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Super League Gaming Co-Ops With Equinix Metal For Growth In Pandemic

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Guests: Mark ColemanJustin Head
Companies: Equinix Metal | Super League Gaming
Show: Let’s Talk

Super League Gaming is one of the most popular online gaming communities that brings gamers together from all over the world to engage with each other around the games they love. The Super League Gaming community was growing at a stable rate but when the pandemic hit the world and everyone was stuck at home, streaming services for movies and TV shows along with online gaming became one of the primary means for people to keep themselves entertained at home.

“The pandemic made our traffic just skyrocket. We do a lot of Minecraft hosting and our property Minehut just went through the roof. We were, quite frankly, scrambling constantly on how to scale this and make it adjust to the load that was coming,” said Justin Head, VP of DevOps at Super League Gaming.

To cope up with the demand and traffic, Minehut needed code changes, but that was the easy part. The challenging part was on the infrastructure side. They already had one of the three big hyperscalers running the Minehut property, but it was not a sustainable model. The public cloud was skyrocketing.

“We needed to look into what we could do on the infrastructure side to keep up with this demand, not degrade the service for the customers and get us into a spot where we can continue to grow throughout the whole pandemic and into the future. So, the cost was obviously a big factor in all this,” added Head.

Going outside of the public cloud was a herculean task; especially getting your own datacenter comes with its own set of challenges. What Super League needed was a cloud-native, API-driven approach to the data center. That’s where Equinix Metal entered the game. The digital infrastructure company has been working on helping organizations with their hybrid cloud strategy, enabling them to get cloud-native, API-driven AWS Kubernetes experience with Equinix Metal. The timing was just right to help many more companies like Super League Gaming grow and not shrink during the pandemic.

Equinix Metal was also focussing on building an open ecosystem instead of a closed, vendor-locked platform allowing its customers to pick and choose the right technology for their workloads.

This approach means working with a lot of partners. “If we’re going to have a neutral ecosystem, it’s a very important thing for Equinix and Equinix Metal to be neutral,” said Mark Coleman, Senior Director of Developer Relations at Equinix Metal, “and that means that we have to deal with the choice that we’re giving to customers.”

Besides cost, there were many other reasons that helped Super League Gaming choose Equinix Metal over hyperscalers. One was that they could directly talk to the developers that wrote the code to add the features and functionalities they needed. “When it comes to Equinix Metal, it’s very much how they provide infrastructure is how they do their business and I think that’s like one of the winning combinations as well,” said Head.

It will be cool to have a Minehub edition of Minecraft where we can build an Equinix Metal data center in minecraft.

Check out the whole interview in the video above.


Here is the rough, unedited transcript of the show…

Swapnil Bhartiya: Hi, this is your host, Swapnil Bhartiya and Welcome to TFiR: Let’s talk. Super League is quite a known name in the gaming industry. Like many businesses that were catering to people stuck at home during the pandemic, Super League Gaming also experienced a spike both in traffic and community. And to keep up with this demand and exponential growth, they had to scale. They needed a partner who could help them scale and keep up with the user’s growth. That’s when Equinix Metal entered the game, no pun intended. Today, we have two guests from both companies. We have Mark Coleman, Senior Director of Developer Relations at Equinix Metal, and Justin Head, VP of DevOps at Super League Gaming. Mark, Justin, it’s great to have you on the show.

Mark Coleman: Thanks for having me here, Swap.

Justin Head: Thanks.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Justin, I want to start with you. What kind of spike did you see during the pandemic when all of us were stuck at home, even Nintendo switches were auto stock when I wanted to buy some extra ones?

Justin Head: The pandemic made our traffic just skyrocket. So we do a lot of Minecraft hosting… People all of a sudden didn’t have commutes. They didn’t have all these extra obligations that they were going to have outside of work. And so I mean, kids were home from school, maybe they should have been doing more schoolwork, but they were also gaming a lot more. So we saw just a ton of traffic, that property of Super Leagues, our minehut.com, it just went through the roof. And we were, quite frankly, scrambling constantly on how to scale this and make it adjust to the load that was coming.

Swapnil Bhartiya: What are the challenges that you experienced during the pandemic and what are the solutions that you looked at?

