Zynga and Z-Cloud–A Corollary to the Public Cloud

At the Cloud Connect event in Santa Clara recently, Allan Leinwand, CTO from  Zynga presented a keynote the day after a fairly emphatic statement contained in their earnings call that speaks to their marked retreat from the public cloud. In the space of 12 months Zynga has gone from 80% of workloads being in the public cloud, to only 20% today. According to Zynga’s COO John Schappert;

By end of last year, nearly 80 percent of [daily active users] were hosted in Z Cloud versus 20 percent in the beginning of the year

That’s a massive swing and goes against the trend towards the public cloud that Netflix is so vociferously leading. I had a Twitter discussion about that very issue with Adrian Cockcroft the very public Cloud Architect from Netflix and Amazon (not to mention public cloud) evangelist. Adrian’s comment was one that speaks directly to my own viewpoint about drivers for cloud adoption – agility and focus. As he said;

zynga

At first glance, the Zynga move would seem to be counter intuitive – they’ve gone from utilizing Amazon for their infrastructure and, while admittedly they were paying a price margin for the benefit, they were enjoying the increased focus and agility that outsourcing brings.

But it’s a fair argument to say that at Zynga scale, those rules get bent a little. In his talk Leinwand revealed that the Zynga operations teams can provision 1000 servers in 24 hours. That’s from deliver of hardware in boxes, through to racking and stacking, to getting fully running and managed servers. That’s a speed that is competitive with Cloud providers. It also raises a few issues when making the obvious comparisons between Zynga and Netflix.

Netflix is a heavy user of Amazon’s reserved instances – servers that allow users to “you pay a low, one-time fee and in turn receive a significant discount on the hourly charge for that instance”. In other words reserved instances sit somewhere in the middle of the cloud utility continuum were a pure subscription service is on one end and fully owned hardware is on the other. Which makes another one of Adrian’s tweets a little less persuasive;

zynga

Of course there is a vast different between paying an upfront fee for a reserved instance and investing in massive amounts of physical hardware, Zynga is making a bet that they hope will pay off in terms of reduced costs and other benefits, but it’s a big bet. Zynga’s expenses grew hugely, from $124M to $797M – much of that spend went on buying infrastructure.

The interesting thing here is to step away a little from Netflix and Zynga – both these organizations are outliers with particular drivers for the decisions they make. Rather it is important to see what this all means for the industry at large and the direction it will head. Despite some vociferous opposition to private cloud, and “cloud-like” technologies on an organization’s own hardware, it’s seeming more likely that a hybrid world will be with us for the forseeable future.