Hello Nick, I’m pleased to have been given a chance to speak with you about something I’ve been interested in for a long time: Mobile Gaming and the world of online support. Many of my absolute favorite titles for iOS and Android are downloaded hundreds of thousands of times at launch, and increasingly have an online element that allows these games to do so much more than they used to even 5 years ago. With that in mind, I’d love to get your thoughts on how the world behind the scenes operates, and what it’s like to run a server farm that supports an incredible number of active connections at once.
Thanks so much for your time, and I look forward to your responses!
Nick Dvas, COO at Servers.com
First a bit about yourself: How long have you been with Servers.com?
I joined Servers.com when the company launched in 2013 as a Product Manager and I have been serving as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) since November 2014. Servers.com is the embodiment of ongoing innovation and all of the challenges that presents in terms of technology, while providing our clients with a collaborative consultancy: The growth of this company has been very rewarding. I am part of a team of technical experts who understand the demands put on small to midsize businesses on the cutting edge of apps and gaming. It’s a very different experience from the culture of a company that provides a basic commodity to Fortune 1,000 companies. We actually listen to the small to midsize companies.
To your point about iOS and Android increasingly having an online element that allows these games to do so much more than they used to even 5 years ago, let me add that this is not the same company it was 5 months ago – let alone 5 years ago. I am proud to be a part of a growing team that enables hundreds of customers to grow even faster. Our culture embraces a collaborative approach with these customers.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got interested in the world of network management?
I’ve always been fascinated with the intersection of technology and marketing – basically, figuring out the best way to communicate the value of tech services to consumers and how to broaden the appeal of those services. My professional introduction into this line of work was through journalism, much like yourself; I was the editor for a tech news website for two years and realized that my real interest was inside the industry. Subsequently, I worked for a mobile-oriented social network, a cloud hosting provider, and this career path has taken me to Servers.com. I have a great appreciation for the work that you do and the value you provide to your audience. Websites like yours provide access to information that major periodicals don’t have the resources to cover.
Thanks Nick! We appreciate that! Are you a gamer (table-top, mobile, console or PC?), and if so, what would you say is your favorite game to go back to again and again?
Of course, although looking at your website I’m quite sure I am not anywhere near the average Pixelrater reader’s level! I am kind of old school and I mostly play casual mobile games with about eighty percent being indie games, because I like the element of surprise.
I also make a point to have lunch on a regular basis with different programmers at our Headquarters to see what kinds of games they are interested in and where the trends are headed. The fact that we take a collaborative approach with our clients means that I am able to get a lot of input from the people who depend upon our services.
Awesome! We feel strongly that this kind of hands-on attention is important and I’m sure your clients do too! Now about the back end! First and foremost, I’d like to get some perspective of what your company, Servers.com does. What kinds of media do you support for what platforms?
We’re an Infrastructure and Service provider, meaning we provide server infrastructure for any game that needs it. That includes a pretty diverse roster of multiplayer games on all platforms. MMORPGs are the heaviest consumers since they require more computing power for PVP battles than any other kind of game. The beauty of our service is we can take a game that initially has very few users and then, if it suddenly goes viral, we can scale up quickly to meet the demand as needed. This is an example of what I referred to earlier as how the cutting edge of apps and gaming is a very different experience from what one gets at a larger more traditional server provider.
What is the driving vision behind your company?
The central point is to empower small-to-medium-size businesses by providing them with the same level of premium server hosting solutions available to big established developers. I would also add that we provide every client with what I like to call a “no dogma approach”. Again this is our vison of a collaborative effort to provide every client with the service level they need at a price they can afford.
For an average game launch, you have the potential for hundreds of thousands if not millions of total downloads. What does this look like on the back end, in terms of server processing, storage requirements caching services and traffic management?
