Incorporated in 2005 and headquartered in the United States, Razer runs gaming peripherals, systems, and software businesses. Operating by the motto “For Gamers. By Gamers,” Razer has grown from five employees at startup to more than 600 employees today. “Our culture is results-oriented and nonhierarchical. Ideas can come from anywhere,” says Goh Soon Liong, vice president of cloud services at Razer. The business invests millions of dollars in research and development to innovate and lead the market in new product development.
In 2011, Razer decided to launch an application called Synapse 2.0 that would enable gamers to configure Razer peripherals to optimize their performance for individual games, and to store these settings in a secure, stable, easily accessible location. Gamers could apply stored settings to peripherals such as mice or keyboards when they wanted to participate in events such as “LAN parties,” where people with compatible PCs or game consoles could set up a local area network (LAN) to participate in multiplayer games. To make the Synapse 2.0 application available to gamers, Razer needed an infrastructure that could scale up quickly and was accessible worldwide. “Based on our team’s extensive experience with on-premises data centers, we decided not to deliver the service from a physical infrastructure. We had a key performance indicator of growing the number of Synapse 2.0 users from zero to 1 million in 12 months, and a physical infrastructure would not allow us to meet this objective,” says Goh.
Razer planned to use the Synapse 2.0 project as a benchmark for future applications and websites and to grow its presence in international markets. “We had a small team, a tight budget, and an ambitious expansion schedule. We needed a scalable, cost-effective infrastructure that could help us minimize development and deployment times,” says Goh.
Why Amazon Web Services
Razer considered services that would enable the business to build Synapse 2.0 without requiring extensive up-front investment. The company evaluated available cloud services and quickly determined that Amazon Web Services (AWS) provided the strongest and most mature infrastructure as a service.
In early 2011, Razer began relying on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) for compute and Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) to run a MySQL database when developing Synapse 2.0 in the AWS cloud. “We were very impressed by the ease of setup and availability of services such as Amazon RDS, which would enable us to quickly scale a relational database in the cloud,” says Goh. The organization created the development environment in one week. As the project moved into production, Razer added Auto Scaling to automate the scaling of EC2 instances to meet demand and Elastic Load Balancing to distribute incoming Synapse 2.0 application traffic across the EC2 instances so the business can maximize fault tolerance. Razer also implemented Amazon CloudFront to deliver content to users worldwide quickly and with low network latency. The company completed the production deployment in six months.
The business soon expanded its use of AWS to develop, deploy, and run applications and websites for gamers. The IT team turned to AWS CloudFormation to streamline and automate the process of creating new AWS environments, and AWS SDKs provided the APIs that Razer needed to automate its applications’ access to a range of AWS services.
Razer is now using AWS to run all its Internet-based applications, including Synapse, Razer Comms Gaming and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) chat software, and its Cortex game performance and price comparison platform. The company is also using AWS to run the mobile applications delivered to its Nabu wristband, and the mobile version of its chat software. In addition, Razer is operating all its websites on AWS, including razerzone.com, its e-commerce store, the Cortex Deals game price comparison website, the Special Forces product training website, and the Arena competitive gaming platform. Further, the company is running its big-data processing—to gain insight on how users interact with Razer devices and software—in the AWS cloud. These insights are used to improve the quality of Razer products. Most of Razer’s applications run on Linux to take advantage of open source products such as the Nginx HTTP and reverse proxy server as well as the Memcached distributed memory object caching system, while the remaining applications run on Windows.
The business has added Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store raw, unstructured data and Amazon Glacier to archive older data. Amazon Route 53 provides Domain Name System services that route users to relevant infrastructure resources, while Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) enables Razer to improve the performance of its asynchronous services. Amazon Kinesis captures streaming data from games and associated services for processing, and is used to power applications that deliver alerts, dynamic pricing, and dashboards. The Amazon architectures used to deliver Razer’s websites and applications operate in an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) to minimize the risk of data leakage, theft, or unauthorized intrusion. Amazon CloudWatch enables Razer to monitor and manage its AWS environment, while AWS CloudTrail records API calls made from the Razer account and keeps them in log files.
To reduce network latency for users distributed around the world, Razer is now operating in AWS Regions in the United States, Europe, and South America. The business is currently establishing a presence in the AWS China (Beijing) Region to service users in the country.
Razer’s team members undertook some AWS training to help deploy and run the company’s AWS infrastructure, but mostly relied on guidance from senior engineers and managers. The business is using AWS Support, Developer-level and rarely needs assistance to correct problems.
Razer is reaping considerable cost, scalability, availability, and agility rewards from running its applications, websites, and analytics tools on AWS. The online gaming business can easily support its current user base of 15 million gamers, up from 6 million at the start of 2014. The infrastructure can scale up to support demand peaks of up to 70 percent in the number of servers used on a daily average, and this percentage increases dramatically during holiday seasons and during marketing campaigns.
The Synapse 2.0 service easily reached its target of 1 million users in 12 months, with AWS tools and technologies helping Razer deliver a seamless, high-performing service. And with an infrastructure availability of 99.999 percent, gamers and Razer employees can be confident that applications and websites will be available when they need them.
The AWS infrastructure has also enabled Razer to reduce its administrative load. “Services like Elastic Load Balancing, Amazon RDS, and Amazon S3 free us from the need to set up and deploy similar infrastructure functions ourselves,” says Goh. “At my previous organization, we had a 30-strong technology team to manage an on-premises information technology environment. At Razer, I have a team of six people that performs all our development, deployment, and infrastructure-management tasks. This includes administering hundreds of Amazon EC2 instances.”
The business has been able to direct these savings into the research and development that underpins its culture of innovation. “A lot of the work we do here is focused on meeting the expressed needs and desires of our fans today by investing in the technologies of tomorrow. With AWS, we are less mired in IT concerns and more able to concentrate on our core business, which is making great products for gamers,” says Goh.
Razer has been able to bring new applications to market considerably faster than it could when running physical hardware in an on-premises or collocated data center. The business can deploy AWS services in just one day rather than the month it could take to procure a new server in the past.
“My overall experience with AWS has been excellent,” Goh concludes. “ Any time we look at a new service, AWS system engineers are available to provide the advice and recommendations we need.”
“With AWS, we are less mired in IT concerns and more able to concentrate on our core business, which is making great products for gamers.”
Goh Soon Liong, VP, Cloud Services