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GREE Inc. is one of Japan’s leading social-networking service operators. The company builds mobile, social-gaming ecosystems for users and developers, with an emphasis on creating and supporting unique, free-to-play game content and social media services. GREE’s network reaches more than 230 million players and offers various game applications to users around the world.
In May 2012, GREE launched a global, mobile-gaming platform called GREE Platform. To support this new platform, GREE has to ensure it can store and analyze growing volumes of log data―information on the number of game players, the applications they use, and how frequently they access the gaming platform. The company decided to switch from local to network-attached storage.
In December 2011, GREE implemented Oracle’s Sun ZFS Storage 7420 appliance and Sun Fire X4170 M2 server, running Oracle Solaris 11, to support its social network data analysis, obtaining higher levels of performance for approximately the same cost as an internal-disk storage system. The company has strengthened its analytics capabilities while achieving significant savings in total acquisition and operating costs.
The Oracle Sun ZFS Storage Appliance is connected to the Sun Fire X4170 M2 server through a Sun Datacenter InfiniBand Switch 36. The ZFS Storage Appliance runs on Oracle Solaris 11 and exploits the power of the Solaris ZFS file system.
GREE’s aim is to provide mobile gaming services that users will take pleasure in using. According to Kouhei Mori, general manager, systems coordination department, development headquarters, GREE, Inc., the company does this by “making continuous service improvements while rotating the plan-go-check-act (PDCA) cycle on a daily basis. We are proud that our services are underpinned by a corporate culture of constant improvement.”
GREE collects terabytes of log data every day to analyze traffic and service patterns in its effort to continuously improve customer service.
“For example, the log data allows us to monitor players’ activities and see how frequently they access our gaming applications and which games they are downloading and playing,” said Takashi Ichii, an engineer at GREE’s development headquarters. “Anyone involved in service improvement―games developers, engineers, business development staff―can easily get ahold of log data reports.”
“There has been a constant increase in log data in line with the rising number of game players and the frequency of access,” said Mori. “We believe the data growth curve will rise even more steeply now we’ve launched the GREE Platform and commenced global social gaming services.”
In early 2011, GREE began examining storage options to prepare for the expected increase in log data. There were two options available to the company. The first involved combining several servers of medium-sized data capacity. The second entailed separating the servers used for analysis from systems that store log data, and expanding each separately.
“The first option would have made it possible to increase data capacity without lowering performance, but there were no cost benefits,” said Ichii. “We thought the second option would enable us to achieve the same or superior performance and data capacity for around the same cost as our previous system.”
The sticking point was the method of connection between the servers and the external storage. There was a risk that performance would fall off if NFS or the iSCSI standard was used to connect the storage facility with one gigabytes-per-second Ethernet. The iSCSI standard makes it possible to use the SCSI protocol employed in storage and computer communications on TCP/IP networks.
GREE consulted Oracle about this matter. Oracle suggested connecting the servers and the storage facility with InfiniBand, which is based on wide-band data communications standards and uses iSCSI Extension for RDMA (iSER) to increase the speed of data transfer. The iSER is a method of raising the iSCSI transfer speed by directly transferring data between different computer memories and I/O devices.
“At the time, we’d never really come across any examples of InfiniBand being introduced in an area other than high performance computing,” said Ichii. “However, we judged that everything would be fine because we were aware of the capabilities of Oracle Exadata Database Machine and Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud.”
Studies conducted at the Oracle Solution Center indicated that roughly the same performance could be obtained as before, and GREE decided to implement the Sun ZFS Storage 7420 appliance, using Sun Datacenter InfiniBand Switch 36 to connect the storage appliance to a Sun Fire X4170 M2 server. The infrastructure can hold more than one petabyte of storage.
During the verification process, GREE confirmed that the new Sun server and storage infrastructure performed even better than forecasted.
The enhanced performance ensures staff involved in service improvement and games development can access up-to-date reports on players, the frequency that they access the gaming platform, and the games they play. This allows GREE to determine what improvements it needs to make to provide users with an optimum social gaming experience.