This is what makes working here so exciting! As I mentioned earlier, it’s an incredibly technologically demanding sprint. The major challenge here is to be able to scale fast without service disruptions. For example, we hosted the CATS (Crash Arena Turbo Stars) game that launched and went to #1 on the App Store in two days. Another mobile app we worked with was Prisma, which topped the 1 million active users mark in less than a week last summer. We follow the traffic spikes of our fastest growing customers and make sure the servers they need are ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.
What is the preferred or ‘best’ way to get your mobile game hosted in your opinion?
That’s a great question and it varies widely depending on the game and company.
Be local and have your servers where your players are: latency matters. The closer the player is to the server, the better user experience they get. We are a global company with centers in the U.S., Europe and Asia. We are currently looking at Africa. Find a hosting partner capable of scaling rapidly. You never know how fast your game will grow. Fail to do this and the game will crash at the key point when people are looking at it. Pick a provider with a good network. Lag can kill the game.
We could not agree more, and this is sound advice! When people think of cloud storage, they don’t typically imagine the farm of servers sitting in a facility processing huge amounts of data for millions of users every second. Can you give us some insight as to how large your facilities are, and perhaps provide some scale and context for what server.com’s operations look like?
Most people think of cloud storage as intangible, but if you work in this field you think of it as a very real piece of infrastructure. The standard design for our datacenters has 40 racks, with 36 servers on each one. In total, that’s 1,440 servers.
The equipment is physically protected in a manner that somewhat resembles a high-end self-storage facility. Each rack is in a dedicated locked cell arrayed one after another along hallways. The servers generate a ton of heat and we air condition on an almost industrial scale to ensure stability.
As I’ve never had the time to develop a game myself, I don’t know much about the support that might be necessary for a launch. What kinds of services are not only recommended, but required for a large scale deployment of a mobile title?
Robust and rapidly scalable server infrastructure is mandatory for any PVP games. It’s also an easy solution for storing and delivering static assets like images and music. Finally, we found that many of our customers use servers for analytics – because free-to-play publishers rely on analytics to monetize their games.
In regards to a multiplayer game experience, what does this look like in terms of support from your services?
Whether it is a large multiplayer game experience or a popular mobile app, our services are consistent and tailored to the needs of our clients. We have virtualized and automated many configuration options for our clients. This allows them to order and configure dedicated servers, virtual machines, and cloud storage, manage networks, configure their firewall or perform DNS health checks at the click of a button. All this support is provided in real time to the consumer. They have total control.
I was reading a bit about your operation and it was mentioned that you have the ability to let small indie game developers upscale to become the number one hit. How does this work, and is this different from advertising with the content platform?
We offer geographically diverse infrastructure, U.S., Europe and Asia and we have sufficient numbers of servers ready to be provisioned to the customer. That is important.
Another key thing is that proactivity is wired into our corporate culture. That’s why when it’s time for developers to grow, we are ready. With our competitors and even the largest cloud providers, you can face account limits, making you lose several precious hours or even days until your case is reviewed and limits are lifted. This has never been the case with Servers.com.
We provide budget conscious and dynamic hosting power for the gaming industry. In closing, I would add that our approach to our client base incorporates what I like to call the three C’s.
• Cost Competitive
• Cooperative Partnerships
• Collaborative Customer Solutions
I want to thank you for your questions. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you and hope that we have an opportunity to discuss the changes in the industry in another 5 months.
Thank you so much for your time and thorough answers to our questions! I’ve enjoyed this bit of insight and it helps to paint a picture about what’s really going on behind the scenes when it comes to fully realizing a game project or any other networked software. I hope we get the chance to connect again, and see how rapidly this industry grows.
For more information on growing your own online strategies, head over to Servers.com
If you have thoughts or questions about this industry you’d like to see answered in future interviews, post them in the comments below and be sure to listen in on our Weekly podcast #PixelraterLANParty (available on all podcast platforms) for even more on this subject, every monday at 8am!
(Questions and Responses in this article have been lightly edited for clarity and length/readabilty but no content has been changed from the original discussion.)