Edge computing vital in the evolution of the metaverse
Joris Verdickt, Edge & Segment VP Europe, Secure Power Division at Schneider Electric, explores how immersive experiences are being made possible via highly connected and resilient infrastructure systems at the network edge, and why AI and machine learning will be key to alleviate many of the challenges associated with the emergence of new virtual worlds.
The next great leap in the evolution of the internet, known as Web3, is already well underway. It promises to trigger a wide range of new and exciting forms of human interaction – many of which haven’t yet been imagined.
This new iteration of the web is being built on a foundation of blockchain, with applications such as cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs) and decentralised finance being woven into its very infrastructure.
It is widely predicted that these digitised applications will converge with the creation of the metaverse – a series of seamless, virtual worlds where users will be able to work, socialise and transact with each other in real time, using digital representations of themselves, known as avatars.
While our current version of the internet is made possible by an interconnected, global web of digital networks and data centres, this infrastructure lacks the speed and capacity needed to deliver the real-time interactions and experiences that metaverse users demand.
Only edge computing, paired with superfast networks capable of delivering ultra-low latency connectivity, will be able to generate these truly immersive metaverse experiences.
How leading global brands are using the metaverse to accelerate revenue
The building blocks of the metaverse are now well underway, and many of today’s leading global brands haven’t wasted any time in creating and building out their virtual presence. Luxury retail brands ranging from Gucci to Louis Vuitton have already created their own virtual fashion collections, with reports from Bloomberg that said companies are already making millions.
In many cases, these brands have created physical fashion items that are paired with unique virtual NFT counterparts, and which can be used by the owner’s avatar on metaverse platforms such as Decentraland. Dolce & Gabbana, for example, recently sold its most expensive suit ever made, the “Glass Suit”, which was crafted using silk, decorated with Swarovski crystals and is paired with an NFT version.
Even supermarket retailers are staking their claim in the metaverse, with brands such as Carrefour, who has previously worked with Schneider Electric, purchasing virtual real estate on platforms including Sandbox, with plans to open virtual stores.
The growth of the metaverse isn’t limited to haute couture and retail, however. In the automotive sector, Mercedes is the latest car maker to file metaverse and NFT-related trademark applications with the patents office, while Audi, McLaren and Hyundai are also piloting virtual reality (VR) concepts and using digital twins.
Winning experiences, powered by the edge
Gartner recently predicted that by 2026 that around 25% of the global population will spend an hour a day in the metaverse, engaged in activities such as working, studying, and shopping. Other organisations such as the World Economic Forum (WEF) also predict 30% of the world’s organisations will have metaverse products and services - implying a significant increase in demand for both engineering and distributed infrastructure associated with virtual worlds.
The opportunities surrounding the metaverse are clearly increasing, but the real winners in this exciting new space will demand access to digital networks and diverse interconnectivity to enable real-time interactions, primarily so that metaverse “life” can be conducted without a hint of lag or latency. Those leading the market will also be able to achieve ultra-realistic scene rendering in real-time using technology such as augmented (AR) and VR.
For those organisations to truly garner the innovations offered by the metaverse, edge computing will be key in bringing this exciting proposition to market. Traditionally, edge computing places infrastructure, processing power, and data storage closer to the user, rather than sending it to a conventional data centre. This capability reduces network latency as well as the bandwidth demands placed on conventional networks.
Once paired with artificial intelligence (AI), edge computing systems can also decide what data needs to be processed locally and what information can safely be sent to the cloud without impacting the metaverse users’ experience. And while edge will be the key enabler of the digital realm, providing localised compute and storage capabilities at-scale, latency will be further reduced by using super-fast connectivity made possible via next-generation networks such as 5G and 6G.
Metaverse-ready networks will support the proliferation of data
To make the vision of the metaverse a reality, businesses and consumers will expect to see a significant change in digital networks, be that through modernisation or general upgrade. The edge data centres of the future will also be a prerequisite to support the massive increases in data and connectivity demands.
Facebook founder and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose company has already invested more than $36bn in the metaverse, emphasised this point in a statement before the opening of Mobile World Congress in 2022, saying, "Creating a true sense of presence in virtual worlds delivered to smart glasses and VR headsets will require massive advances in connectivity. Bigger than any of the step changes we've seen before.”
A rapid proliferation of distributed edge servers, many of which will be placed in remote locations, will also create significant challenges for IT teams in terms of resilience, security, and maintenance. Luckily the AI and machine learning capabilities embedded in today’s data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) software platforms have made it simpler to monitor, manage and control all critical-IT and related network infrastructure systems.
Building the first commercially viable metaverse platform is clearly going to be a huge undertaking, but the longest and most valuable journeys always begin with a single step. In the technology sector we are no strangers to this, and I imagine that the creators of the APRANET would find it truly remarkable if they could see how far-reaching networking technology has now come.
IT professionals, especially those responsible for the critical IT and networks that will support the next evolution of the metaverse, should begin futureproofing their cloud and core data centres today, ensuring they can extend all the way to the furthest edge environments.
Doing so will ensure their infrastructure can accommodate the most innovative and high bandwidth applications the metaverse will demand. If they don’t, they may find themselves excluded from this exciting new virtual world, and miss the benefits that are yet to come with it.