Zynga shows how to build a hybrid cloud

Zynga runs a hybrid cloud. Can you learn from what it's done?

When it comes to building a hybrid cloud, just ask game maker Zynga how it’s done. That’s because Zynga, like many start-ups, started out as an Amazon EC2 customer, but as it grew it recognized it would need to build out its own data center too.

Yet instead of giving up EC2, Zynga opted for a hybrid approach and has solved many of the issues that may be concerning you about going in a similar direction — but is Zynga’s experience applicable to all companies?

Networkworld recently interviewed Zynga CTO Allan Leinwand to find out what it took to pull off a hybrid cloud and let them live in harmony in the same company.

First of all, Zynga has a clear plan. It runs the vast majority of its games in-house. The notable exception is new games, which can have fluctuating traffic, so while a game is breaking in, they leave it on EC2 and take advantage of the elasticity that brings. When the traffic stablizes, they bring the game into their data center.

Zynga had the advantage of starting off has a public cloud, then building its data center. As such, it was able to build a data center infrastructure that mirrored what was happening in the public cloud, and just as importantly was fully compatible with what was going on in the public cloud. That means when a game is ready to be brought in-house, the transition should be smooth and simple.

Leinward says part of the reason he takes a hybrid approach instead of just staying in the cloud, ┬áis a desire for more control over the more mature games. He still uses EC2, but he also recognizes that it’s a basic set of generic services. It’s certainly useful in its own way, but it can’t do everything Zynga wants to do. Hence, the hybrid approach.

Not every company has the advantage of starting in the cloud, but many of today’s companies have taken advantage of infrastructure as a service (IaaS) to launch without making a huge IT investment. Those which are more mature might not find it as easy to go in the other direction — from mature data center to public cloud.

It would be interesting to hear some stories from companies who went the other way and what kinds of obstacles they ran into. While Amazon EC2 is clearly elastic in terms of growing or shrinking, is it as flexible when it comes to connecting back into a heterogeneous computing environment?

Regardless, it’s clear that some companies like Zynga have succeeded with a hybrid cloud approach, and it’s highly likely that unless you’re a start-up or a small business, chances are you are not going with a fully public cloud approach.

That means you have to find ways to make the two worlds live together and that might not always be a simple matter — even if it worked for Zynga.

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