More for less

Since I started working with IT, I’ve always focused on helping organizations increase productivity and/or cut costs. Since I joined Unibet I constantly am challenged by my managers to cut operational cost, with at the same time making the system and platform more performant, available and scalable. You might think that this would suck, but it’s really great fun. Its very rewarding and not too difficult really. My approach is to question everything. Start asking questions! Why? How much does it cost? What value does it provide?

So far I’m looking on a number of different areas where we can cut some cost.

Example #1 – KISS = Effectiveness

After a few month in my new position I started to question the current technical setup we had. We have one site in Malta and another one in Costa Rica. The latter site was set up a few years ago, and they moved some of our markets there for legal reasons. The thing that I was surprised with was that no one was challenging this decision or reevaluating it even though it seemed to cause major issues in production and increased development costs by quite a bit – obviously TTM suffered too. So, I decided to look at what our competitors are doing and I quickly come to the conclusion that they seemed to have a much more straight forward IT infrastructure.

The next step was obviously to try to change this so that we could be more effective, provide a better service, and increase TTM – while at the save time cutting costs. And the way to do this in any organization is to present a business case that explains what the rationale for making the change is. With the help of the colleagues in the IT management team I delivered a business case to my managers which in turn was presented to legal (who had been advocating for setting up the second site in the first place). They were baffled what the actual cost was for the current setup, and also that no one really explained to them before what the implications of their requirement was. As there was very hard to justify the direct and indirect costs by having the second data center in production, we are now, four months later, not in Costa Rica anymore.

Example #2 – Bandwidth costs

So, we run our business solely off Malta, a not particularly interesting rock in the Mediterranean. Bandwidth costs are insanely high in Malta due to the lack of competition in this space – and we require quite a lot of it. Most of our competitors run their systems closer to mainland Europe (London, Vienna, Gibraltar, Isle-of-Man and Madrid to name the most popular hosting locations for e-gaming). Legally they probably take a slightly higher risk by doing so, but they gain better performance as they are closer to the customers and they have lower cost – hosting and bandwidth costs are 30-50% of what we pay in Malta.

For this reason I was curious if it was allowed to run off a Maltese e-gaming license outside of Malta. After reading up on the regulations for the Maltese LGA’s laws and regulations, I found out that its allowed to have everything except the very core pieces of the site outside of Malta.

So, we move more and more stuff onto the Content Delivery Network. Currently we are diverting more than 50% of the traffic to the CDN and hence we could reduce our bandwidths costs in Malta by a lot. ROI from day one!

Example #3 – Support and software license costs

Another huge operational expense is the license fees we’re paying to companies such as Oracle, Bea. Oracle has a really good product that I don’t mind paying for but the issue here was that we payed too much (for too many CPU:s). We had database (disaster) replication using Oracle Data Guard to a server on the same site. We also had as many CPU:s active in the Data Guard as in the production databases. I read up on Oracle license agreement fine print and quickly came to two conclusions: We shouldn’t use more than one or two CPU:s in the replication database. We can consolidate smaller databases and save license costs. On top of this it was fairly easy to look at parts of the application and rewrite it to minimize load on the production database. In about four months we managed to reduce the load on the main database by 50% or more, hence cutting the Oracle licensing costs by the same amount.

As for Bea Weblogic costs, I don’t really see a point in paying them going forward. Application Servers are becoming commodity (as in open, free software), and Bea’s product isn’t really providing the business value to justify its cost. Bea support is infamous for its terrible offshore first line in India, and you get no help from them unless you reproduce the problem yourself, write the test case and submit it. You’re ending up doing what you pay them to do for you. Let me just say, I’m eating a hat if we’re paying for Bea’s services in eight months from now.

In the Limelight

One of the first things I did when I joined Unibet was to set up a Content Delivery Network. I did some research and ended up with a shortlist.

A few factors were limiting my options:

  1. The CDN provider must do business with e-gaming companies
  2. The CDN provider must have an SSL CDN service

The first point effectively rules out Akamai and a number of other companies. The second point rules out even more companies.

I ended up talking to Limelight, and despite some screwups at their London sales office, I must say their CDN service is really awesome. Highly recommended. We currently use them for web site acceleration, to host downloadable clients and for banner serving.