Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

1. One of Second Life’s most innovative content creators, Ordinal Malaprop, has shuttered his business. Find out why.

2. Forterra have had some business challenges over recent months including laying off staff at the end of 2009. Their OLIVE virtual environment has been bought out by the Science Applications International Corporation. All the details here – this will hopefully be a positive outcome for a virtual environment under somewhat of a cloud.

3. Twinity continues its expansion with a growth in Virtual London: “These areas will include famous buildings and monuments, from the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace to the Millennium Bridge, and the Trocadero. With this, Virtual London, will have grown to the east and south of its present spread, while also marking a foray across the virtual Thames.

4. Virtual World Best Practices in Education 2010: the call for presentations has gone out. Their website contains all the information you need.

5. The University of WA have announced the finalists of their Machinima Challenge. You can read all the details on the excellent UWA in SL blog, but here’s the list of finalists:

The Heart of UWA

UWA Machinima Challenge

University of Western Australia in Second Life

CHANTAL HARVEY, Maastricht, Netherlands
University of Western Australia in Second Life


SOPHIA YATES, Lancaster, Massachusetts, USA
The Challenge – Architecture, Teaching, Research Arts on the UWA sims

IONO ALLEN, Paris, France
Seek Wisdom

GLASZ DECUIR, San Sebastian, Spain
MachinimUWA: UWA in Second Life, Achieving International Excellence


MachinimUWA: Art Architecture, Research, Teaching

NOVA DYSZEL, Toronto, Canada
UWA in SL Challenge

UWA Jan 2010

SOPHIA YATES, Lancaster, Massachusetts, USA
Second Life Virtual University of Western Australia

The winner announcement is coming up on the 8th February at 1pm SL time, with Torley Linden making an appearance.

Swine Flu (H1N1) and business continuity: Forterra’s solution

h1n1-forterra1It’s fairly well recognised now that virtual environments provide a powerful collaboration solution for business -it’s just widespread adoption that’s yet to occur as real-world ROI cases are still fairly sparse. Forterra Systems are a virtual worlds provider we’ve covered a few times before, and their focus is very much business and government.

With the recent concern over the 2009 H1N1 Flu Virus (colloquially known as ‘Swine Flu’, there’s been quite a bit of focus on the impact of a true pandemic on the population as a whole. Businesses are obviously concerned about their ability to maintain operations in an environment where a significant proportion of their staff may be out of action and the rest are concerned about going the same way. Within that context, Forterrra have repackaged their OLIVE platform as RemoteOperations. Being the cynic I am, I initially assumed this was smart marketing and not a lot else, so I touched base with Forterra’s VP of Marketing, Chris Badger:

Lowell: Is this version of your software different in any way i.e. is this an evolution of your offering or a pitch of your current offering’s usefulness for continuity of operations?

Chris: RemoteOperations is a new use case or application for our software. There are no new features we are introducing with this announcement. However one of the details in the announcement is that Forterra is now offering both hosted and SaaS options for organizations. We are providing these options to help both small and medium sized businesses who don’t have any or much IT staff to manage this technology themselves. In addition our SaaS offering is packaged as a monthly user subscription so its a very affordable way for any organization to start using a business oriented virtual world in a pilot or test. The SaaS offering is going through a beta program now so we can refine the offering based on the customer feedback. However we can accept other interested parties into the beta program if they want to participate. We will do a formal announcement about the SaaS offering early next year.

Lowell: Do you have any entities on board as pilot sites for that purpose at this stage?

Chris: We discovered that several of our leading customers were in fact using OLIVE as a business continuity application as one of many use cases for OLIVE. For example one of these customers is a large Italian bank who is using OLIVE for meetings, events, employee skills training, business continuity, and emergency preparedness simulations/training, ie explosion in their data center. Within our own company we have had about 10% to 20% of our own employees come down with severe colds or the flu in the last 6 weeks. No one has swine flu yet! Of course we send them home but they can still participate in project planning and status meetings using OLIVE. The point we discovered is that the business continuity application is a very real, timely solution using OLIVE that has not received much visibility within the industry.

Lowell: For the option hosted by Forterra, what sort of continuity of operations / redundancy do you have in case of a severe outbreak? How will you ensure you can keep things running yourself if it were a true pandemic.

Chris: Both our hosted and SaaS offerings are fully redundant and have fail over capabilities. When we do our formal announcement of the SaaS offering we will mention that service level agreements are provided that assure high availability and uptime.

