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Gaming Hints At Enterprise Cloud Future

RightScale manages eight of the 12 most popular games on the Web by serving as a front end management system for the cloud.

Just as they lead in the use of social networking and smart phones, more and more consumers are making use of the cloud -- in most cases well ahead of enterprise IT departments.

RightScale, an outfit at the forefront of managing that use, says all the consumer activity may supply a model for how IT invokes cloud computing as well.

The company serves as the front end cloud management firm for Zynga, a supplier of game applications built on top of Facebook. Zynga's biggest hit has been FarmVille, which has grown to an astounding 79.1 million active monthly users since its launch last June.

Launchers of new online games with social networking elements, like FarmVille's, have learned they need to be prepared to scale up in a similar fashion. For example, says Michael Crandell, CEO of RightScale, CrowdStar last September launched an online game, Happy Aquarium. At first it grew slowly, then its challenge to feed a virtual aquarium of pet fish began to catch on. In two months, Happy Aquarium escalated to seven million users a day and now has an estimated 26 million active monthly users.

"The cloud enables a new kind of startup success," points out Crandell. "In the cloud, you can launch a game with only a small IT infrastructure. They get started with us with only a single server," but they're still capable of "adding a million users in a small time frame," he noted.

RightScale monitors CPU, disk, and memory use on the single server as a game is given its launch, then adds more servers when usage reaches a certain threshold.

Eventually a cluster of servers attends to the game's needs, and RightScale monitors the cluster as a unit. Each server is loaded with a RightScale agent "that reports back to the mothership" or the RightScale management system. As multiple servers in the cluster start reporting they are using more than 50% of CPU and other resources, the RightScale system concludes "this is not an isolated problem. We need more servers," explained Crandell.

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