It’s increasingly rare these days that technology produces something truly new – but once in a while, there’s a game-changing development, and right now, it’s ‘the metaverse’. Spearheaded by Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, who has gone as far as to rename his company ‘Meta’ in reference to its new focus, the metaverse has been one of the big buzzwords of the past 18 months. But what exactly is it, is it really worth all the hype, and what will it mean for the data center industry?

Metaverse graphic
– Getty Images

In the latest round of DCD>Talks broadcasts sponsored by Schneider Electric, we’ve brought together experts from across the tech sector to discuss just that. In “Building for the Metaverse” we look at the requirements needed for a resource-hungry virtual world, the reality around infrastructure demand of moving into the metaverse, what the infrastructure demands are expected to be, and if we could be moving into a potential bottleneck in Edge capacity to meet demand. Our panelists are Si Brown, CTO of Far, Lauren Long, managing partner at SL Edge Consulting, Jason Powers, senior product management director at Equinix, and Adam Compton, strategy director at Schneider Electric.

Then, in “What to expect from the next big thing”, we look at exactly what the Metaverse can do for us, with Mark Thiele, CEO of Edgevana, and Dale Perkins, co-founder of Infinity Metaverse – exploring different interpretations of what the metaverse is, what might be needed to make it happen and who the metaverse is for.

Amongst the topics under discussion is Si Brown’s analysis that there is a need to standardize the metaverse to avoid it becoming simplified, limited, and predefined, rather than the best version, of itself – warning that we’re potentially heading for one of the format wars that have peppered the tech industry’s history:

“Companies are creating ‘miniverses’ which are all separate. It's not like the Internet where it's open and free. I think if you go back to the days of Betamax videos, and VHS if you can remember that far, VHS wasn't the better product. It was just better marketing. What we've got is Betamax, VHS, DVD, SVD – all of these different things, all at the same time, and the metaverse, I believe, will only work If there's something in the middle that is going to be able to communicate, and translate all of those different areas, and at the moment, there isn't one.”

Lauren Long of SL Edge Consulting believes that while there is a need to create a common language between metaverses, it slightly misses the point of an organic growth medium that has already begun, meaning attempts from businesses like Meta to define it are almost irrelevant:

“As we transition into a web-three world, it's just two people talking – there is no third party. There is no platform. There are lots of big companies out there that think ‘We're going to be the metaverse’ and no, you're not. It's not going to happen like that, in fact, it's already happening in a lot of small instances.”

Schneider’s Adam Compton warns that the danger comes from trying to define the metaverse without a use case. Rather, he suggests, we should look for the reason to use the technology, not define what the metaverse is upfront.

“I think that kind of vision for me sounds very physically sedentary, which I'm not interested in, psychologically it’s not great, and frankly, a little nauseating. That's not the right use case. That's not the right mindset. The right mindset is to take it and say that the use case is industrial. The use case is better design. It's better operation. It's better maintenance, all through a metaverse capability that leads to better efficiency, much better safety, better sustainability.”

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Equinix’s Jason Powers points out that the metaverse is a progression and evolution of existing technologies, built for gaming, virtual reality, and remote working, all brought together in one place: “I think really what we're just talking about is a natural progression and evolution of how we intend to experience different things, augmented by technology made possible by the natural evolution of things like, mobile devices, compute and storage. People are thinking of new ways, because they have access to new ways to create experiences, because they have access to new technologies that they didn't have before.”

Dale Perkins identifies that many of the ‘technologies’ we take for granted today are built on the basis of existing ones, making them do more than the creators originally intended. Can we expect the same for the metaverse?

“When Google Maps came out, we didn't understand the capabilities this layer had for all of these companies to come in and use this technology. At first, it was just, ‘I'm going from A to B and I never have to use a map again’. But actually, that layer of technology allowed so many other businesses to be built on top, and change the way we live. Now you pick up your phone, and you order cigarettes and alcohol to your door. But this was actually built from that Google Maps layer. When this layer came in, it actually changed our world and our habits of how we behave as human beings.”

Mark Thiele discusses the value of the metaverse as an accelerator towards the world of Web 3.0, bringing together the value propositions of VR and the blockchain – and that starts with making it accessible to all: “Finding ways to reduce that barrier to entry to allow for people to grow into a new environment and experience it at their pace and experience it with a wider variety of workloads or opportunities is really key to the success of any modern technology taking hold.

“Some of the things that define web three are things like the validator on a blockchain network, ensuring that transactions occur sooner, ensuring higher levels of transparency and security – and managing for performance, managing for scale. Web three blockchains, and the like, I believe, are synonymous with the future of Edge and certainly with the future of metaverse.”

To get more hot takes on the world of the Metaverse, including more on the impact of the virtual world on data center demands and what steps we’ll all need to ensure it’s a secure platform, you can listen to both panel discussions, 'What to expect from the next big thing - the Metaverse' and 'Building for the Metaverse: What is required?' on-demand via the DCD website.