As you likely know the experts indicate a pandemic can force a company to operate with only 60% or 50% of their staff. Our operations group is large enough and every one is cross trained so we can support our customers even if 50% of our operations staff can’t work. There is rarely much hardware support work required, which our hosting provider does and they are very large. Our own operations team can do their craft at work or at home. As we have personally experienced we can have employees staying at home with the flu but they still get a few hours of work done using OLIVE. Ultimately the service level agreement with our customers assures them of uptime and availability independent of any issues we have to deal with.


It’s far from certain that the H1N1 virus will evolve to a pandemic, but what’s more certain is the need for effective remote operations solutions given the increasingly dispersed workforce for larger businesses in particular. Business continuity plans that factor in newer solutions may be considered a riskier approach, but it could also help to ensure real continuity rather than holding things together for a few days. One of the specific challenges of a pandemic is the potential length of time a business may need to run on reduced staff: this is the test for products like the one Forterra are offering. If they provide a true collaboration solution for extended situations, then expect to see even conservative businesses taking a closer look.

Second Life offers enterprise solution

It’s been rumoured for months now, but Linden Lab have finally confirmed that they’ve entered the alpha phase of “a server solution that is completely disconnected from the main Second Life environment with all of the rich functionality in the box.”

As far as virtual worlds and enterprise, it doesn’t get much bigger than this. The announcement has a bunch of significant implications:

1. Key security issues / intellectual property issues minimised

The ongoing and legitimate criticism of Second Life for business is its limitations in ensuring security of information. I constantly cite the power of Second Life for prototyping, but most businesses aren’t going to put key intellectual property on the public Second Life grid. The new solution will allow all the development to occur internally, with the company then potentially able to do some more public testing if desired.

The more obvious security benefits come around improved monitoring of activity and on-site backup of key data. I’m assuming the ability to do roll-backs will come with the package, which gives business greater peace of mind that they alone are ensuring their own information can be retrieved in the event of problems.


2. Enterprise virtual worlds now have a crowded marketplace

The proposed new product is far from assured of being the dominant player in the enterprise marketplace, but its brand recognition will certainly help it get a substantial foothold. OpenSim is the obvious competitor on the face of it, but no-one would be claiming they have a viable enterprise solution yet. The more realistic competitors are platforms like Forterra’s OLIVE, the open-source Project Wonderland and business function specific offerings like NoviCraft. The advantage most of these incumbents have is an ability to argue direct business outcomes, whether it be improved remote training, better team-building skills, or some other outcome negotiated as part of the enterprise-specific installation.

Where the new Linden Lab product will gain true traction is where it’s able to compete on ease of installation and the all-important price. It’s hard to imagine Linden Lab will launch something that’s more expensive than current offerings unless they can make the case for markedly superior features. I’d also expect some third-party vendors like Rivers Run Red are well underway in their preparations to offer development services for enterprise once this launches, and there’s probably a bunch more that will seriously look at expanding into development in the space now that the uptake is potentially more widespread.

3. Another nail in the mirror world coffin?

If the Linden Lab solution does gain traction, it really starts to squeeze out any enterprise arguments made by mirror worlds such as Twinity. The ability for business to run a grid internally and the large user base of the public grid to leverage from makes the smaller worlds vulnerable to losing the businesses they may have already attracted. That said, enterprises that are in the virtual world space for purely marketing purposes may still find worlds like Twinity a worthwhile investment.

4. The unknowns

At this early stage there’s more not known about this new product than known. The key questions I’d like to see answered are:

a. What interoperability will there be with the main Second Life grid?

b. Will there be off-the-shelf capability to connect to other enterprise grids?

c. As mentioned above, what will this cost, and will there be discounts for educators or other non-profit entities?

d. What support mechanisms will be in place. Will those mechanisms be Linden Lab driven or outsourced?

5. The sum up

It’s hard to put anything but a positive spin on this development. At worst it may lead to some loss of variety as smaller players have difficulties. At best it may be a catalyst for more widespread adoption of virtual worlds for enterprise. The most likely outcome in the short-term is slight growth in interest by business and some strong encouragement for Second Life developers.

What are your thoughts? Do you see the announcement being a game-changer?

Forterra release paper on enterprise virtual worlds

Virtual world developer for enterprise and government, Forterra, have released a white paper titled Recipe for Success with Enterprise Virtual Worlds.


Aside from an overview of the potential of virtual worlds in business, the cost comparisons may catch the eye of some enterprises looking at cost-cutting measures.

Additionally, an interesting case study is provided on Accenture and its initial use of Forterra’s OLIVE platform to determine the utility of the approach for its own business. The short story is that Accenture are working on a wider business case for virtual world utilisation as a money-saving proposition – in their case primarily for training and meetings.

