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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Great Cold Shoulder

Tomorrow Zenimax/Bethesda will migrate The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) European megaserver to their Frankfurt data center. There are several lovely pictures of the server hardware in the announcement for those who want to geek out a bit. I know I did. ;) But on a more serious note, I want to discuss what I feel is the real reason for this server migration.

You get all the same old reasons why they are doing this migration. It'll improve performance for European customers, etc, etc. That's all a bunch of smoke. Today's Internet is more than capable of hosting servers anywhere while maintaining respectable TTL times. It's all a matter of top-level ISP usage and domain placement. It's been a long, long time (at least two years, haha! :P ) since circuit lag has been an issue for international companies. If there is circuit lag, it'll be the so-called last mile circuit that causes it, and it will only affect a limited number of users. Most lag that occurs in games today are server-side lag caused by a lack of computing cycles to service all the interrupt requests. Just have a look at EVE Online and the lag their thousand ship (and ten thousand drone and hundred thousand missile) battles cause when they happen. That lag has nothing to do with Internet speeds. So I don't buy lag as the reason for this server move.

Furthermore, server moves are risky business. I've done a few in my day. No one breathes easy before or during a move. At no other time do you face a total risk of failure quite like moving from one set of machines to another. So why do it? Especially if lag and game playability isn't the issue. Point of fact, I've not read anything about lag on the European megaserver being an issue. Now, people always complain, and there have been some complaints of lag. But from what I can tell it's all been that last mile stuff I mentioned. It's not a server wide issue where everyone playing has unacceptable lag. So if the servers aren't over loaded, and the Internet in general is up to the task, why is Zenimax/Bethesda taking this risk?

Because... privacy.

It's the only good reason I can come up with for them doing this when it really doesn't make business sense to do it at all. Now, when I say the concern is privacy it DOES NOT mean I think the TESO servers are in any way insecure. Security and privacy are two sides of a coin, but they are completely different pictures if you follow the analogy. I believe the security of the TESO servers is as good as any other game server. When I say privacy, I mean personal information privacy, as in that stuff the United States National Security Agency (NSA) is so intent on collecting.

It's well known at this point the NSA, in its efforts to find terrorists, has actively tracked gamers. You just need to click on this Google search link for the evidence. As a U.S. citizen, I find this alarming in the extreme, but there is nothing I can do about it until the next election cycle. And even then, there are plenty of ignoramuses out there who actually agree with what the NSA is doing to probably allow them to keep doing it. But those fortunate enough to live in a more enlightened Europe do not have to put up with this sort of anti-democratic behavior. And indeed, many European countries have taken steps to protect their citizens from this sort of governmental excess.

In that regard, I find no coincidence in Zenimax/Bethesda picking Frankfurt as their hosting city. Germany strongly disagrees with the United States government over this spying, even before it came to light the NSA in effect tapped Chancellor Merkel's cell phone. By placing the European megaserver in Germany, Zenimax/Bethesda is fairly assured of not running afoul of the new privacy laws emerging in Europe. I've no doubt that data center is protected from the NSA.

And there's a warning in that for those in the U.S. government that think these privacy intrusions are a good thing. This is the Internet age. I doubt anyone with any sort of degree, economic or otherwise, will argue with that statement. And in this new age, companies will need to make decisions on where they want to set up shop. Now, during the industrial revolution that decision was predicated on (simplistically, to make a point) two things: access to resources (iron ore) and capable workers. That is why the U.S. midwest became the backbone of North America's industrial revolution. The great lakes provided the means of getting a virtually endless supply of iron ore, and the people of Ohio, Pennsylvania and upstate New York were a hard-working and educated (for the times) work force.

But this is a new age and it has new requirements. But it is still mostly about resources and workforce (and those other things I didn't mention.) Now ask yourself, what would have happened to the U.S. industrial revolution if every ship carrying iron ore on the Great Lakes was boarded and searched? What if every ship owner had to place government agents on their docks and their ships, and these agents required everyone who did business with that shipping line to hand over their identification and submit to warrantless background investigations, home invasions and tails (as in being followed) wherever they went? Would the industrial revolution have happened in the U.S. midwest, or would it have willingly chosen to relocate to Quebec?