Justin Head: When the spike happened with COVID, there was a ton of traffic. The property itself required code changes. But on the infrastructure side, it was where we saw the most need to adapt. And for there, we were already in one of the big three clouds running the minehut property, and it was kind of an unsustainable model there. It is more or less a free product that we provide to the community and the costs were Skyrocketing. And we needed to look into basically what we could do on the infrastructure side to keep up with this demand, not degrade the service for the customers and get us into a spot where we can continue to grow throughout the whole pandemic and into the future. So, cost was obviously a big factor in all this.

And then the other thing was, looking at the other options, when you go outside of the clouds, can get a little daunting. So you can go into dedicated servers, you can go into, for instance, Equinix itself and taking out a rack and doing data center yourself. But the whole concept of where we’ve gotten to with infrastructure is that you want that automation and you want the API behind it to be able to not have to have pick up a phone or do an order form to get another server. And so that’s where we found Equinox Metal and at a very kind of, I guess, fruitious time for both of us, as they were developing out their Kubernetes APIs and ecosystem around that, is that we were able to jump in there and also start building out Minehut in a place that allowed us to grow.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Mark, Super League Gaming is a great example of what the rest of the industry was or is going through this crisis. What kind of trend did you see in this space which were similar to this case?

Mark Coleman: Yeah, I think, there’s a meme I saw, it went out sometime last year, and it was something like, what are the top three drivers for digital transformation? It’s like one, speed-to-market. Two, whatever. And then three, COVID. And yeah, COVID has definitely driven this. I mean, there were a lot of people already, before COVID hit, that were on this path. But then suddenly everyone realized, not only are my users going to have to interact with me digitally now, but also my employees are going to have to interact with me digitally, and that’s forced digital transformation to the top of everybody’s agenda. Now, we’ve definitely seen that reflected in the type of conversations we’re having with customers and also in uptake, of course, in revenue that comes with that.

But yeah, I think, as Justin said, it’s kind of unprecedented. Many stories we could share, but suddenly we’re realizing this kind of fun thing we invented in the late 90s. Now, I guess that became popular in the late 90s, got the internet, is now how life works. And that’s going to continue to have an impact even as people start returning to work, or maybe don’t return to work. We’re going to see, I think, that this has been a huge inflection point that’s going to continue to make digital infrastructure a very important part, just everyday lives, even outside of the technology conversation.

Swapnil Bhartiya: The pandemic didn’t just change the consumers of these technologies, it also changed the providers of these tech. Mark, can you talk about what new either features or capabilities you added to Equinix Metal so as to help customers like Super League Games?

Mark Coleman: Yes, and the maintenance happening now isn’t really COVID related, but of course increased interest helps us to accelerate things. When we spoke last, Swap, in November, 2020, we were talking about Zach’s blog post from 2019 when he was CEO of Packet. And now he’s, of course, managing director of Equinix Metal, which was, “Oops, we forgot to build a manage Kubernetes service.” And the whole philosophy behind that was that we think that other people are spending all day, every day, figuring out how to make Kubernetes products, and they’re likely to be better at it than we are. So for the longest time now, our approach has been ecosystem first. We provide the data centers, networking servers, everything else. It’s a little more complex than that, but that’s the idea.

And then on top of that, when we have customers like Super League Gaming who want to get their jobs done, which is like, “I need to run Kubernetes at Equinix metal, but we don’t have something like EKS.” We then have an ecosystem of partners to lean on. Now, we’ve actually had that ecosystem of partners for a while, but what we’ve done is we’ve focused on it a lot more. And the news that we’re announcing next week is just the first tranche of a lot of partners in a lot of different areas that’s going to be focusing specifically on Kubernetes and hybrid cloud. And you’ll see an awful lot of names in there that are really moving to this space right now.

Now, one of the things that makes that easier is that when we last spoke, which seems… I mean, it’s really not that long ago, but it seems like a lot of time has passed… hybrid cloud was still… I think it was just pre-ETS, ECS [inaudible 00:06:59]. So it was still kind of an idea, people were getting into it, but now it seems like everybody is going that way. And fortunately, we invested in that earlier, so some of the names you’re going to see in the news that’s coming out next week, include the bigger names that are moving into this space. And as I said all that time ago, what’s really exciting about this is that customers now like Super League Gaming, get to say, “Okay, I want hardware from Equinix Metal.” Or, “I want VMs from Amazon”, whatever you want.

