Zynga's nuts and bolts are zCloud, and why gamers should care [Interview]

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Zynga zCloud server row
"The amount of power we actually provisioned for zCloud in the second half of 2011 could have powered 166 [instances] of the International Space Station. So, we launch with a lot of power." Zynga's CTO of infrastructure Allan Leinwand revealed this impressive statistic to us about Zynga's cloud computing solution that supports nearly all of its games, zCloud.

"In layman's terms, cloud computing is a way to add a software layer on top of infrastructure that allows it to be geography independent, device independent, scalable and flexible. The example I use in the industry is Gmail," Leinwand tells us. "A great cloud service, no one knows where Gmail is--I don't know where Gmail is. I just expect that that email application is there from anywhere that I access it. And I trust that Google has the infrastructure behind the scenes to get that done."

Zynga CTO of Infrastructure Allan LeinwandThat's essentially the approach Zynga takes with supporting its many Facebook and mobile games. The less chance that you have of noticing the work behind the scenes, the better for you while knee deep in quests in CastleVille. As a matter of fact, CastleVille was launched entirely in zCloud, which now serves 80 percent of Zynga's players. But first, some background:

Zynga has used public cloud servers provided by Amazon to support its games in the past, a move prompted by the rapid growth of FarmVille in 2009. You could almost say that FarmVille might not have grown as fast if not for cloud computing. But Zynga wanted to own the infrastructure to support its games, so it moved to what is now the zCloud. It's a combination of Zynga's own servers with (and modeled to mirror) Amazon's public cloud service. But it's on the verge of becoming its own entity.

"In January of 2011, we had 20 percent of players that were actually playing games on zCloud that we owned--80 percent were playing up in Amazon," Leinwand admits. "And by the end of last year, we flipped that on its head. We actually have 80 percent of players inside of zCloud and 20 percent outside on Amazon. And the players, obviously, didn't notice the difference. We just really wanted to own the base of that infrastructure."

Zynga zCloud serversBut what does zCloud mean for the players? For one, it gives Zynga's game makers less to worry about, and thus more opportunities to (hopefully) try new things. "We used to have to worry about, 'OK, if I build this social mechanic, will it work properly in the public cloud or won't it?' One of the things that we've spent a lot of time doing is really understanding at a very granular level, what stresses are games putting on the infrastructure," Leinwand says. "How much memory do we use, how much CPU do they use, how much network bandwidth do they use. That gives our developers the ability to understand the limits of the system and build within them."

Since the shift in mid-2011 every Zynga game since CityVille Hometown has released in the developer's zCloud. And we imagine that every Zynga game moving forward will launch in zCloud, which Leinwand insists in a blog post offers three times the efficiency of public cloud services. What does this mean, ultimately, for the players?

"Because the zCloud is there, [and] because the zCloud has the scale and capacity to reach to everyone one the planet, I think it counts that my gameplay is kind of endless. We're going to be there to make sure that you always have access to play. And I think if we were actually building the infrastructure in a more traditional manner--not leveraging the software, innovation and automation of cloud computing--we would be struggling a lot more to keep up with just the sheer demand for play."

Are you interested in or impressed by Zynga's behind-the-scenes efforts? What do you think of the figures detailed below? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
Zynga zCloud infographic
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