SEGA Europe Uses VMware Products to Standardize Cloud Environment for Game Development
SEGA Europe Uses VMware Products to Standardize CloudEnvironment for Game DevelopmentTranscript of a BrieﬁngsDirect podcast on how SEGA Europe has moved to a more secure andscalable solution for worldwide development effort.Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Sponsor: VMwareDana Gardner: Hi. This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and yourelistening to BrieﬁngsDirect.Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion on how a major game developer in Europe issuccessfully leveraging the hybrid cloud model. We’ll learn how SEGA Europe is standardizing its cloud infrastructure across its on-premises operations, as well as with a public cloud provider. The result is a managed and orchestrated hybrid environment to test and develop games, one that dynamically scales productively to the many performance requirements at hand. We’re joined by a systems architect with SEGA in London to learn moreabout how the hybrid approach to multiple complimentary cloud instances is meeting SEGA’scritical development requirements in a whole new way.Please join me now in welcoming Francis Hart, Systems Architect at SEGA Europe. Welcome tothe podcast, Francis.Francis Hart: Hi.Gardner: We’re all very familiar with the amazing video games that are being creatednowadays. And SEGA of course is particularly well-known for the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise going back a number of years and I have to tell you, Francis, my son is a big fan of those games. But Im curious about how, behind the scenes, these games are made. How they come into being and what are some of the criticalrequirements that you have from a systems architecture perspective when developing thesegames?Hart: We’ve got a lot of development studios across the world. Were working on multipleprojects. We need to ensure that we supply them with a highly scalable and reliable solution inorder to test, develop, and produce the game and the code in time.Gardner: And how many developers are you working with there at SEGA Europe?
Hart: We have a number of different development studios. We’re probably looking at thousandsof individual developers across the world.Gardner: For those folks who are not familiar with the process, there is the creation of the code,there is the test and debug, and builds. Its quite complicated. Theres a lot going on, manydifferent moving parts. How did you start approaching that from your environment, frombuilding the right infrastructure to support that?Targeting testingHart: One of the ﬁrst areas we targeted very early on was the last process in those steps, thetesting, arguably one of the most time-consuming processes within the development cycle. Ithappens pretty much all the way through as well to ensure that the game itself behaves as itshould, it’s tested, and the customer gets the end-user experience they require.The biggest technical goal that we had for this is being able to move large amounts of data, un-compiled code, from different testing ofﬁces around the world to the staff. Historically we hadsome major issues in securely moving that data around, and this is what we started looking intocloud solutions for this.Gardner: How did you use to do it? What was the old fashion way?Hart: For very, very large game builds, and were talking game builds above 10 gigabytes, itended up being couriered within the country and then overnight ﬁle transfer outside of thecountry. So, very old school methods.We needed both to secure that up to make sure we understood where the game builds were, andalso to understand exactly which version each of the testing ofﬁces was using. So it’s gainingcontrol, but also providing more security.Gardner: Clearly one of the requirements here is to manage large ﬁles rapidly across geographicdistances, but with security and management control, governance, and so forth. But as Iunderstand, youre also dealing with this sort of peak-and-trough issue about the infrastructureitself. You need to ramp up a lot of servers to do the build, but then they sit there essentiallyunproductive between the builds. How did you ﬂatten that out or manage the requirementsaround the workload support?Hart: Typically, in the early stages of development, there is a fair amount of testing going on,and it tends to be quite small -- the number of staff involved in it and the number of builditerations. Going on, when the game reaches to the end of its product life-cycle, we’re talkingmultiple game iterations a day and the game size has gotten very large at that point. The numberof people involved in the testing to meet the deadlines and get the game shipped on date is intothe hundreds and hundreds of staff.
