Nordeus’ flagship football team-management simulation, Top Eleven, reached the top of the mobile game charts nearly a decade ago, and it’s been there ever since.
Nordeus clearly knows a thing or two about creating exceptional game experiences that keep players coming back. And with a recently completed cloud migration that includes Google Cloud CDN, the Nordeus infrastructure team created a simpler, smarter, and more cost-effective way to sustain its success.
According to Strahinja Kustudić, head of infrastructure and data engineering at Nordeus, there are now more than 220 million registered players around the world that play Top Eleven on a very regular basis, and millions more are now playing two other game titles on the company’s active roster. Nordeus itself has emerged as one of Europe’s fastest-growing game developers, with new game titles currently in the works and more than 180 employees working at the company’s headquarters in Belgrade, Serbia.
Leaving behind an unscalable, unsustainable on-prem system
Until 2019, the company delivered all of its gaming content using self-managed, on-premises systems. Their infrastructure included a UK-based data center with more than 400 dedicated servers running a virtual machine-based private cloud production environment, along with a sizable production Hadoop cluster.
Keeping everything on-prem gave the Nordeus infrastructure team control and visibility. But for their small and overstretched team, a status quo approach was no longer sustainable.
“For a long time, the infrastructure team was just me and one other person,” Kustudić said. “We were doing some extreme over-provisioning, which is something you have to do when you’re running dedicated servers. But we were paying a lot for nothing, and it didn’t make any sense.” At the same time, he added, the team’s challenges with scaling its compute capacity separately from storage meant that a much-needed Hadoop upgrade was unlikely to occur.
A legacy CDN with little room for growth
The company’s content delivery network (CDN) comprised another piece of its infrastructure puzzle. Previously, Nordeus relied on a single CDN provider that delivered acceptable performance, Kustudić said, but the process for adding new domains or other management tasks was complex and inefficient.
“You had to contact [the CDN provider], talk with them, send them a certificate, and then they had to set it up,” Kustudić stated. “It’s not that easy.”
The Nordeus on-prem storage cluster was another potential barrier to growth. While it performed as expected, the server’s high-maintenance, custom storage and file system requirements combined to create yet another source of complexity and inefficiency.
According to Kustudić, Nordeus wasn’t eager to take on the potential complexities of a cloud migration project. But moving to the cloud made sense not just from a cost perspective, but from a scalability perspective, too; supporting current and future growth had become unsustainable with on-prem infrastructure.
“It wasn’t just about the cost,” Kustudić explained. “We needed a platform that would be much easier to scale, administer, and monitor. We needed a platform that would be flexible and that would allow us to develop faster, move faster, and be a lot more agile.”
Going all-in with a cloud migration strategy
In April 2019, Nordeus started its Google Cloud migration project. Over the next six months, and with support from Google Cloud engineers from the outset, Nordeus moved its entire on-prem technology stack into Google Cloud.
After taking some initial steps to strengthen the performance of its network, the Nordeus team learned to take advantage of tools like Terraform, which was new to them, and Ansible, which they already had been using to manage their on-prem environment for years. Both contributed to greater efficiency and scalability in their game development, test and launch processes. By January 2020, Nordeus was ready to migrate its final piece of infrastructure: its CDN.
Kustudić and his team were impressed by the simplicity of the Google Cloud CDN setup process. “We couldn’t imagine a CDN would be that easy to set up,” Kustudić said. “We don’t want to think about CDN — and that was a big problem with our on-prem system. Over the past year, since we did the migration, it’s not something we ever think about. . . . we know it works and can scale indefinitely.”
A CDN strategy designed to scale
According to Kustudić, Nordeus achieved both scalability and simplicity while revamping its entire approach to using a CDN. Whenever Nordeus launches a new game, the infrastructure team and any necessary dev teams are able to use a simple Terraform script to launch a CDN environment on demand which includes a Google Cloud Platform project, Cloud Load Balancer, Google Cloud Storage bucket, and Cloud CDN instances. Using this code-based approach allows Nordeus to easily set up multiple test environments to efficiently test games during the development cycle, launch new games quickly, and scale game infrastructure efficiently based on user demands.
Cloud Storage also played an important part in solving the company’s CDN challenges. Gone are the custom storage requirements and the inefficiency of storing vast numbers of small files within their filesystem. Instead, CDN origin storage became a non-issue with GCS. “The simplicity of CDN and Cloud Storage was mind-blowing,” Kustudić said. “We don’t have to worry about scaling at all — it just works.” Yet another advantage of using GCS instead of a home-grown on-prem storage cluster is that the infrastructure team doesn’t have to worry about user errors and backing up files anymore — GCS built-in versioning takes care of it.
Freeing up the infrastructure team to focus on enabling growth
In terms of bottom-line impact, Kustudić pointed out that Google Cloud CDN delivered clear improvements in latency — especially in Europe, where latency has dropped by 15-20 percent. And while Kustudić pointed out that Nordeus didn’t go into its Google Cloud migration to lower costs, that’s exactly what happened. Its monthly CDN operating costs have declined by about 50%.
For Nordeus, saving money with Google Cloud CDN is less important than simply being able to focus on more important things like enabling growth, empowering dev teams to support a faster cadence of releases, and keeping the company on its fast track to global gaming prominence.
“It’s insane how good this is, and how easy it is to set up,” Kustudić said. “We got a faster and more flexible platform, with more features than we ever could have had with a private cloud.” Those are important capabilities for any business, but for a fast-growing company working to stay on top of a hotly competitive industry, they can make a critical difference.
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