If you’ve not heard of Accenture then you won’t be aware of what a behemoth they are in the worldwide business sphere. As a management consulting company they have more than 186 thousand employees with a revenue of over US$23 billion. If widespread adoption were to occur in a business that size, it alone would create some significant momentum in the virtual world sphere. Add to that the impact Accenture have in their consulting role – if they end up advocating enterprise virtual worlds as a legitimate business strategy, then even the more optimistic forecasts to date on adoption of the technology may start to look conservative.

You can download the full paper here – by pitching their product mid-field between teleconferencing and videoconferencing, Forterra has started to make inroads with companies of the scale of Accenture and assisted in the eventual development of a cohesive ROI case. That can only assist the wider virtual world industry in demonstrating its potential. It’s ironic that the ecomonic downturn may be the thing that helps overcome the intrinsic cynicism of business toward virtual worlds as it becomes apparent they may actually assist in business costs.

What’s your view? Is Accenture’s momentum in the area a sign of further significant growth on the horizon or just a behemoth of a company testing the waters to keep abreast of developments?

Forterra ups the ante in enterprise virtual worlds

Enterprise-focused developer Forterra this week ramped up its virtual world offering, emphasising the gains for business over traditional teleconferencing and videoconferencing solutions. Forterra’s OLIVE virtual world platform has reached version 2.2 and with the upgrade comes integration with IBM’s instant messaging / web conferencing application, Lotus Sametime.

The video below provides a striking example of the potential of virtual worlds for enterprise (the really interesting stuff starts around the one-minute mark):

Forterra’s pitch to business is based on cost-reduction:

Audio and Web conferencing are inexpensive, ubiquitous, and generally easy to use. However for meetings involving complex or longer topics the participants can be challenged to grasp the discussion context and maintain focus due to multi-tasking. Virtual meetings in OLIVE are proving to be less expensive yet more engaging and productive for users. Most enterprise-grade teleconferencing systems charge $0.10 to $0.25 per person per minute which can equate to thousands of dollars of expense per employee every year. OLIVE pricing is an order of magnitude less.

Other features in the new update include a reservation system for virtual meeting rooms, with full integration with email calendars via MS Exchange and Lotus Notes. PowerPoint and Windows Media files are able to be viewed in-world, as can any Windows desktop application. Another feature that stood out for me was avatar integration with services like LinkedIn, Facebook, Lotus Connections, or an enterprise-based HR system or Learning Management System. Participants in meetings can right-click on an avatar to get full profile information from the selected service.

We’ve covered another integrated enterprise solution, Immersive Workspaces, previously. These solutions are helping to tackle perceptions of virtual worlds as insecure environments with no obvious return on investment.

Interview – David Rolston, Forterra CEO

Forterra Inc is a private virtual world provider with a focus on health care, education and homeland security / disaster preparedness. One of their press releases a few weeks back caught my eye – Forterra has been awarded a Commercialization Pilot Program (CPP) by the US Army for medical training simulations of combat scenarios. So I thought I’d have a chat with Forterra’s CEO David Rolston (via email) about Forterra’s take on virtual worlds.

Lowell:: Can you describe a little of Forterra’s history and whether virtual worlds have always been its focus?

David:: Forterra has been around for a decade already. Initially the company was
known as, and made one of the first social interaction websites (which still exists as About two and a half years ago made an important change. Our board decided there were promising opportunities in other areas. We spun off a company called Makena Technologies that was licensed to work in the entertainment area, applying the software to creating social worlds for MTV, Coca-Cola and other consumer environments. At the same time we redirected the mainline company to work on enterprise applications and other professional usage, and renamed it Forterra Systems.

Lowell:: For those who haven’t heard of OLIVE, can you give a little of its development history?

David:: As a starting point for the new company, Forterra took the existing software which was built to execute 24 hours a day, seven days a week with millions of users. The software was used very heavily in large-scale, multi-player environments, but it was there for a specific task, namely running So our first job was to extract a reusable platform from that which would allow a customer to quickly build an enterprise oriented virtual world. That platform is now Forterra’s flagship product OLIVE (On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment). Applications developed using OLIVE allow users to sit at their PCs with a network connection, log on, and appear in an interactive, virtual environment represented as a fully animated avatar. We have the best 3D audio in the industry and have been told by our customers it sounds just like being in a real meeting. Through a choice of simple keyboard, mouse or game controller interface, users are able to navigate through realistic environments, access and deploy equipment, drive/fly vehicles, don personal protective equipment, and communicate with one another. As a scenario is executed, the results are captured by a built in session replay system that support debrief, so users can learn from the simulation exercise.

