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How Sega used hybrid cloud to beat the Christmas sales spike

IntroThe months in the run-up to Christmas are the busiest for gaming companies and video game software developer Sega is using hybrid cloud services to ensure new games reach testers quickly and securely, as well as to easily scale its infrastructure during the busy festive season. “Our old gaming product delivery system was inefficient,” said Francis Hart, systems architect at Sega Europe. In the old system, the games would be developed by a team using an IT infrastructure which only they had access to. The games would then be sent to the “mastering team” who were in charge of securing the software and ensuring there were no bugs or viruses in the games. The gaming products were then shipped to internal and external testers. “We use external testers for a variety of reasons – during peak times, we may not have enough testing resources internally; and when we are building games in different languages, it is better to have testers from that geography,” Hart said. Public cloud updated Sega's courier distribution to testers Issuing games to testers presented Sega with its biggest problem with its internal IT infrastructure: “Each individual game build would be anywhere between 1GB to 120GB and transferring this amount of data from the build team to the mastering team and then to the testers was very time-consuming with our old IT systems,” Hart explained. “The delivery model was in fact paper-based,” Hart said. “We would courier the games to the testers.” Sega's IT team decided it needed to change its model, not just to fasten the process but also to improve security: “The games sent to testers are unreleased and very valuable intellectual property (IP) products. Handing it to a courier company meant that the security was no longer in our hands,” Hart said. Following due diligence, the team decided it did not want to invest too much in its internal infrastructure. Sega traditionally much of its infrastructure for online services in a co-located datacentre, which was very rigid and had a lot of upfront costs. The company started looking to the cloud to improve its IT agility and the speed at which it could provide services to their customers. It also wanted easy scalability during peak times. “What we wanted from the new IT was simple – faster time to delivery; higher security; and standardisation – meaning IT should be able to move the gaming software from one system to another without too much trouble,” Hart said. How a combination of public and private cloud helped Sega The private cloud was to improve IT efficiency and scalability as well as improve games-testing time. The public cloud was used to issue games to external testers quickly. A public cloud for external testers means they could not access the internal private cloud infrastructure hosting business-sensitive data and apps, explained Hart. Over 80% if Sega’s infrastructure was virtualised with VMware and it decided to use VMware’s vCloud Director for the private cloud. “We created vApps (virtual applications) with all the components and built layers of security such as Firewall into it,” Hart explained. “The mastering team could share the vApps for every product with the testers and the testers had software in their systems that would help them connect to the vApps securely." Cloud project yielded cost-control benefits for Sega Hart said Sega is yielding both expected and unexpected benefits from its cloud computing project. One of the biggest advantages was cost, as the project helped Sega save on capital expenditure. “Unexpectedly, we realised the new system was helping us track and analyse the cost of testing an individual game and we could calculate the profit and loss of every product, rather than a blanket profit/loss account,” Hart said. This level of granularity in detail has helped it save costs, he added. The project also gave Sega the required scalability and increased security. Overcoming interoperability issues in private and public cloud As it was using VMware infrastructure and VMware cloud, using a new third-part cloud service provider such as Amazon could be tricky, because of the lack of interoperability and cloud standards. Sega would require a high level of interoperability as it needed to move gaming workloads from its private cloud to the public cloud for external testers. “Selecting a non-VMware public cloud service provider such as Amazon would have been difficult,” Joe Baguley, chief cloud technologist at VMware, told Computer Weekly. Sega selected Colt Technologies’ public cloud service which is based on VMware infrastructure. This way it overcame the issues of compatibility. “Sega wasn’t restricted to choose just Colt, there are 150 VMware infrastructure-based public clouds for our users to choose from to overcome problems of interoperability,” Baguley said. Were there any challenges? “Some,” said Hart. There were legal challenges around the terms of data ownership on the cloud, but the team made a business decision to move to the cloud because the benefits outweighed the challenges. "Christmas is the busiest season for us, as we put to test our new cloud system last Christmas and we found that it brought efficiencies, so we are relying on the same infrastructure this year too,” Hart said. Cloud helped Sega gain a competitive advantage. “We have managed to turn IT into a business weapon to beat competitors," Hart said, hoping this would help the IT team secure higher budgets.
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