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Data Center Lessons from the Online Gaming World

In June, Iceland-based CCP Games brought the hammer down on a group of resource hogs that were clogging its data center.

In an operation dubbed internally “Unholy Rage,” the company cut off 2 percent of its subscribers–real customers who had paid to play CCP's massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), known as EVE Online. The small group of players was using software to essentially cheat at the game, automating the collection of resources and the completion of quests to generate gold. These so-called real-money traders would then sell the gold for real-world cash.

Such schemes not only wreak havoc on the virtual world's economy (CCP Games has its own on-staff economist), but the traders also have a significant impact on the company's real-world data center. Case and point: When the company cut off the devious 2 percent of its users, it gained back 30 percent of its computing resources.

“With the reduced load, we have directly impacted our ability to scale our infrastructure to higher user counts,” says James Wyld, virtual world administrator for EVE Online, “so I would say we have saved on the next cycle of infrastructure costs.”

Most enterprises may not think that their operating environment is similar to the virtual fantasy world of World of Warcraft or the digital universe of EVE Online. Yet their data exists in a virtual space all its own, whether that's a world of financial transactions, health data or sales information.

So for companies that want to shore up their virtual environments, here are some tips from the pros.

Know Your Infrastructure Costs

While EVE Online's virtual world encompasses nearly 5,000 star systems, Blizzard Entertainment's immensely popular fantasy MMORPG, World of Warcraft, has the most expansive infrastructure. Where CCP Games has a single data center in the United Kingdom, Blizzard has four data centers in the United States, seven data centers in the European Union and more in Asia Pacific.

“Blizzard is one of the top-10 architectures,” says Anthony Greenberg, founder and principal at RampRate, which advises companies on reducing their infrastructure costs. “They are massive.”

Both companies have similar data-center considerations, however: An expanding subscriber base led them to rapidly build more infrastructure, although not necessarily in the most cost-effective way, says Greenberg.

“Most data centers have an explosively growing relationship with data, but most of them have 20- to 30-percent fluff,” Greenberg says. “You need to know your costs as they compare to the market.”

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