That's where we are today. If I were going to start a game company, I'd think long and hard about where I was going to put its assets - hardware and data. And to be completely honest, I wouldn't put them anywhere within reach of the NSA. Even if I believed in what they are doing, my customers might not and that's what drives my decisions. It's about profit, and you can't make profit if you don't have customers.

So how does this end? Well, Chinese gamers are segregated from the rest of us by the Great Firewall. People in the United States point at the Great Firewall as proof of a totalitarian state. So what is it when the only one playing on American megaservers are U.S. Citizens, and everyone else chooses to go elsewhere? I suppose you could call that the Great Cold Shoulder.


  1. Your article makes some nice points and as a German it is interesting to hear an outside view of the NSA actions and the reactions of the European states. But with an US curt proclaiming that any server run by an US company anywhere on the planet falls under US jurisdiction, I'm not sure if this has the wanted effect but it is an interesting sign.

    Interesting to see the reaction and development of/for Internet privacy (and security in general) and what effect it has on the global use of Internet.

  2. Sorry for the slightly off-topic question, but I couldn't find another way to ask it (ok, I'm not on twitter and don't intend to either).
    You had some interesting posts about Landmark and cave exploration in particular. I managed to snatch a settlers pack and I'm now ready to start my full-time cave explorer position, but ran into a serious obstacle... I couldn't find any caves so far... So the question(s): Are they island specific? Are they indicated on the map somehow, like some hints on the terrain, or I have to go and explore the island and find the entrances myself? And something I came up with during writing this :-) Can you switch between servers, or it's like in other games, "where's your craddle, there's your grave"?

  3. No worries on the off topic. I'm happy to help. There are caves on every island... at least every island I've visited. Some islands seem to have more caves than others, but that may just be that they are harder to see from a distance on some islands due to foliage. You can see them on the overhead map though. Bring up the map and set it to show you claimable land. The smaller unclaimable squares are caves. Most caves appear as very rough areas of ground as you approach them, but you won't see they're a hole in the ground until you're right up on them. It is that angularity that typically tips me off that a ground feature is a cave. Most (all?) other geologic features in Landmark have rounded, weathered looking edges. Caves do not. They are big jagged gashes in the ground. That all said, here is a very good guide on finding caves and spelunking in Landmark: It talks about finding them on the map, what you'll need to take with you and just about anything else you can think of. Enjoy!

    PS: I don't think you can switch between servers, but I've never looked into it myself so YMMV.

  4. Hmm, then send the servers to the ISS. That's beyond the planet. :-) But then the bandwith could be a problem. :-/ But, if enough companies get interested, someone will play with the idea of having his server parks in space on a geostationary orbit and laser beams as a connection medium (or something even better I never heard about). That's reasonably fast and reliable in clear weather conditions and that might be doable from somewhere in the Sahara or Arabian Peninsula.

  5. Hmm... I'd bet I hit the reply button to Chanina's post... Or just wordpress shows "not yet publicated" comments on the wrong place?
    Anyway, thanks Mabrik for the Landmark tips. I'll try them out this evening.

  6. I review them before letting them post. That's probably what you noticed. It did go onto the site. Thanks!

  7. As Chanina remarked, I thought I read that the US government has basically insisted they had the right to access the IT systems of US companies, no matter where they were located. I like the idea of companies moving their servers away from the reach of governments hell bent on controlling the internet, but I expect the real reason would be reducing costs and increasing profits.

  8. Yes, the U.S. government is trying to claim that right. But the only country inclined to acquiesce to U.S. demands is Great Britain. Germany is having no part in it and good luck to the U.S. trying to tap their traffic. I think Germany is on to them now. As for reduced cost and increased profit, running two data centers is no way to get to that goal. There are overhead costs associated with them that can be consolidated easily by sharing a building that do not scale simply because you split the computing power in two. In other words, one data center with half the servers is not statistically cheaper than one data center with all the servers. It's not just the floor space that costs money. That's only been my experience, but please take into account it's what I do for a living. :)

  9. […] this week I shared my thoughts on why Zenimax/Bethesda decided to physically move their European mega-server to Frankfurt, […]


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