Community Live - Online Gaming High Scalability
The inaugural meeting of the Online Gaming High Scalability Special Interest Group was a one day conference on the theme of "Should you bet on the Cloud". From the users point of view, an online gaming system seems simple but behind the scenes there is a high level of complexity, from ensuring response times, handling hundreds, thousands or more clients, ensuring the reliability of the entire system and managing the security of a system which may be handling virtual or real money. The question asked by the conference was can "The Cloud" help address those issues. The 180 conference attendees came from a wide range of businesses, from the obvious online bookies, poker and other game oriented companies to banks and financial institutions who have similar issues.
The day opened after a slight delay; kudos to Skills Matter who organised the event and Gojko Adzic, the event's host, for being prepared to delay the start after it became obvious there was a problem on the London Underground. The opening keynote by Rabbit CEO, Alexis Richardson, discussed why companies may want to move to a Cloud model. For some, the Cloud is all about web accessible applications, but Richardson pointed out that this isn't all that Clouds do. Among his examples, he pointed at Lilly which uses the cloud for drug trial simulations and how it moved from taking six to seven weeks to provision a server, to two to three minutes to provision an Amazon EC2 server. For a 64 node cluster, they had moved from three to four months to five minutes. This allows far more agility in responding to internal loads. Another example was the New York Times, which, when it wanted to convert its archives to PDF, created an Amazon EC2 cluster, ran it until the archive was completely converted and then just unconfigured it.
Richardson had some useful advice for companies looking to go to the Cloud such as asking potential cloud providers what their business model is; if its too cheap to believe, there may be a good reason. He also pointed to open source and open standards as essential to Clouds to avoid customers being locked into providers and briefly touched on open messaging as essential to the scaled up cloud. Rabbit's RabbitMQ is an open source implementation of AMQP, the messaging standard in draft at the moment which could well be the backbone of many more complex cloud based systems in the future.
The event then split into two threads, one business oriented, one technology oriented. The business thread dealt with the commercial advantages of moving to a "Cloud" model, such as low capital expenditure, and with the disadvantages of that shift, such as the problems with service level agreements and the legal issues of where data is stored. Security, of service and of data, was an issue returned to over the day.
Probably the highlight of the day was the afternoon talk from Canonical's Cloud strategist, Simon Wardley. In a 306 slide presentation, he gave a superb talk on the history of the "Cloud" concept, from its beginnings as the 1960s idea of Utility Computing and looking at historical analogies with electrical power and its move from novelty to utility. The conclusion was that, right now, without even de facto standards, "Cloud" solutions are a risk, but a risk that for many companies, with proper preparation and knowledge of where the pitfalls are, could be worth taking. Canonical's strategy is centred around Eucalyptus, which is an open source Amazon EC2 compatible system. Amazon EC2, and other Amazon services, are establishing themselves as a widely used set of APIs, so it makes sense to implement them in an open source form.
The first meeting of the Online Gaming High Scalability SIG worked well, especially as it was dealing with the quite fuzzy concept of the Cloud. The business track helped place the Cloud in context, while the technical track dealt with the nitty gritty of implementing various grid and Cloud architectures. Complemented with some good networking opportunities during the breaks, it was a very worthwhile event.
The H was a media sponsor of this event