In addition, GREE has comprehensive access to storage usage patterns at the individual user, application, and hardware levels. This was enabled through the use of DTrace analytics for simplified data management.
According to Mori, the high performance has not come at additional cost to GREE.
“We changed over from a system in which disks are housed inside the servers to a system of externally-attached storage, but despite this, we achieved a higher level of performance for around the same cost as our previous solution,” he said. “Separating servers and storage gave us the flexibility to strengthen processing capacity by adding servers only when we need to. Similarly, we can accommodate more data volumes by adding storage.”
The new log data analysis system went into production in early 2012. Mori said the next steps are to respond to the demands of service improvement personnel, who want more advanced analysis functions, and to address the ongoing increase in data volumes.
“Log data plays an extremely important role in our company’s business operations,” said Mori. “Now and in the future we will no doubt be making use of primary disk storage to store data. In parallel with this, we need to continue trying to better understand the needs of social gaming players through the use of more intelligent analysis and high-speed data access methods.
“The Sun ZFS Storage 7420 appliance provides a powerful, tier 1 storage infrastructure for GREE’s business operations as we strive to reflect the results of log-data analysis regarding qualitative improvements in our social media services,” he said. “Our aim is to be the leader in the fiercely competitive global social platforms industry.”
By opting for Oracle Solaris, GREE benefits from high reliability throughout the hardware and software stack. Oracle Solaris features―including built-in ZFS, end-to-end data integrity―enables the company to deliver the service levels required to track tens of millions of users on an “always there” basis.
Oracle Solaris 11 InfiniBand support for Sun Fire X4170 M2 server and Sun ZFS Storage 7420 appliance can deliver proven high-speed connectivity at 40 gigabits per second. This connectivity enables GREE to take maximum advantage of the Flash-enabled hybrid storage pools in the Sun ZFS Storage appliance, which provides low-cost-per-terabyte storage and excellent cost and performance ratios.
Oracle Solaris also allows GREE to take advantage of cloud-scale and cloud-speed flexibility. The company can quickly and safely update the Oracle Solaris operating system and its applications, with minimum downtime for individual operating systems. It can rapidly create data analysis environments to respond to expanding workloads and new software deployments, which is highly important after the launch of the new global social gaming platform.
Oracle Solaris 11’s end-to-end security makes it easy for GREE to develop data analysis systems. Oracle Solaris will automatically leverage the built-in security functions of the underlying system, satisfying performance needs and ensuring flexibility for development and deployment.
GREE implemented the Sun ZFS Storage 7420 appliance because the system delivered higher performance and more flexible expansion than the company’s legacy storage facility, for around the same cost, versus other competitive solutions offered.
GREE’s decision to implement the Sun ZFS Storage 7420 appliance was also influenced by the opportunity to use ZFS with Oracle Solaris 11. “ZFS makes it possible to safely update files on a copy-on-write and transactional basis,” said Ichii. “It’s a file system with extremely developed functions that facilitates the use of snapshots. We’ve used it before, so it was essential to be able to use the ZFS and Solaris combination with the new storage.”
The company installed Oracle Solaris 11 with the new Sun Fire X4170 M2 server (used for log-data analysis), and positioned the MySQL database on ZFS. “Because Oracle Solaris is the operating system in the Sun ZFS Storage 7420 appliance, this configuration makes it possible to operate InfiniBand at the highest speed,” said Ichii.
In December 2011, the Sun servers, storage, and InfiniBand switches were delivered to GREE. The preparatory work included fitting, attaching cables, and installing the Oracle ZFSSA software. Once this was completed, the company began verifying the new storage infrastructure using actual data.
“We made use of installation services by Oracle Advanced Customer Services on this occasion because we had little knowledge of InfiniBand,” said Ichii. “If we had not done this, it would have taken us twice as long to implement the Oracle infrastructure, due to the large scale of our environment.”