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May 23, 2001

EA: NetOps has a Deathwish - and he speaks!

The following was posted to the Team Comments page of the Ultima Online Web site:

NetOps has a Deathwish - and he speaks!

This update comes to you from Sean "Deathwish" McMains. I started at Origin about 8 months ago as a web application developer after having become dissatisfied with life as a dot-com drone, ironically at another company in the Origin building. After moving downstairs to Origin proper, I was quickly taught to swim by being tossed in the deep water of maintaining our customer management and billing system.

In spite of having been a long-time fan of Origin, I'd never actually played UO before coming to work here. Now that I've spent a good deal of time in the game and in the company, I'm convinced that for someone looking for deep gameplay in a Persistent State World there's nothing to compete with UO. (And with UO:3D, we're getting a bit of the eye candy too.) Since we've narrowed our focus solely to UO in the last couple months, we've been able to put even more effort into improving the game and its supporting systems. One recent improvement I'd like to bring to your attention involves the communication between the systems where you pay and the systems where you play.

As you know, to play Ultima Online, you have to pay a certain amount monthly. The server that's responsible for maintaining that billing information is completely separate from the server that decides whether or not you're able to log into the game. So, years ago, a system to transfer information from one server to the other was built. Though this system worked fine under normal loads, it would on occasion get a bit behind when there was an exceptional amount of data to move.

One instance of this occurred only last month, when we opened a new Japanese shard. The enthusiasm of the Japanese players was such that the shard filled to capacity within minutes of its opening, and stayed maxed out for days. We were thrilled to get such an enthusiastic response from our loyal fans, but unfortunately the database that serves the login servers began to show signs of strain. Though players were still able to log in to the game, our data transit system wasn't able to get its job done as efficiently as we hoped.

Our team immediately came together and started moving the data manually to ensure that players who had paid for the UO service would be able to play. This, however, was obviously a short term solution. After analyzing the situation, several of our database experts -- Mike "AviStetto" Howard and Doug Mellencamp most notably -- decided on a design for a new data transfer system that should be more efficient and robust than the one we had been using. After presenting their plans to our supervisors, they decided to go ahead and build the new system, estimating that it would take two days of a couple of our guys' time.

They set feverishly to work, and were ready to flip the switch right on schedule. We were all excited to see the results of the work, since the new system was simpler and would theoretically be much easier to maintain than the old one was. They made the switch, and were delighted to see the old system shuttling the data around as much as 30x as fast as was previously possible. Best of all, the very farthest behind it's ever gotten now in the couple of weeks that it's been operating is only about 8 minutes, and it averages much closer to 2 minutes -- far better than we'd ever seen with the old system.

This is just one example of the kind of improvements that are being made to UO daily. They're not all big, glamorous things that you notice right away when you log in. But we hope that, as we continue to improve UO's foundations, that you'll eventually notice even fewer interruptions, and will just be able to get down to the serious business of GMing that character you've been working on.

Sean "Deathwish" McCains
Network Operations
Origin Systems

Posted by Nobody at May 23, 2001 1:11 PM

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