Casual and social gaming provider Zynga will shut its data centers and shift workloads back to Amazon, two years after the company spent $100 million to build out its own data centers, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Zynga appeared to be a business that could potentially “outgrow” cloud, in the sense that once a company reaches a certain scale, it begins to make sense to build your own data centers.
However, running your own data center is capital intensive. It was the nature of Zynga's business that made this a tricky proposition. Zynga didn’t grow as anticipated, following bursts of growth. This is particularly true in regards to its growth outside of the Facebook ecosystem.
Online gaming is subject to unpredictable traffic spikes and drastic sways of traffic dependent on the release schedule. It’s often feast or famine for a game publisher, given the unpredictable nature of what gamers glom on to, and the often short lifespan of a title. The type of unpredictable workloads and growth Zynga faced are tailor-made for cloud.
For Zynga to run its own data centers, it meant a mad scramble to provision servers and power during big releases, followed by lulls. This kind of wide variation is hard to accomplish on your own servers.
Zynga CEO Mark Pincus said on an earnings call that there a lot of strategic places for them to have scale, but running their own data centers isn’t one that’s appropriate. “We’re going to let Amazon do that,” he said.
The company has always relied on AWS for some workloads, even at the height of using its own data centers. Zynga created software called zCloud that helped it shift workloads between Amazon’s servers and its own data center.
Zynga disclosed its intentions to boost data center investment when it filed for its Initial Public Offering (IPO) in 2011. The company said it could operate its own data centers more cheaply than Amazon. Amazon’s economies of scale proved hard to beat.
Zynga leased data center space from two wholesale data center providers, DuPont Fabros Technology and Digital Realty Trust. Another indication of the company’s close roots to Facebook - several of the facilities were adjacent to Facebook’s data center facilities.
Zynga’s rode social media’s coattails to build a casual gaming empire with initial hits like FarmVille and Mafia Wars. Heavily dependent on Facebook users, Zynga suffered whenever Facebook made changes to the feed unfavorable to gaming content.