Becoming a monster

Moshi Monsters is a website where children can adopt a virtual pet, look after it and help it solve puzzles. This leads to rewards, called ‘rox’, which can be exchanged for virtual accessories for the monster.

It is a long way from a ball and a hoop, but the hybrid video game/social network has proved incredibly popular. Launched in 2008, Moshi Monsters now has 50 million children from around the world taking part. As of June this year, there were 13 million children signed up in the UK alone.

Mind Candy, the Silicon Roundabout start-up behind Moshi Monsters, now sells merchandise including clothing and card games, and describes itself as “an entertainment company”.

Moshi Monsters’ phenomenal growth has of course placed a significant burden on Mind Candy’s web infrastructure. The company started with a few server racks at the Bluesquare colocation facility in Maidenhead, Berkshire, but that is beginning to feel the strain.

“One colo with a few racks is fine for a very small site, but once we started generating a fair bit of cash our priorities changed,” explains Mind Candy CTO Toby Moore. “We really needed somewhere a lot more resilient and enterprise-grade.”

The company is therefore in the process of migrating its web platform to a data centre operated by managed hosting provider The Bunker.

Mind Candy will continue to use its Bluesquare capacity as a ‘live replica’ of its web infrastructure for disaster recovery purposes, Moore explains. Using a “completely separate company with completely separate tiering, power and geographical location for complete disaster recovery” minimises the risk of outages, he says.

Moore is using the migration as an opportunity to redesign the company’s web architecture, based on the lessons he has learned during Mind Candy’s formative years. “The new infrastructure at The Bunker takes everything that we’ve learnt over the past four years – upgrading kit, recycling it and tackling big growth spikes – and puts it all into practice in a really clean, new environment,” Moore says.

Working on highly scalable projects, for example, has taught Moore to “understand the best way to shard [partition] data out and spread it across multiple servers”. The site integrates web services from third parties, and Moore has learned how using an enterprise messaging bus to integrate these services means that if one of them suffers network latency issues, the site as a whole does not slow down.

Growing the portfolio

The new infrastructure will also support Mind Candy as it expands its product portfolio. Moore says the company is planning two more games, as well as new marketing sites and technical capabilities, and these are expected to scale much faster than its original systems, as the brand is now well established.

The virtual infrastructure that Moore is building at The Bunker has been designed in anticipation of rapid scalability. “[The new games] are going to ramp up so much more quickly, we don’t want to be having to hold that up to get more
kit in.”

Unsurprisingly for a fast-growing web company, Mind Candy has always used an Agile approach to software development. New ideas for functionality are developed in two-week sprints, with live code being delivered at the end of each one. “We like to make lots of small bets in the best direction for the business, see which take, and then go really big on them,“ Moore says.

When a particular idea is ‘highly speculative’, Moore says, developers will use cloud-based infrastructure to host the code. “That’s what cloud computing is perfect for, but there’s a downside,” he explains.

For its core systems, Mind Candy needs more insight into data centre operations, and more server density, than most cloud providers offer. “We like to have a lot of headroom where we are and a very responsive partner who understands our business,” he says. “We need the ability to reserve racks and get more in, and also to have really dense racks with 32 amps [of power]”.

That flexibility will even become more important as Mind Candy lives up to its billing as an all-round entertainment company, rather than just an online gaming outfit.

“We have a project at the moment called Moshi TV,” Moore says. “Obviously that’s video streaming, which doesn’t have much to do with games, but it’s going to be a big part of our business. Making sure we’ve got the resilient infrastructure to handle that is essential.

“If you think of big entertainment companies – the amount of things that they touch across games, videos, music, print – that’s where we’re headed, but with a really great social experience online at the heart of it. Having the infrastructure there to support it is really important. We wouldn’t be much without it.”

Beatrice Bartlay

Beatrice Bartlay founded 2B Interface, a temporary and permanent staffing agency in 2005 and has since been serving the UK recruitment sector with specialised services. With more than ten years’ experience...

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