Gardner: How has virtualization and moving your workloads into different locations evolvedover the years?Hart: We work on the idea of having a central platform for a lot of these systems. Usingvirtualization to do that allowed us to scale off at certain times. Historically, we always had anon-premise VMware platform to do this. Very recently, we’ve been looking at ways to use thatresource within a cloud to cut down from some of Capex loading but also remain a little bit moreagile with some of the larger titles, especially online games that are coming around.Gardner: Right. So we’re seeing a lot more of the role-play games (RPG) types of games,games themselves in the cloud. That must inﬂuence what youre doing in terms of thinking aboutyour future direction.Hart: Absolutely. We’ve been looking at things like the hybrid cloud model with VMware as adevelopment platform for our developers. Thats really what were working on now. Weve got anumber of games in the pipeline that have been developed on the hybrid cloud platform. It givesthe developers a platform that is exactly the same and mirrored to what it would eventually be inthe online space through ISPs like Colt, which should be hosting the virtual cloud platform.Gardner: So if the end destination for the runtime, or the operational runtime, for the game isgoing to be the cloud, it makes sense to live "of, for, and by" the cloud, I suppose. It’s morecomplementary. It’s always going to be there, right?Gaining cost beneﬁtsHart: Yes. And one of the beneﬁts were seeing in the VMware offering is that regardless ofwhat data center in the world is the standard platform, it also allows us to leverage multiple ISPs,and hopefully gain some cost beneﬁts from that.Gardner: Francis, tell me a little bit about the pilot project. No one is going to jump up and puttheir mission-critical activities into a cloud environment, especially a hybrid environment,overnight. So the crawl-walk-run approach seems to be the most prudent way. Tell me a little bitabout what your goals were and what youve been able to attain even in a pilot setting?Hart: Very early on we were in discussions with Colt and also VMware to understand whattechnology stack they were bringing into the cloud. We started doing a proof of concept withVMware and a professional services company, and together we were able to come over a proofof concept to distribute our game testing code, which previously was a very old-schooldistribution system. So anything better would improve the process.There wasnt too much risk to the company. So we saw the opportunity to have a hybrid cloud setup to allow us to have an internal cloud system to distribute the codes to the majority of UKgame testers and to leverage high bandwidth between all of our sites.
For the game testing studios around Europe and the world, we could use a hosted version of thesame service which was up on the Colt Virtual Cloud Director (VCD) platform to supply this totrusted testing studios.Gardner: When you approach this hybrid cloud model, it’s one thing to be able to technically dothat to have the standardization and to have the products in place that will support the workloadsand the virtualization continuity, the similar environment. But what about managing that? Whatabout having a view into what’s going on so that you know what aspects of the activity andrequirements are being met where? It must involve quite a bit of management?Hart: Yes. Also the virtual cloud environment of vCloud Director has a web portal that allowsyou to manage a lot of this conﬁguration in a central way. We’re also using VMware CloudConnector, which is a product that allows you to move the apps between different cloud datacenters. And doing this allows us to manage it at one location and simply clone the same systemto another cloud data center.In that regard, the conﬁguration very much was in a single place for us in the way that wedesigned the proof of concept. It actually helped things, and the previous process wasn’t idealanyway. So it was a dramatic improvement.Gardner: Well, let’s dig into that a bit. What were some of the metrics of success even on yourpilot bases? I understand that you’re going to be expanding on that, but are there data points thatwe can look to whether it’s reduction in cost for servers, operation, security, time to developmentand test? What were some of the salient paybacks of doing development in this manner?Hart: One of the immediate beneﬁts was around the design process. Its very obvious that wewere tightening up security within our build delivery to the testing studios. Nothing was with acourier on a bike anymore, but within a secured transaction between the two ofﬁces.Risk greatly reducedAlso from a security perspective, we understood exactly what game assets and builds were ineach location. So it really helped the product development teams to understand what was whereand who was using what, and so from a risk point of view it’s greatly reduced.In terms of stats and the amount of data throughput, it’s pretty large, and we’ve been movingterabytes pretty much weekly nowadays. Now we’re going completely live with the distributionnetwork.So it’s been a massive success. All of the UK testing studios are using the build delivery systemday to day, and for the European ones we’ve got about half the testing studios on board that builddelivery system now, and it’s transparent to them.
