Agora Games makes dramatic time and cost savings with Ubuntu

Gaming company cuts server infrastructure by almost half with Ubuntu and VMware

Summary

Agora Games creates custom online gaming communities and develops video-game middleware. As a fast-growing company, Agora Games realised that it needed to implement a standardised infrastructure that could scale to meet growing demand. It worked with technology provider Terremark to implement a new IT environment based on Ubuntu Server Edition and virtualisation software VMware.

As a result, it has introduced 75 virtual servers and reduced its physical server environment from 40 to 25. Simplified systems management and improved efficiencies across the company have seen Agora Games make significant time and cost savings, while becoming more responsive to customer requirements.

Challenge

As the online gaming industry grows in popularity, game creators must embrace new ways to enhance the user experience. Gamer profiles, online communities, in-game statistics and instant messaging are all becoming key features in the most successful games. Agora Games specialises in building online gaming communities along with video-game middleware. It provides products and services for some of the world’s most successful games including Guitar Hero, Transformers and Call of Duty.

As Agora Games grew in profile, the company found that its existing IT infrastructure couldn’t scale to meet demand. With disparate hardware and software, a lack of standardisation meant that IT management was timeconsuming and complex.

Brian Corrigan, Chief Technology Officer, Agora Games, says: “We were growing fast, both in terms of the number of people working here, and the number of projects we were working on. We were adding and removing servers to make room for new projects, which meant that our systems administration team was becoming increasingly stretched.

“We also needed to make sure that our technology environment could cope with dramatic peaks in usage. For example, when a new game like Guitar Hero is released, there’s likely to be a lot more traffic. We needed to be prepared for that.”

Solution

Agora Games worked with IT provider Terremark to introduce a new technology infrastructure based on Ubuntu Server Edition and virtualisation software VMware. As a result of the implementation, the company has introduced 75 virtual servers and reduced its physical server environment from 40 to 25. Agora Games now runs its web, application and database servers on the Ubuntu Server infrastructure.

Jason LaPorte, Senior Systems Administrator, Agora Games, says: “Since we migrated to a standardised environment, we haven’t experienced a single hardware failure. And the new Ubuntu-based infrastructure, in conjunction with our in-house auto-configuration tool, makes server management much easier. We’ve probably reduced the amount of time it takes to provision and configure a server from a week to about 10 minutes.”

The company also runs a third of its desktops on Ubuntu Desktop Edition. Corrigan says: “The Ubuntu Desktop operating system is really easy to use and update. It’s very popular with our employees.”

Results

Standardised infrastructure eases management

The Ubuntu-based technology environment has simplified systems administration and resulted in dramatic time savings. LaPorte says: “In the past, I found that I couldn’t do application development on top of my system administration work. “Because we were running a number of different operating systems on disparate hardware, I sometimes spent two or three days trying to identify and track down miscellaneous bugs. Now, they either don’t occur or we can get everything fixed within a couple of hours. We’re saving days over the course of months, and weeks over the course of a year.”

Abhishek Mukherjee, Assistant Systems Administrator, says: “It’s very convenient to have a stable platform on which we can develop applications. Now we spend more time working on the fun problems. The things that we’re interested in. That’s why we all got into gaming in the first place.”

LaPorte adds: “The fact that we’re not pre-occupied with the small, niggling issues any more means that we can take a high-level approach to problem resolution. We can work on strategies so the detailed things take care of themselves.”

Virtual environment improves efficiency and saves costs

With a more reliable, virtual infrastructure, Agora Games can respond to customer requirements more quickly. LaPorte says: “A lot of the work we do is load-heavy, but also transient. When a new game comes out, the systems are very busy, but after a few months, that intensity wears off. Having a virtualised infrastructure means that we can reallocate processing power to different games as and when it’s required.

“We can be more responsive to changing requirements in other areas too. For example, we can give development partners access to our software when they need it. If they need an environment to display statistics during development, we can bring it up for them really quickly.”

Corrigan says: “The amount of time we’ve saved thanks to having a standardised infrastructure probably equates to hiring two new full-time system administrators. That’s a massive cost saving when you think about how important it is to watch your bottom line in today’s economic climate.”

Free updates and community support provide peace of mind

With easy access to updates, how-to guides, documentation and online support, Agora Games has more confidence in the stability of its infrastructure. Mukherjee says: “One of the great things about Ubuntu is that we don’t have to worry about updates. And the sixmonthly release cycle means that we can be confident that Ubuntu will always be compatible with the latest hardware.

“The fact that it’s easy for any of our developers to use the community support has been a big benefit too. They can solve most of their problems on their own now.”