious about adopting the metaverse, blockchain innovators will need to work with data centre and network operators to work out how this exciting new age for the internet can be made a reality.

As a technologist and business leader, Jon Lucas founded Hyve Managed Hosting in the early 00s alongside his business partner Jake Madders. Since then, they have facilitated the growth of Hyve from a small start-up to a hugely successful managed cloud hosting business, winning many accolades such as Cloud Company of the Year, Brighton & Hove Business Awards Company of the Year & International Business of the Year and listed by the Sunday Times Fast Track 10 Ones to Watch. With a background in software development, Lucas has spent time at Crédit Agricole, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and M&C Saatchi throughout his career.