Scientific Game

Cloud with a silver lining

Wednesday, 11 January 2017 16:35
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Amazon’s decision to open up its cloudbased Amazon Web Services to gambling operations has provided online gaming sites a unique opportunity to achieve the agility and simplicity they have craved.


It took just a single, simple update of Amazon’s terms of service early last year to pave the \ way forward for online gaming companies the world over.


Up until 2016, a clause in Amazon’s cloud platform, Amazon Web Services (AWS), listed gambling products among a specific number of “illegal activities” that were prohibited from utilizing its services to operate. That clause has now been removed.


In essence, what Amazon has said is that as long as what you are doing is legal in the jurisdiction in which you’re doing it, they’re fine with you providing gambling on their platform,” explains Sam Bashton, Head of AWS specialist Bashton Limited.


That decision ultimately brings Amazon in-line with its two main rivals in the public cloud sphere – Microsoft and Google. However, the significance of what Amazon can offer its customers is already being hailed as a game changer for the gambling industry.


Until recently heavily restricted by the capabilities of the hardware they had invested in, gaming companies using the Amazon cloud are – among many other benefits – now able to scale their load on demand, therefore cutting down on the restrictive cost of basic hardware.


If you look at the online retail industry as a comparison, it has been very quick to adopt public cloud technology and the reason is that there is a very clear, very strong competitive advantage to doing so,” explains Bashton, pointing to one of his company’s clients, Missguided, as an example.


Missguided are a women’s fast fashion retailer and the vast majority of their £600 million turnover is online, but the traffic with that is very much not linear. They have bloggers and YouTube stars that do collaborations with them and the amount of traffic those individuals can generate is extremely large in regards to the variance from their normal levels of traffic. And that very much plays to the strengths of AWS.


The same is true for e-gaming. If you were to consider sports betting sites for example, an event like The Grand National would be pretty similar in terms of the increase in traffic.


The removal of the need to do capacity planning is pretty much a full-time career for multiple people in an organization which is obviously a huge win. You can load test against a realistic scenario to get an understanding of scale points and where you need to introduce extra hardware into the mix. You can plan based on your marketing plan how much traffic you think you’re going to get so you can ensure you’re getting the right amount of computer capacity to deal with it. Even if you get it wrong it’s only minutes to rectify it.”


One company to have already made the switch to AWS is the UK’s biggest online bingo site, Tombola. Having long found itself battling against the demands that peak periods historically place on its hardware infrastructure, Tombola began looking into Amazon as a potential solution 12 months ago and was so impressed it quickly converted almost all of its systems to the cloud.


Very soon upon scratching the surface with Amazon it became obvious that the benefits could outweigh the drawbacks significantly,” recalls Head of IT at Tombola, Ian Walshaw.


When we then stress-tested it, the results were just incredible. It really questioned what we were doing on our current tin given the performance increases we found immediately.”


To comply with AWS’s gambling regulations, Tombola still runs its gambling operations out of Gibralter – but even so, Walshaw says the process is far simpler these days.


UK online lottery giant Tombola switched to Amazon Web Services with impressive results in 2016


The list of benefits is a long, long list,” he says. “The first one is impossible to quantify but what Amazon’s tool set does is put into the hands of our development teams all the tools and all the toys that makes their life better and lets them independently innovate. That’s such an important benefit for us. It also let us take ownership of some of the managed services we’ve had in the past.


We are a development house and our infrastructure team isn’t particularly big so we had a managed service for all of our networking. So we’ve been able to essentially remove that cost out of the business. It’s allowed us to in-source that.


Another benefit is that we used to suffer from second hand DDos (Distributed Denial of Service – a form of service interruption caused by a widespread virus). So if the one in Gibralter was impacted there was a period of time where we would also be caught up in that traffic. We’ve not suffered any DDos issues since moving to Amazon.


But arguably the biggest benefit for the business has been our ability to scale. We have periods of time in which we’re extremely busy but then other periods of time, such as when we have a really big jackpot, where the sites just go insane.


There is a time between 9 and 10 o’clock on Monday evenings where we do this huge promo and in the past this had to be provisioned to meet those peaks. Sometimes our system just wasn’t capable of doing that and our customers were impacted. That’s not a concern anymore.


If we know there is a 9pm promotion, we’ll schedule boxes to start turning on at 8pm, so capacity is just not something I’m bothered about anymore. That one thing is a game changer. Disk space, CPU, bandwidth I just don’t care anymore. It just works.


That’s why Amazon is absolutely ideal for a product like sports betting. Why have all those computers sitting around most of the time doing nothing? You can just pay for what you use.”


Amazon has moved to address other concerns too. One of those relates to security and the storage of data – an issue that cuts to the very core of any gamingrelated business. Rather than leave the issue to chance, Amazon actually stores all data in whichever country clients choose in order to ensure regulatory compliance.


It also offers the added protection of multiple firewalls encompassing each and every server as opposed to just one or two levels of firewall around the entire database.


They’ve put a hell of a lot of work into ensuring that your data is encrypted and securely held. It’s very hard to make the argument that you could get better security outside of Amazon and the AWS platform,” explains Bashton.


Ultimately though, the decision on whether to use AWS from which to run online gaming sites comes down to a matter of cost.


I guess essentially you get what you pay for,” says Walshaw. “If you can’t afford to run the infrastructure on Amazon then it’s going to be of no use to you because you’re not going to get a return on that infrastructure.


 The beautiful thing for us is that we are a development company, we have a relatively small infrastructure and support team because that is not our core business – our core business is writing software for our customers. But the way we’ve approached it, I hope, is that our infrastructure team won’t need to grow at the same rate as our development team

because it’s self-managed now. So smaller companies, if they’ve got clever developers, I would argue it makes life a damn sight easier. You’re putting control into the hands of your development team.


That’s why I say the cloud is a great leveller. Before, as a smaller company, there were a lot of things that were cost prohibitive. The ability to run active workloads across multiple data centres, the ability to do machine learning – these would have cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to do previously.


Now you can do that in a $5,000 monthly AWS bill quite comfortably. So the smaller players are now getting access to things that previously only the larger players would have had access to.”

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