Gardner: Francis, in moving to a hybrid environment, when you got into this in practical terms,was there anything that appeared, that crept in, that you weren’t anticipating? Was theresomething about this that caught you by surprise, either good or bad?Hart: Not particularly. VMware was very good at allowing us to understand the technology andthats one of the beneﬁts of working with a professional services reseller. In terms of gotchas,there werent too many. There were a lot of good surprises that came up and allowed us to openthe door to a lot of other VMware technologies.Now, were also looking at alternating a lot of processes within vCenter Orchestrator and otherVMware products. They really gave us a good stepping stone into the VMware catalogue, ratherthan just vSphere, which we were using previously. That was very handy for us.Gardner: I’d like to just pause here for a second. Your use of vSphere -- and I believe you’re on4.1 if my notes are correct -- has gotten you to a fairly high level of virtualization. That musthave been an important stepping stone to be able to have the dynamic ability to ramp up anddown your environments, your support infrastructure, but also skills. I imagine there must havebeen a comfort zone with virtualization that you needed to have in order to move into the cloudtoo.Hart: Absolutely. We already have a fair footprint in Amazon Web Services (AWS), and it was amassive skill jump that we needed to train members of the staff in order to use that environment.With the VMware environment, as you said, we already have a large amount of skill set usingvSphere. We have a large team that supports our corporate infrastructure and weve actually gotVMware in our co-located public environment as well. So it was very, very assuring that theskills were immediately transferable.Gardner: Let’s get back to what you’re going to be doing, now that this pilot has beensuccessful. You’ve had some success with meeting your requirements, also getting some beneﬁtsthat you werent anticipating and that all important security control and governance aspect.What’s the next step? Where did you go with your initial stepping stone into hybrid cloud? Howare you going to get into that run mode now that youve sort of walked and crawled?Game releaseHart: As I mentioned before, the ﬁrst part was dealing with the end of the process, and that wasthe testing and the game release process. Now, we’re going to be working back from that. Thenext big area that we’re actively involved in is getting our developers to develop online gameswithin the hybrid environment.So they’re designing the game and the game’s backend servers to be optimal within the VMwareenvironment. And then, also pushing from staging to live is a very simple process using theCloud Connector.
Gardner: Well, that sounds a lot like what we know in the business as platform as a service(PaaS) where you are actually accomplishing much if not all of the development, test and deploycycle, the life-cycle of the applications in the cloud.Hart: Absolutely. Were restructuring and redesigning the IT systems within SEGA to be more ofa development operations team to provide a service to the developers and to the company.Gardner: Great. I really appreciate your sharing your story with us, Francis. Now that youvedone this a bit, any words of wisdom, 20/20 hindsight, that you might share with others who areconsidering moving more aggressively into private cloud, hybrid cloud, and ultimately perhapsthe full PaaS value?Hart: Just get some hands-on experience and play with the cloud stack from VMware. It’sinexpensive to have a go and just get to know the technology stack.Gardner: Thanks. Youve been listening to a sponsored podcast discussion on how a major gamedeveloper, SEGA, is leveraging the hybrid cloud model using the VMware cloud stack.I’d like to thank our guest, Francis Hart, System Architect at SEGA Europe based in London.Thanks again so much, Francis.Hart: Thank you.Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks to ouraudience for joining us,Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Sponsor: VMwareTranscript of a BrieﬁngsDirect podcast on how SEGA Europe has moved to a more secure andscalable solution for worldwide development effort. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC,2005-2011. All rights reserved.You may also be interested in: • Germanys Largest Travel Agency Starts a Virtual Journey to Get Branch Ofﬁce IT Under Control • Virtualized Desktops Spur Use of Bring You Own Device in Schools, Allowing Always- On Access to Education Resources • From VMworld, Cosmetics Giant Revlon Harnesses the Power of Private Cloud to Produce Impressive Savings and Cost Avoidance • From VMworld, NYSE Euronext on Hybrid Cloud Vision and Strategy Behind the Capital Markets Community Platform Vertical Cloud • VMwares vSphere 5 Hits the Streets • VMware Launches a Developer Edition for Cloud Service