I’ve said on multiple occasions that data centers are fairly vital to the operation of our society, but in recent days, they’ve positioned themselves into a role that’s downright essential. Behind virtually every piece of technology there’s a data center. Today, I’d like to take a moment to look at the impact of data centers on the world of video games, and what an enterprise operator can learn from the gaming world.
Believe it or not, there are a few lessons to be had, here.
The most obvious indicator of their impact is the advent of online gaming – and I’m not simply talking about games like World of Warcraft, either. Every single game that features online play requires a plethora of servers to support it, particularly if it’s been released by a larger developer. Simply running everything off a single server isn’t the least bit viable- a single system would be completely unable to handle all the requests made by the client-side applications.
That’s to say nothing of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games like World of Warcraft. The sheer amount of information, the sheer scope of data required for the game requires a fairly massive backend. As of 2009, their online network services ran in ten data centers around the world and utilized 20,000 systems and 1.3 petabytes of storage in order to power their gaming. WoW on its own required 75,000 CPU cores. The entire infrastructure was monitored from a global network operating center which tracked weather stations across the world in order to identify potential uptime threats. This network has doubtless grown since being profiled by Data Center Knowledge.
What makes all this even more impressive is that the entire network was run and managed by a staff of 68 people.
It’s a lesson in efficient data center operation that many organizations could learn from. After all, these facilities aren’t being used for enterprise storage, or for vendor applications- they exist so that people can play World of Warcraft, which has established itself as one of the most lucrative properties in the history of online gaming and has left a trail of beaten, bloodied would-be competitors in its wake. It is, in many ways, the Facebook of the games industry.
Of course, Blizzard has made a few cock-ups in its time, so they’re far from a poster child of data center management. Everyone who played Diablo III (and anyone who tried to play a game from Blizzard during the Diablo III launch) remembers Error 37, an irritating glitch which stemmed from a poorly managed, unanticipated server load and made many of Blizzard’s games unplayable. When your network exists for the sole purpose of delivering a paid product or service to a client group, downtime is…less than amenable.
Moving on, in the same way that World of Warcraft could serve as an example of decent server management, Valve’s Steam distribution platform (which customers can use to purchase games over the cloud) is a very good example of how an app store should work, along with the best way to structure an application delivery system. It’s simple, easy to use, and well-managed, to boot. And again, it wouldn’t exist without a data center as a backend.
At the end of the day, the games industry has a lot more in common with more traditional enterprise technology fields than one might think. We’ve got high performance computing, data centers and server clusters to manage online gaming, programs which essentially serve as IaaS solutions, and proof positive that cloud computing is a convenience that no one should go without.