Miniclip is a gaming company with 70 million active users. The company began when co-founders Tihan Presbie and Rob Small recorded a video of Presbie dancing in his kitchen and superimposed an image of US President George Bush’s head over Presbie’s body. The result was a “miniclip,” and the site was born. Today, Miniclip is one of the largest online gaming sites in the world, and in 2010, expanded into the mobile market.

Before migrating to Amazon Web Services (AWS), Miniclip ran a purpose-built data center in the United States and a co-located space in Europe. Procurement times for provisioning hardware severely limited Miniclip’s ability to get games to players quickly. Each time the company deployed a new game, it took four weeks—and launching it took another five days.

Time to market is crucial for Miniclip. Before migrating to AWS, the company struggled to estimate the amount of hardware it needed to launch a new game. Capital expenditures (CAPEX) for new hardware quickly added up to the tens of thousands of dollars, and there was never a guarantee that the hardware could be scaled up quickly enough if demand for a new game increased. Maintaining a data center brought its own problems, and the developers at Miniclip were being diverted from revenue-generating activities to solving performance issues in the data center. “Scaling our architecture was a big problem for us,” says Dave Shanker, head of Technical Operations. “Our teams were spending a lot of time trying to fix performance issues instead of working on new features or getting something out the door that would make us money.”

Security was another factor. Many of Miniclip’s customers are under 13 years of age, so the company must comply with regulatory rules across many countries, including the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the US. Miniclip managed security at the system level, which posed a security risk. Finally, the company’s hardware was nearing the end of its life cycle in its data centers.

The company realized that by moving to the cloud, it could both speed time to market and eliminate the expense of spending $100,000 for new load balancers. Miniclip looked at different cloud vendors, but quickly discovered that Amazon Web Services (AWS) was the most knowledgeable, mature, and cost-effective provider on the market.

Scaling its games is of paramount concern to Miniclip, and using AWS allows the company to meet any traffic demand. In the Miniclip game Pool, the company recently launched a new feature called Cues with Powers, that increased the amount of requests to its back-end API system. “By using AWS, we were able to scale to 3x the normal number of API instances with the click of a button,” Shanker says. “After we launched, we were able to dial that down to 1.5 times the normal amount.” Additionally, using AWS enabled Miniclip to manage security groups via its change control process.

Miniclip uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) for its main site, which consists of approximately 30 instances accepting traffic through Elastic Load Balancing. For example, its largest game, Pool, uses Amazon EC2 running Java. Miniclip also uses Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS). to handle database functions for its high-scores catalog, micro-transactions system, and the avatar database, which runs on MySQL InnoDB on Amazon RDS.

Miniclip uses Amazon DynamoDB for a custom game data service that allows third-party games to store almost any type of data in this service without requiring development support. “It’s a perfect fit for DynamoDB's non-scehma-based data storage,” Shanker says. “We also use DynamoDB for simple relational schemas, which allows us to store and retrieve the data in a fast and highly available manner without the operational requirements of a MySQL or Redis deployment.”

The company uses Amazon Route 53 to handle Domain Name Service calls. Recently, Miniclip began to use the in-memory service Amazon ElastiCache with both Redis and Memcached to enhance performance database functions. Miniclip’s custom game data system uses AWS Elastic Beanstalk to deploy the API for the front end. The APIs were written using a Ruby SDK, which Shanker says “did everything we needed it to do as far as talking to DynamoDB, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), and ElastiCache.”

The team initially began using Amazon Redshift as a simple computational framework, but is now looking to use it for UA, AB testing, and additional monetization. “Amazon Redshift was an excellent solution because the company needed to service its mobile customers consistently and quickly from a data warehouse that can scale instantly to meet demand,” Shanker says.

By moving to AWS, Miniclip was able to seize opportunities that may otherwise have passed it by. During the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Miniclip was able to launch two games instead of just one: Soccer Stars (mobile) and Mini-soccer (web). With Miniclip’s previous data center architecture, it would have taken four weeks to procure hardware, install it, and finally deploy these games. With AWS, Miniclip’s mobile server team was able to reduce the deployment time to four hours. “If we were deploying into our previous data center, I don’t think the team would have met the goal of deploying before the World Cup,” Shanker says. “That allowed us to take advantage of the hype to drive users to the soccer games.”

In addition, by using AWS, Miniclip is able to develop and prototype solutions faster, giving it a distinct performance enhancement after migrating from the datacenters. “By using AWS, we can prototype at a much faster pace than when we were in our data centers,” Shanker says.

After migrating to AWS, Miniclip now experiences availability in the five 9s (99.999 percent). Latency was reduced from 4.5 seconds to 2 seconds. Time to market decreased by 97 percent. Infrastructure costs were reduced by 69 percent, and the manpower required to run the infrastructure was reduced by 66 percent. After migrating to AWS, Miniclip’s operating expenses decreased by 60 percent. Because Miniclip no longer needed to spend money on new hardware, CAPEX fell 75 percent.

AWS powers Miniclip’s ambition to grow in the world of online gaming. Now, with the ability to get games to market faster, Miniclip has become a leader in the industry. The benefits of AWS extend beyond technological performance: AWS also enhances human performance. “It allows us to push a lot more of our operational stuff to our developers, so our developers learn more, which makes them better at what they do,” Shanker says.

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