Zynga Moves Back To Private Cloud

Zynga has made significant contributions on the online gaming industry with its popular games such as CastleVille, Mafia Wars and Farmville. These games were initially dependent on Amazon Web Services servers (Amazon EC2) that host player’s game activities, since it required more storage and speed in 2009. Recent developments, however, took place as Zynga realized that it can host its own player’s activities if it goes into the private cloud.

The statistics revealed that Zynga only has to have at least one third the number of servers that it used with EC2. This may sound surprising, but as the comparisons were made they found that Zynga can run one virtual machine (VM) per server just as it was with EC2. The advantage here is that Zynga with their zCloud server can modify and optimize the use of the servers. This will include optimized gaming roles within their database access and software infrastructure; maximized Web servers and game logic executions within their cloud framework.  This new change and development was announced in the last UBM TechWeb event called CloudConnect in Santa Clara, California.

Zynga infrastructure CTO, Allan Leinwand said, “In mid-2010 we realized we were renting what we could own.”

The zCloud conception was the result of more than six months of software design and development from Zynga’s dedicated engineers. It was the most logical move for Zynga because time is already ripe to have its own cloud infrastructure. Their partnership with Amazon gave them the figures they need to project the demand for data centers and increase of users. In fact, with Farmville’s game launch alone it added 25 million game users in just a period of five months.

Castle Ville was the first sole zCloud launched game, which was introduced in November last year. With its launch it generated about 5 million users in just six days. zCloud operates with energy-efficient servers that are similar with Facebook’s Open Compute Project. It was engineered through EOM that designed it with its own server cooling system. zCloud was developed to run efficiently on cloud-focused gaming requirements that considers memory, CPU, I/O and other game elements and applications.

Leinwand said, “We thought the main flow of traffic through the data center was from east to west; it turned out to be from north to south. We found lots of areas where we could improve.”

Zynga really did its assignment as it went further and developed better storage systems that will allow web server movements even with heavy Internet traffic through its efficient firewall system and load balancers. It also had in mind that Zynga users are also heavily connected with Facebook, so they decided to build strategic locations where Facebook data centers were similarly located. Currently, they are still to utilize 20% of EMC2 servers, so they also have to consider working at close proximity with Amazon.

“We think of all of our operations in the super region as a really big data center. We own the base, rent the spike. We want a hybrid operation. We love knowing that shock absorber is there,” Leinwand said.

Zynga now refers to Amazon as a four-door Sedan while they are a high-priced sports car. This is as they usher their users to a more stable, reliable and speedy gaming experience through zCloud. As Zynga now sets up at least 1,000 servers to run 24/7 this commitment is not impossible to achieve. Currently, 80% of online game users are already on board Zynga’s private cloud. The rest of the 20% users according to Leinwand will still take advantage of Amazon’s hybrid cloud, which will also serve as their backup in cases of outages in their system.

Leinwand said, “We love four-door sedans, but it’s a car that’s used for a lot of things — doing the shopping, moving the kids. I like to think of zCloud as the sports car built for the Le Mans of social gaming. It’s tuned for the track.”

Zynga’s model may also serve as a standard for other businesses that require more control over their cloud platform. The strategy Zynga used was to host their own games and when the demand for storage and speed increased they moved to the cloud via EMC2. Meanwhile, they designed and developed their own server, so that when the time is right they moved back via their own private cloud, the zCloud.

“What’s missing from the cloud today is the ability to take that infrastructure-as-a-service and customize it and tweak it in an appropriate way for our business,” Leinwand said. “For IT to really embrace cloud computing and outsource their data centers, you need to have more control than perhaps we’re seeing these days,” he added. 


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