CIO interview: Stuart Wright, director of IT & networks, Sega Europe

Simplifying IT with a move to the cloud and reducing costs have been the main drivers of an IT overhaul at games publisher Sega Europe

Simplifying IT and reducing costs have been the main drivers of an IT overhaul at games publisher Sega Europe, where a major move to an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) approach is taking place.

Sega’s technology department is led by IT and networks director Stuart Wright (pictured) decided to ditch datacentres and traditional software licensing last year. Cloud providers Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Rackspace became the most important IT partners to support the new plan.

But Stuart Wright says moving everything to the cloud is not necessarily the way to go.

“We started off with a hybrid approach and then worked on a project-by-project basis. We are not always cloud-focused and every project is evaluated on its merits,” says Wright.

“AWS tends to focus on the platforms and its technology and offers a large range of platforms and services to build, develop and host online applications. Rackspace, on the other hand, is very customer-focused and allowed us a lot of flexibility with our more demanding projects.”

The unpredictability of gamers’ online behaviour means the automatic scaling capability of the cloud is a particular benefit for Sega, allowing it to access a fully on-demand processing capability.

Sega historically used datacentre services firm Control Circle to manage its server footprint. According to Wright, Sega has nothing left with Control Circle, but is obliged to continue paying the provider until the end of the contract despite having migrated all its corporate systems, including Office and Oracle tools.

“We are very happy about phasing the old datacentre out. The sooner we get all these old contracts out of the way and start dealing with what would be almost daily contracts with the cloud set-up, the better,” Wright says.

“By moving to the cloud, we don’t have to worry about things like mechanical or network failures, air conditioning, breaking or power outages,” he adds.

“Of course you have service-level agreements, but you always have problems too. With the cloud, I am a lot more flexible and don’t have to worry about the issues I might have had before with physical services.”

The complexities of the move

But the move to IaaS brought its own complexities. According to Wright, the IaaS approach requires different ways of working, so staff skills changes were needed, as well as new policies and procedures.

The various Sega offices worldwide traditionally ran disparate corporate systems and Wright’s team is trying to bring a more orderly approach to the situation, rolling out Cisco unified communications across all offices and Microsoft Office tools.

“Sega faces many challenges, due to different time zones and language barriers, but fortunately we are a technically driven business and so have the procedures and systems in place to ensure communication and collaboration are always being improved,” he says.

Wright adds that, given the historic disparity of systems and the need to standardise corporate platforms first, he will be avoiding a straight move to cloud products such as Office 365, despite it being his preferred option.

“The key reason we are not moving [to Office 365] is that we want to take it one step at a time. Once we have the rest of the business aligned we can look at the next stage but it is inevitable that we will end up using Microsoft cloud services – there is no doubt about it,” says Wright.

“But at the moment the key point is aligning corporate systems across North America, Europe and Japan on the same level playing field, as everyone has been doing their own thing.”

Not wanting to commit too much is another reason why Wright has not set a roadmap for a cloud migration of Office tools.

“One of the things companies tend to get burned on is all these contracts and commitments. That is not true for Microsoft but, with all the others, many IT leaders tend to make a forecast and commit to something but are unsure of what the requirement will be months from now,” he says.

“And one of the main benefits of IaaS is being able to tear the set-up down if there is a change of strategy for any reason and you also spend less.”

If we were to store all that data ourselves it would be difficult. If you do it in the cloud, you can store more and more data. As technology options develop, the cost of storage gets cheaper and you get a better deal every year

Stuart Wright, Sega Europe

Data matters

As games often have a social or multiplayer element connected to the internet, Sega Europe ends up processing terabytes of data that is useful for customers, as they can share information such as scores. This is useful for Sega as it gives an insight to what games are successful and also to developers, as they can understand more about player behaviour.

Sega is also putting systems in place for better business intelligence capabilities. Wright’s team uses the Microsoft Business Intelligence ecosystem, which includes master data services and data quality services.

The firm also employs a combination of Amazon Relational Database Service, Microsoft SQL Server, Hadoop MapReduce and Hive technologies for data integration.

But managing all that data is not easy – storage being one example of the complexity.

“If we were to store all that data ourselves it would be difficult. If you do it in the cloud, you can store more and more data. As technology options develop, the cost of storage gets cheaper and you get a better deal every year,” says Wright.

“But it is not simple. We have to use various tools to clean it all up and then we can archive things. And since a lot of people struggle with cloud as a concept, it is wise to keep a separation, so we keep certain types of sensitive data in the Sega cloud.”

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