And for the first time now, you get to choose the software stack that runs on top of that. So if you want to run on Equinix Metal, but you want the Amazon Kubernetes experience, that’s now an option. And when we last spoke, that was still like a really cool idea.

Swapnil Bhartiya: What I like about Equinix Metal is that you folks are building an open ecosystem instead of yet another service. Why did you choose this path?

Mark Coleman: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think it comes back to the point I made earlier really, which is that if we’d done this five years ago, we might have had a different approach. But where we’re at right now, there are very if… And by the way, this would apply to any ecosystem. We’ve got more coming up around storage and all sorts of other things… databases. But for Kubernetes in particular, there are just so many strong players in this market right now, and they have really understood that if they’re going to be successful, they need to have seamless interactions with various clouds, including Equinix Metal. So for us to lean in at this point and say, “Okay, we’re going to make something like an Equinix Metal managed Kubernetes, we just don’t think it’s the right way.

Now, it doesn’t mean there’s not tension in that, right? One of the great things that Amazon has done and continues to do is just to make everything super easy. And I don’t think we could realistically say that going to be as easy to come to Equinix Metal and spin up Kubernetes as it is to create an EKS cluster. But we have different pros and cons. And what we find is that the people who want to come and invest in Equinix Metal typically are doing it because they’ve reached a certain scale, they have different needs for control. And they’re typically more willing to use a partner ecosystem to do that.

Now, another challenge related to this is that we have a lot of different partners. If we’re going to have a neutral ecosystem, it’s a very important thing to Equinix and to Equinix Metal to be neutral. And that means that we have to deal with the choice that we’re giving to customers. It’s one thing to say, “You’ve got 20 options.” But it’s another thing to then say, “And here’s how you navigate those options.” And that’s one of the challenges that we’ve really been leaning into. And you’ll see an incredible amount of content going out on the website, and videos, and all sorts of other things, which is trying to help people choose a combination of partners that’s right for their use case. And that’s work that’s going to be ongoing. The partner ecosystem’s always changing, people’s tastes and needs are always changing, so that’s one of the things that we’re leaning into very heavily throughout the end of this year, and more so in 2022.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Justin, I’m curious, why did you choose Equinix Metal when there are so many players in this space, there is also public cloud? What attracted you towards them?

Justin Head: Sure. I mean, going off of what

Justin Head: And so that was the real driver on why we wanted Equinix Metal as our partner for infrastructure.

And from there, there’s a number of other things too. I mean, the performance has been great, the network… I mean, Equinix itself, I mean, one of the biggest names in the world for the internet, so it’s hard to beat them on the network side of things. And so it’s been just a great partnership when it comes to getting a place that is very low level to the infrastructure, but yet still has kind of those bells and whistles that you come to expect when dealing with an AWS, or GCP, or Azure.

Swapnil Bhartiya: And can you also talk a bit about… Just, if you can draw a comparison between public cloud and Equinix Metal?

Justin Head: Sure. I mean, the Equinix team has been, they’re… and our partners on that side have been there just basically 24 hours a day, almost. So you can open up support tickets, or you can contact directly your sales representative and they’re very responsive. And it comes down to something I’ve never been able to kind of get out of another public cloud is being able to talk directly to the developers that are actually making this code in the background. I do get that access with Equinix Metal, so I can go and I can talk directly to the person that’s writing that go code to drive those things. And we can have a discussion directly on getting those features implemented and talk about audit. Or, even if I, myself, want to go in and create some code and do a pull request directly to them, we can get that actually added in directly. So there’s no abstraction, I guess, when it comes to Equinix Metal, it’s very much how they provide infrastructure is how they do their business. And I think that’s like one of the winning combinations as well.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Justin, thank you so much for sharing this story, that how you folks kept us entertained during this crisis. And Mark, thank for sharing how Equinix Metal helps companies like Super League Gaming so that they can keep up with the demand, they can face all these challenges and keep growing. Thank you for your time today. And as usual, I look forward to our next conversation soon. Thank you.

Mark Coleman: Yeah. Thanks, Swap. A real pleasure as been usual.

Justin Head: Thank you, Swapnil. Great being here.

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