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New tool helps WorldWinner bridge gap

The online gaming company WorldWinner hit the jackpot with software designed for the midmarket.

CIO Joe Bai knew that WorldWinner Inc.'s August acquisition of the popular online gaming site e-bridge wouldn't be just fun and games.

WorldWinner is a Newton, Mass.-based online gaming site servicing 14 million registered users and runs on a Linux platform. E-bridge, a community portal for bridge enthusiasts founded in 2000, was operating in a Windows environment. In the end, though, Bai needed to learn more about the game of bridge than he did bridging two competing systems.

"I thought we were going to experience issues with my staff lacking skills in a Microsoft Windows environment -- and that was not an issue," Bai said. "What we found were the issues were the understanding of the game," he said. "The game of bridge is highly interactive and a social interaction."

Bai planned the e-bridge integration in three parts. First, he unified his databases. This involved moving data from several servers to a single hosted server to allow for better administration and operations. "This is a business about operational efficiencies," Bai said. Then he updated the company's client servers to the most recent version of Windows. "This was good for my staff because they got familiar with the Windows code base," Bai explained. Next, he needed to add integrated robots. "Sometimes," Bai said, "we can't come up with an even number of players so we place online players, or robots."

As Bai was quick to learn though, online bridge tournaments require hours of connectivity, sometimes up to 10 hours with more than 100 players, many of them moving to new seats as they win rounds and progress to the finals. Bridge is a more involved game than many of WorldWinner's most popular draws, such as 8-ball, an online interactive billiards game.

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With only 50 employees, WorldWinner is a growing SMB, and dedicates a large percentage -- 20 staffers -- to IT. Still, no matter how deep their IT knowledge, there wasn't a lot of Bridge expertise on staff, Bai acknowledged.

"I learned to play Bridge so I can test the games, but I always embarrass myself when I go to the live site with bridge and with the other games," Bai admitted.

To make sure true Bridge enthusiasts would continue to flock to WorldWinner's Web site, Bai needed software that would allow his team to quickly add features to the site, including a tournament ranking system and a skill-matching program. That's how Bai entered the world of automated application configuration management software, a growing market for SMB vendors trying to help companies that acquire new products or companies, but don't have the staff or money to buy new talent to go with it.

Bai weighed some competitors, and wound up purchasing mValent Integrity from Burlington, Mass.-based mValent Inc. The software is designed to automate the configuration and management of application and Web servers, and provide scalability to application infrastructure.

A recent survey of CAWorld attendees, conducted by the software vendor, showed the following results:
  • 60% of respondents estimated it takes IT service teams more than four hours to install and configure a new application server for production.
  • 75% indicated that it takes more than two hours to isolate and fix a configuration-related issue when it arises.
  • 94% plan to use automation to improve IT service delivery in the near future.
  • 87% are actively looking for an automated solution to reduce the time it takes to release and manage a new critical business application.

Stephen Elliot, IDC research manager, said small and midsized companies are searching for more ways to automate. "From a midmarket CIO perspective, having a solution that automates change management for the application layer can improve availability, and it can reduce the staff's time spent on configuration management."

Some of mValent's competitors include Cohesion from Cendura Corp., InSight by nLayers Inc. and Insightix Ltd., an infrastructure monitoring tool vendor.

Using Integrity, WorldWinner's IT staff can recognize inconsistencies and make changes to the underlying application infrastructure, Bai said. "Configuration management is essential for WorldWinner, given the number of heterogeneous environments that have resulted from our integration of," Bai said.

"Making small changes to these living environments is of great importance to our service and our players," he said. "The smallest, unnoticed change can bring the business to its knees."

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