Zynga’s Shift from the Public to the Private Cloud

Zynga’s Shift from the Public to the Private Cloud

Zynga’s Shift from the Public to the Private Cloud

Zynga is a company that has grown tremendously since its modest beginnings in 2007. Named after a bulldog named Zinga once owned by founder Mark Pincus (who also features prominently in the company logo), Zynga began life as a startup and got $29 million in venture funding. VC firm  Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who are now contemplating a dedicated startup fund in the cloud computing space (See: Iconic VC Firm Kleiner Perkins Considering Focused Fund for Cloud Startups), was one of its early backers.

Zynga hit the jackpot when it started offering its products – multiplayer games – on Facebook. As the social networking site grew in popularity, so did Zynga. As I outlined in an earlier post (See: Zynga, the Latest Cloud Computing Success), this rapid growth pushed Zynga towards cloud computing. At the time Zynga filed its IPO in July last year, it was heavily dependent on Amazon’s cloud services. Mark Williams, VP of network operations, had then gone on record with his gratitude for Amazon Web Services (AWS), without which Zynga wouldn’t have tasted as much success. However, things have changed since then.

While 80% of Zynga’s active users at the beginning of 2011 were hosted on the Amazon public cloud, the load has now shifted proportionately to Zynga’s private zCloud. Although Amazon EC2 offered amazing advantages in scalability to Zynga, the company felt constricted in terms of customizability. As Allan Leinwand, CTO of Zynga mentioned at the Cloud Connect conference in February, Zynga “launched with AWS and then began to understand the stresses of the traffic” how to manage it. This insight led Zynga to invest heavily in its own private cloud, quadrupling its capital expenditure to $238 million last year.

And this investment has yielded rich returns. The zCloud has enabled Zynga to replace every three AWS servers with one in-house server, considerably reducing operational costs. Additionally, Zynga says that the zCloud allows for greater flexibility in terms of responsiveness to customer demand. Leinwand compared AWS to a four-door sedan for general purpose use while he called the zCloud as a racecar built from the ground up to serve Zynga’s interests. “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,” he added.

While Zynga will continue to use AWS, the latter will act more as a buffer to deal with unexpected demand surges rather than its core demands. Here’s a look at Zynga’s impressive hybrid cloud infrastructure and the load it supports:

This development gives rise to an interesting observation. While startups lean more towards public clouds, as they grow bigger and need more customizable solutions, they prefer dealing more with their own private clouds. Therefore, it’s not surprising that cloud computing service providers have dedicated a lot of effort towards attracting the smaller players (See: Ninefold and Rackspace Battle for Australian Startup Mind Space). At the same time, there is a possibility that as public clouds become more advanced, secure and customizable, this shift from the public to the private cloud may again reverse direction.

By Sourya Biswas

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