Riot Games’ esports division needed its own data centers, so Principal Infrastructure Engineer James Wyld is busy building them.

Sep 15 2023

Here’s Why Modern Data Centers Offer Speed, Power and Performance

As businesses look for the best data center option, some choose on-premises technology, if they have low latency requirements.

Riot Games, the Los Angeles-based maker of massively popular video games including League of Legends, produces live esports tournaments attended by tens of thousands of people in person and broadcast live to tens of millions around the globe.  

But until just a few years ago, Riot’s esports division relied on hand-me-down computing infrastructure from the company’s gaming division.

“We were the scrappy little esports team, taking the free hardware and using it however we could,” says James Wyld, principal infrastructure engineer for the esports technology group at Riot Games.  

“It felt very much like a startup within Riot. In the early years, we only had one or two shows a year, and so our team would grab all of the servers that we could find and build the infrastructure from scratch to power a global show.

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But as we started to move into Olympic stadiums and basketball arenas, we realized there was a gap between our live game infrastructure and the esports side of the business.”

To fill this gap, Riot built out a data center in Dublin, Ireland (with another under construction in Seattle) and invested in switching, computing, management and wireless connectivity tools from Cisco. The investment has allowed Riot to move the repeatable aspects of broadcasting to the centralized facility while continuing to set up portable infrastructure at tournament sites to power zero-latency gameplay.

The Vital Importance of the Data Center

Some businesses, especially those with extremely strict latency requirements, have come to realize that upgrades to on-premises infrastructure are a better fit for certain workloads than migrating resources to the public cloud. Sean Graham, research director for IT data centers at IDC, says that companies that sprouted up as “digital natives” are more likely than others to view the data center as critical to business success.

“Their conversations are about growth as opposed to simply keeping operations running,” Graham says.

Riot Games invested in Cisco Nexus 9000 series switches to connect live feeds to its Dublin data center, Cisco Intersight Infrastructure Service to manage infrastructure and proactively detect errors before they can affect tournament viewership or gameplay, Cisco UCS servers to support esports competitions, and the Cisco Meraki cloud network platform to provide an onsite network that connects game servers to broadcast devices at tournaments.

25%

The percentage of data centers that experience deployment delays due to power and space issues

Source: IDC, “Future of Enterprise Datacenters,” November 2022

“It was appealing to get all of those elements of infrastructure with one relationship,” Wyld says. “It also helped that Cisco was really keen to participate as more than just a supplier but as an actual partner in esports.”

Previously, Riot’s esports team needed to bring a broadcast production truck to each event. Today, the team is using Cisco equipment — and Riot’s own internet service — to deliver raw data to its Dublin facility, where audio and video are mixed.

“This model is really pushing the boundaries of broadcast capabilities,” Wyld says. “But first, we needed that base of infrastructure to provide some reliability. Our investment with Cisco allowed us to take the headache out of managing network and server infrastructure. It let us focus on the production systems and the operational workflows, which is where the real business value is derived.”

Data center worker
To support its esports broadcasts to millions of people around the world, Riot Games built data centers in Dublin and Seattle, investing in switching, computing, management, and wireless connectivity tools from Cisco, says James Wyld, Principal Infrastructure Engineer for its esports technology group.

 

Standardized Infrastructure Leads to Reduced Cyber Risks

Until recently, SMC, a leader in pneumatic technology serving industries ranging from automotive to life sciences, lacked a centralized IT strategy to manage its technology investments around the globe. Jon St. Arnaud, senior infrastructure manager of global IT operations for the company, says that there were essentially 85 different IT departments scattered throughout the organization, making it difficult for leaders to identify redundant investments and reduce waste.

But even more important, this IT model created an unacceptable level of cyber risk. St. Arnaud says that business continuity was the top priority that led the company to seek a new approach to managing its technology stack.

“We kept seeing compromised accounts, insecure infrastructure and a little bit of ransomware going in some of our locations,” he says. “We took a step back to look at how much intellectual property was at risk, and it was quite significant.”

EXPLORE: Learn more about data platforms and how to build a modern one.

SMC undertook an ambitious effort to centralize IT operations and infrastructure, building 11 data centers over the course of a single year, with another on the way. It standardized on Dell infrastructure solutions, incorporating Dell PowerScale, Dell VxRail and Dell ECS Object Storage in all of its data centers. St. Arnaud notes that the new infrastructure is more efficient and allows the company to standardize its cybersecurity practices.

“By pulling everything into the data center, we now have security teams and backup teams and disaster recovery professionals managing everything,” he says.

The hyperconverged infrastructure simplified the effort, he says, as officials weren’t initially sure how much storage, computing, and networking capacity the company would need. “As workloads increased beyond our expectations, we could drop nodes in,” he says. “We can add capacity without reconfiguring or rebuilding. It’s plug and play.”

James Wyld
It was appealing to get all of those elements of infrastructure with one relationship.”

James Wyld Principal Infrastructure Engineer, Riot Games

Modular Infrastructure Is Easier for IT Teams to Manage

Business units at Interstates, an Iowa-based company that provides consulting, engineering and other services to companies in industries such as construction and manufacturing, rely heavily on the company’s IT infrastructure team.

“Everybody needs resources faster,” says Nathan Bullock, IT operations manager for Interstates. “We do a lot of professional services for external manufacturing companies, and we need a good, solid infrastructure so we can spin up project virtual machines on the fly.”

The company’s data center infrastructure proved unreliable, however. Interstates unexpectedly had to make significant repairs to the electrical components of its servers after only three years, creating significant friction for the business. “It was pretty costly in downtime, because we had to take down our entire infrastructure,” Bullock says.

DISCOVER: Why organizations are adopting data center services in their IT infrastructure. 

After evaluating several options, Bullock and his team decided to upgrade the company’s primary data center and disaster recovery location with Cisco infrastructure. The team opted for the Cisco UCS X-Series Modular System with Cisco Intersight to improve management and visibility.

The modular nature of the solution has led to improved flexibility and scalability, Bullock says, and it also has reduced the company’s maintenance burden and the time it takes to provision resources for customer projects.

“Before, everything was separate,” Bullock says. “We were managing our storage area network separately, our networking separately and our compute separately. Even across our two data centers, everything was separate, because we didn’t have any centralized visibility to help with troubleshooting and configuration.”

As a result of the upgrades, Interstates has accelerated its physical and virtual infrastructure deployments by approximately 75 percent — reducing the time that it takes to provision virtual machines from a day and a half to mere hours. The move also has reduced the company’s data center footprint by more than 50 percent, allowing the organization to delay a planned HVAC upgrade by 12 to 18 months.

“Being able to deliver these benefits to businesses helped us justify the cost of the refresh,” Bullock says.

Photography Courtesy of Riot Games
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