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Virtual Worlds Case Study:

IBM Business Center

See the official IBM Press Release on this project.

IBM’s Virtual Business Center was designed to push the limits on how virtual worlds are used in several ways — the vision for the project was a virtual space populated around the clock by dozens of real IBM employees from all over the globe ready to do business not only in English, but German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and French. The business center was planned to be seamlessly integrated with IBM’s thousands of pages of web content, and would facilitate the fluid passage of clients from the flat to the 3D web and vice versa.

The space itself was meant to inspire both staff and clients with the potentials of the future, and so it was purposely designed to take full advantage of the virtual world of which it is a part.


The inspirations for the design, which was first visualized on a sketchpad by Lee Dierdorff, IBM’s Vice President for Web Strategy and Enablement, included scenes from Star Wars, the Jetsons, the Noguchi Garden at IBM’s Armonk headquarters, and the Tokyo airport. At the same time, this high-tech vision was rooted in the high-touch philosophy of the IBM branch office that preceded IBM’s move to the web many years ago. The project leader Maggie Blayney, IBM’s Director, Global Web Strategy & Innovation, worked with a team of several dozen IBM staff to fine tune the “high touch” side of the vision.

The essential design challenge was to develop a virtual setting that could achieve all of these goals, while integrating business-driven interactions and tools to facilitate the movement of staff and clients seamlessly around the island.

An oriental feel, inspired by the Noguchi Garden, characterizes the ground level of the sim, which includes the welcome area and arrival point, the IBM Info Trail, the Conference Center, and an amphitheater used for large customer briefings.


The IBM Info Trail incorporates rich landscaping, water, extensive multimedia, and video into an immersive experience designed as a way to bring clients from the welcome area to the Conference and Customer Briefing Centers.

Also at ground level is a large maze sculpture, incorporated into both the pathways and the landscape at the center of the sim. Only when one sees the maze from above does it become apparent that the sculpture is actually the IBM logo, large enough to be seen from “space” on the Second Life map.


The sim is defined by four saucer-like pods, delicately poised upon a slender framework of curved pillars. The pods are where the business of the center takes place, and staff are on hand for hours convenient to North America and Europe. Asian hours are planned soon.

Each of the four pods has a particular function, and each draws on the heritage of IBM’s Branch Offices for that functionality. The largest is the Sales Center, which houses staff representing each of the major business units at IBM — Servers, Software, Storage, Global Technology Services, Global Business Services, and Industry Solutions. Completing the set of pods is the Reception Center, where visitors get their first interactions with live IBM representatives, the Innovation Center, which houses a display of IBM innovations past and present, and the IBM Support Library, gateway to IBM’s extensive collection of resources, including the acclaimed Redbook technical series.


The IBM Business Center is the latest manifestation of an informal partnership between IBM and NMC that has been in place for more than 10 years. The Center is an integral part of IBM’s extensive presence in Second Life, and is open to the public. You can visit it via

For a sample of the experience at the Virtual Business Center, watch a YouTube video describing a potential experience there: