Just 5 years later, the company has about 150 million monthly unique users in 166 countries, and has just filed for what could become one of the most important IPOs of 2011.
There’s little doubt that Zynga is one of the fastest and most interesting growth stories on the Internet, and it may be interesting to analyze how the company succeeded in supporting its customers’ strong demand while keeping a flexible and cost conscious architecture.
The answer, predictably, is cloud computing. Here is how Zynga describes its infrastructure in its IPO filing:
“Our games run on a complex distributed system, or what is commonly known as cloud computing. We own, operate and maintain elements of this system, but significant elements of this system are operated by third parties that we do not control and which would require significant time to replace. We expect this dependence on third parties to continue. In particular, a significant majority of our game traffic is hosted by Amazon Web Services, or AWS, which service uses multiple locations.
We have invested extensively in developing proprietary technology to support the growth of our business. We have created a scalable cloud-based server and network infrastructure that enables us to deliver games to millions of players simultaneously with high levels of performance and reliability.
Our physical network infrastructure utilizes a mixture of our own datacenters and public cloud datacenters linked with high-speed networking. We utilize commodity hardware, and our architecture is designed for high availability and fault tolerance while accommodating the demands of social game play.
We have developed our architecture to work effectively in a flexible cloud environment that has a high degree of elasticity. For example, our automatic provisioning tools have enabled us to add up to 1,000 servers in a 24-hour period in response to game demand.
We intend to invest in and use more of our own infrastructure going forward, which we believe will provide us with an even better cost profile and position us to further drive operating leverage.”
Derrick Harris, at GigaOM, has an interesting commentary on Zynga’s approach to the cloud:
“Zynga has been touting its Z Cloud infrastructure for more than a year, which reverses the conventional approach to hybrid cloud computing. Whereas many analysts initially assumed companies would use private clouds as a gateway to public clouds, Zynga uses Amazon EC2 as a staging ground before ultimately moving games onto private cloud resources. Essentially, Amazon’s cloud lets Zynga scale elastically and determine average traffic load and other metrics, so that it can optimize its internal infrastructure for each game’s specific needs.
The goal of this strategy is efficiency: Zynga doesn’t have to invest in more resources than necessary upfront, nor does it have to worry about underprovisioning resources or otherwise inadequately configuring them when it brings games onto its private cloud. In many cases, private clouds can cost less than public clouds for applications with fairly stable usage patterns, and they help companies meet various requirements around security and compliance. Zynga uses Cloud.com for its private cloud infrastructure, as well as RightScale as a management layer that makes for a uniform experience in terms of managing both public and private resources.”
Zynga’s architecture is also build about close proximity to its main partner, Facebook.
According to peeringDB, Zynga’s main peering points in the US are located in several Equinix data centers on the East and West Coast of the USA (Ashburn and S. Jose/Sunnyvale, respectively).
According to industry sources, and as reported by Data Center Knowledge, Zynga is also leasing wholesale data center space from Digital Realty and Dupont Fabros Technology.
Zynga was also the subject of an interesting mention, during Equinix’s analyst meeting, made by Pete Ferris, the company’s Chief Sales Officer.
“Since the beginning, Zynga had very clear that, in order to succeed in its effort to “sell virtual pigs” to customers, it needed to reach the widest audience possible and make the gaming experience as pleasant as possible – in other words, supporting strong growth (reaching the largest possible number of lurkers) was key to the potential success of the company.
In order to make it possible, Zynga had to look for the right partners, infrastructure providers like Equinix and Amazon that had the financial strength to keep growing their data center resources and support the company’s potential strong growth requirements. In Equinix’s case, Zynga’s main partner was just a cross connect away, and the facilities also offered the largest number of US networks and ISPs to connect to, with the added opportunity to reach the most important Asian (on the West Coast) and European (on the East Coast) providers. Networking and growth problems solved, with just one provider.”
Zynga is a very interesting success story on its own, but it may also be analyzed to support the investing theory that there are some key infrastructure providers to these stories (both very successful or not) that will keep benefiting from the growth of the Internet.
These companies will also, most probably, be able to use their “first mover” advantage to strengthen their leadership, as they leverage their magnetic influence in the market to become the “place to be” for most new start ups, among which you’ll probably find the next Zynga, but that will all contribute to these providers’ revenues and profits.