Editor's Note: Zynga is considered the poster child for a company that moved from a pure public cloud model, using AWS to a hybrid model, choosing to complement Amazon with its own internal data center.
Summary: Zynga presented its approach to adopting cloud at the Interop Enterprise Cloud Summit in Las Vegas. Those who dismiss this as some silly social media company that doesn’t count as a legitimate enterprise use case, which I am sure some will, miss the point completely. Regardless of the company, industry or vertical, this is a massive-scale operation that is realizing significant management efficiencies. To set some context around the levels of scale we are talking about, here are some pretty incredible business metrics around the adoption of Zynga and social gaming.
- Zynga has >250m monthly active users globally.
- It has developed seven of the top 10 games on Facebook.
- Five new players join Zynga every second.
- Ten percent of the world's Internet population plays Zynga games every month.
- Cityville went from 0 to 100m users in 40 days.
- If Farmville were a country, it would be fifth largest in the world.
- One in five Americans play social games.
Zynga started out with a dedicated hosted IT infrastructure, but its business growth quickly outpaced its ability to add infrastructure. It moved to Amazon Web Services (AWS) to accommodate the rapid scale demands in the vertical growth phase of the company. Having survived this initial growth phase, and gained a better understanding of workloads in the process, the company opted to build its own internal cloud to compliment its AWS footprint.
Part of the impetus behind this move was a desire to reverse some of the capex versus opex tradeoffs that it made in earlier stages of the company. This is an interesting business lifecycle decision and cloud adoption consideration. Zynga realized early on that it couldn’t afford the capital outlay burden associated with building its own infrastructure at the scale required to host its business. However, as the business has grown, it now makes sense from a financial perspective to own some of the equipment and the associated benefits of the higher depreciation writeoffs that come with it. At the same time the reduced operating expense, from lower public cloud reliance, improve the company’s operating margin profile.
Zynga's private cloud, called zCloud internally, is essentially a commodity cloud based on AWS design principles and using XenServer at the core. Zynga manages its clouds, both AWS and zCloud, through a single pane of glass provided by RightScale. This capability was integral to Zynga’s deployment.
Zynga shared some impressive statistics around its zCloud build. The entire project went from concept to production in <6 months. Zynga, in concert with RightScale, can now fully provision >1,000 physical servers in 24 hours. From a growth standpoint, between Jan ’09 and Jan ’11 it has a 75x’ed server count.
This is a great private cloud case study. What might get lost in the details is that this is a commodity cloud inside an enterprise, not an “enterprise” cloud inside an enterprise. There is a material difference between the two. Building private clouds using expensive commercial solutions are a submission to the existing, brand conscious, IT strategies. I struggle to understand how companies can extract real cloud economics out of these architectures. Instead, as Cloudscaling’s Randy Bias has argued, it is much easier to start with a commodity cloud and layer services on top of this to achieve the desired level of feature/function you need. Trying to work backwards from a premium priced “enterprise” into commodity cloud economics is an exercise I don’t understand.
Details from the Zynga presentation include:
- it needs IT to be heterogeneous, global, multi-application and massively scalable.
- When it first launched its infrastructure, it bought cage at hoster and started stacking servers.
- The pace Zynga was growing quickly outpaced this model.
- It's inability to buy and install this infrastructure fast enough was hindering company growth.
- It needed more flexibility and scale.
- Farmville was the inflection point in the business. The game grew to 25m daus (daily active users) in five months.
- RightScale is a very important component of the infrastructure, across both the public and private cloud implementations, for scale, flexability, provisioning and monitoring.
- It built own private cloud, the zCloud (internal Zynga private cloud):
- When the game growth slope is vertical, it can’t build fast enough.
- When growth is less than vertical, it can build the system to meet this demand.
- It uses industry-standard servers and hypervisors (xen, kvm).
- It creates Amazon-like security zones.
- It's infrastructure is integrated with RightScale.
- The zCloud works on an IP routed network and is required to scale, it just doesn’t scale on layer 2 switches.
- Today's infrastructure is based on a hybrid model (AWS + zCloud).
- It uses a single "pane of glass" to provision zCloud or AWS instances through Rightscale
- zCloud Stats include:
- zCloud went from concept to production in <6 mos.
- Zynga can fully provision >1000 physical servers in 24 hours and has done this multiple times (install, plug in, provision, available).
- It has grown to a 75x'ed server count between Jan ’09 and Jan ’11.