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SDN community and the orc battle for Helm’s Down

My actual  way to project work is as scenic as the famous track of the old Trans Euro Express „Rheingold”, running slowly  along the shores of the majestic river Rhine , passing old villages and the tragic rock of  “Loreley”, but it is still my commute to another week on the road.

While watching the scenic landscapes passing by, a little story came to my mind.

When you manage large communities, when you think about the behavioral patterns inside such a very large cybernetic system like sdn, you can use science.

One theory of system behavior is “Ergodicity”, an idea or a state that a systems has, when it behaves stochastic   (“An important place in a city is, where most people hang out) or pattern-based (“Follow Marilyn, she is the ‘It-Girl’ here” and watch the places she goes).

If both views show the same result, an system is ergodicic and therefore predictable. You can hear more about these ideas at my sdn Inside Track presentation here.

But reality, even inside a computer, gives sometimes different results.

Most of the people here will know Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Ring” cinema trilogy. And then, of course, you know the battle for Helm’s Deep. From a technical point of view, this was the largest battle scene ever realized in 3D technology at that time. Responsible for this visuals where “Weta Digital”, the New Zealand based Visual-Effects Factory, that made most of the VFX in LOTR.

As a  professional enterprise software geek geek and computer-generated movie lover, I was always interested in “how did they do it”. Especially if it is about “Large Scale Computing” (like SAP is).  

They have developed a software called “Massive” a crowd generation and crowd control program for High-End 3D animation. In the scene, you see some 10.000 orcs attacking the castle of our heroes. The software will generate the movements and controls the way the orcs as 3d objects will act and interact, so that there movements cwill create accurate render results in the finished movie.

Of course, you don’t want to see 100.000 orcs running in row and order like a Prussian army. They are running towards the wall, left, right, on top of each other, bouncing and rolling. The software gives every creature a rudimentary intelligence, see what the person left and right is doing and then follow the orc in front of him. The art is to make 3D animated and enerated movements as realistic as possible.

But the original software version produced different result. Ugly creatures without orcs next to them could choose their own direction. And this was not necessarily towards the center of the battle. Some of the creatures in the outer areas started to go backwards, to go home. The other monsters started to follow. And instead of attacking, after a while, you could see thousands of orcs “fleeing”, just running home.

Not that the orcs became pacifists, they just did what the program does: Follow the person in their front in the crowd.

 I once read this in an article and the screen shoots with the fleeing orcs where hilarious. Of course, the software was adjusted and everybody has seen the results in the cinema,

In Ergodicity terms, the orcs didn’t behave ergodicic and the software needed adjustment, as well as the crowd control algorithm.

And in terms of sdn? As we all know, in order to reach an SCN that will welcome all members, unintrusively watch over behavior, use and misuse, control can be a good and valid tool. But sometimes, it can turn into the opposite.

At the end, I think, it is good that life and people are sometimes unpredictable. Otherwise, it would be too boring on this planet.

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  • First off, an observation…
    “they just did what the program does: Follow the person in their front in the crowd.”

    The larger the organisation, the more likely this is to happen.  The ‘leaders’ message becomes diffused, the employee (who ultimately is working to satisfy their needs) starts working to satisfy their peers not their employer and so on.

    Anyway, the comparison between the Weta Productions software and SDN is apt.  In the example you gave, the Orcs didn’t do what was expected, and the result was bad (i.e. the Orcs started running the wrong way).  On the other hand, it could have resulted in a much better result than was expected.  In fact, after a bit of tweaking, this is what happened.

    Carrying the metaphor over to SDN, by leaving some choice in the hands of users / members / whatever we are, we can get bad results (i.e. the gaming for points that occasionally arises in the forums), or good results like the type of collaboration between SAP mentors and others that results in major innovations like ESME –