OLIVE’s distributed client-server architecture enables simulations to easily scale from single user applications to large scale simulated environments supporting many thousands of concurrent users. Working with the OLIVE platform, customers can create realistic virtual world content and plug-in functionality to meet a wide range of simulation needs. An API layer enables customers to reuse existing content, integrate with third party applications, and leverage third party tools. The open
nature of the OLIVE platform allows customers to create powerful multi-resolution and multi-fidelity federated simulation environments.

Lowell:: Is the user interface similar to other virtual world platforms like Second Life?

David:: There are some similarities between the OLIVE user interface and that of Second Life in large part because some of the features and navigation are similar. We find Second Life users are comfortable navigating and communicating in OLIVE within about 10 minutes because of these

Lowell:: There are also some graphical similarities to Second Life – does OLIVE have any code that’s similar?

David:: No there is no code that is common or similar between OLIVE to Second Life. The graphical level of OLIVE is more realistic and business oriented then Second Life in large part because the majority of our 3D content has been professionally developed.

Lowell:: You’ve recently announced that you’ve been awarded a Commercialization Pilot by the US Army for medical training simulations of combat scenarios – can you explain a little more about that?

David:: The initial Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards that were granted to Forterra by the US Army have been very successful. We have successfully demonstrated our technology through a phase I and II award, and as a result have been awarded a Commercialization Pilot Program. This program funds the development of features so the software can be used in Army production usage and in the commercial markets. Using the OLIVE platform we developed an application with realistic virtual emergency departments, operating rooms, reception areas, and even entire health-care facilities have been built to support a wide range of training applications, including first responder and trauma training. In the U.S. military, the contemporary operating environment requires combat medics to use their skills in team-based medical combat scenarios for effectively treating trauma patients on the battlefield.

Lowell:: Do you have plans for OLIVE to ever be interoperable with other platforms?

David:: Absolutely. The first level of interoperability we have achieved already is for 3D content to be imported or exported to OLIVE using standard content file formats like Collada. We have several partners who are able to migrate their Second Life content and import it into OLIVE. The next levels of interoperability will include how avatars and even the client software will be interoperable between virtual world platforms, but these two are more in the future.

Lowell:: What sort of technology do people need to use OLIVE?

David:: Today we have a PC only client that runs on either XP or Vista. Our customers are enterprises which have overwhelmingly adopted PCs as their main compute platform for users. However Forterra is working on support for lower end PCs since a typical deployment must run on laptops or desktops that are 1 to 3 years old. We also have excellent support working behind or through firewalls so enterprise IT groups can control who gets access to the virtual world.

Lowell:: What do you see as the key benefits of virtual world-based training?

David:: There are many benefits. First geographically distributed learners can meet virtually for either individual or team training and practice their skills many times before applying them in the real world. For certain types of jobs such as being a soldier or oil rig worker our software saves lives because of the hazards of their jobs. For other jobs such as a sales person the skills and confidence they gain practicing before applying their craft on real customers makes them more effective. Second, OLIVE includes 3D record and replay so teams can conduct after action reviews to pinpoint where learners should improve their performance. Lastly, with the physics and simulations built into OLIVE we can enable interaction with objects that supports a wide range of support and manufacturing type of training around a product or process.

Lowell:: What does OLIVE cost? Is it a scenario-specific cost or can people purchase the software and create their own scenarios?

David:: We offer a Software Development Kit that allows customers or partners to develop their own scenarios. Forterra offers three types of developer programs that include a developer license to OLIVE, documentation, support, and different levels of training and developer services. We
offer a Basic and Enterprise production license to OLIVE that allows small groups to deploy inexpensively with the ability to scale up to 1000s of concurrent users. We offer the option to license industry specific pre-packaged content packs such as a medical and meeting pack as well as plug-ins to standard business systems or integrations. These content packs and plug-ins help customers get into production more quickly and less expensively but with the ability to develop on top of those offerings to meet specific needs.

Lowell:: What plans for future developments does Forterra have?

David:: There are several exciting development areas we are working on. First we have rolled out a virtual collaboration application that shares MS Powerpoint, streaming video, and SCORM elearning content to distributed audiences. Later this summer we will expand the collaboration suite to include any MS Office document type, white boards, and meeting management. We are also wrapping up a new terrain standard we pioneered called Paged Terrain Format that allows importing any legacy terrain database. Later this year we will support extensions of our API for AI middleware vendors so we can provide voice recognition and responses with NPCs. This supports high volume individual training scenarios.

Previous Posts