GED Interviews Mathew Lodge

I mentioned a while back that I was going to try to get some more information about PowerPlay, this time from Mathew Lodge of Cisco. GED finaly hooked up with tha man for a brief Q&A about Cisco’s involvement with PowerPlay and what PowerPlay means for an ISP. So if you want to know the down and dirty click more for the interview.

GED> What are ISP’s going to need to do in order to support PowerPlay to the fullest extent possible.

ML> PowerPlay is a set of implementation recommendations. If the ISP implements all of them, you get the best possible gaming service. Since on-line gaming is what we call an “end-to-end” problem, the best results come if all of the pieces of the network from the user’s PC through to the game server are optimized.

ISPs control the chunk of network from the remote access server (which answers dial-up modem calls), through aggregation and backbone to the game server itself. Typically, ISPs will want to optimize the remote access server for throughput and connection stability, and configure it to identify and mark game traffic as high priority. In the backbone, they use traffic engineering to minimize latency, and avoid packet loss and jitter for game traffic. The game server will ideally be located near to the dial-up users and have enough CPU and bandwidth available.

GED> Will PowerPlay only work with Cisco series hardware? Or do you have plans to support other brands as well?

ML> The idea is *not* for Cisco to create closed or proprietary schemes, as we’ve seen that this stifles innovation and is ultimately self-defeating. PowerPlay today uses existing Internet protocols and mechanisms to achieve its improvements.

Only Cisco has been focused on solving the problem of quality on-line gaming, and we have a very broad range of products for ISPs, so we’re fairly confident that we’re the only vendor today with all of the pieces.

Cisco’s products have a rich set of quality of service features built into Cisco IOS, and because all the products are configured and operate in the same way it’s easier for ISPs to integrate the products into a functional and scalable network. As IP quality of service technology is a core competency of Cisco, we’re confident that we can continue to push the envelope and stay ahead of the game.

GED> What kind of problems are Cisco trying to solve with PowerPlay? (ie… packetloss, latency, insert item here…)

ML> There are four key network attributes to optimize:

* End-to-end latency (lag)
* Jitter (variation in inter-packet arrival)
* Packet loss
* Throughput (also known as “goodput” 🙂

The question is, how do you do this in a way that is scalable for Internet Service Providers, where the amount of traffic they carry doubles every 90 days, and where the ISP might resell “virtual dial ports” to AOL, MSN, NetZero and 15 other ISPs? That’s what Cisco’s contribution brings to PowerPlay.

The limited bandwidth offered by a modem can be an issue, but with good game and map design it is possible to avoid problems. And, of course, you need enough bandwidth available from the game server to the remote access server to carry the aggregate gaming traffic.

GED> You may or may not be able to answer this, but i’ll throw it in anyways. Will ISP’s be charged for the PowerPlay upgrade, or will it be freely distributed?

ML> There will be no “PowerPlay charge” from Cisco. In some cases an ISP may need to upgrade hardware or software to optimize their network for PowerPlay — it really depends on what equipment they already have. Also, PowerPlay gives guidelines for dimensioning network links to support game traffic. There’s no “free lunch”: if there’s not enough bandwidth available to carry the high priority game traffic, quality of service can’t help you and packet loss is inevitable. So, service providers may have to upgrade network bandwidth in some places — again, this is going to depend on the particular ISP’s network architecture.

GED> Will PowerPlay affect the internet use in general, streaming video and audio, things of that nature? If so, can you estimate or give an example of how much it will affect it? (I seriously doubt any modem user will ever be able to stream a 20mb video, but hey, it’d be nice!)

ML> Optimizing latency, jitter and packet loss is good for a number of applications, including voice and video over IP. Applications that demand guaranteed service levels from the network obviously require work on the part of the provider of that network to deliver them. Just because a network is optimized for gaming traffic doesn’t mean it’s also optimized for, say, voice over IP. But a lot of the same technologies are used.

Across the global Internet there is only “best effort” packet delivery. But even today, improvements in the general level of network technology out there and the work of individual ISPs have enabled real-time voice applications like dialpad.com’s free voice long distance service to deliver remarkable call quality. That would have been impossible just two years ago.

Across the network of a single ISP, it is possible — right now, with today’s technology — to deliver very high quality voice, video and other applications. It is Cisco’s goal to continue to enable this and improve the global Internet as a consequence.

GED would like to thank Doug Lombardi of Valve Software for putting us in touch with tha man, and Mathew Lodge for his time and dedication to the gaming community (not to mention for putting up with the annoying monkies that make up GamersEd, I promise we’ll clean the floors next time!!)