How NoSQL saved Draw Something

Draw Something's success aided by Couchbase - chat with CEO, Bob Wiederhold - Part 2


JAX: So, Draw Something is a bit of phenomenon - why is Couchbase Server a good solution for when an app goes viral?

Wiederhold: When an app goes viral, you have to be able to scale your database very, very fast.  Draw Something is an extreme example of this. In 5 weeks, Draw Something grew from virtually nothing to 50M users, 15M DAU (daily active users), 400M games created, over 3B pictures stored at peak rates of over 5K/sec, and generated over 5T of data. Couchbase was able to keep up with this growth without a second of downtime and maintain high performance throughout. We think this is an incredible success story for NoSQL and Couchbase.

To see what can happen when your database doesn’t scale just check out the EA Simpsons Tapped Out story.  They had a mobile game start to go viral at almost the same time that Draw Something was going viral but it collapsed because their (MySQL) database couldn’t scale.  They had to pull the game off the market, which never to returned, because of scaling issues.

How often were you in contact with OMGPop when their app boomed? Did they look to you for advice and if so, what was it?

Like many Couchbase users, OMGPOP started using our free Community Edition for a few of their games and we didn’t have any direct interaction with them until recently.  Draw Something was released in early February and grew slowly at first.  OMGPOP didn’t contact us until March 1 when their game started to go viral.

At the time they had 6 servers in their database cluster.  They could see all the numbers starting to grow quickly, downloads, DAUs, pictures being drawn per second, amount of data being stored and so on. They wanted to be sure their database was properly configured and set up for rapid growth. The operations people at OMGPOP had never rapidly scaled a database before and they wanted expert help.

Over the next 3 weeks we worked very closely with OMGPOP and interacted with them on a very regular basis. We worked with OMGPOP to understand how their database workload was growing so things like peak simultaneous users, peak drawings/sec, amount of data needed to be kept in memory, total amount of data stored, to understand how to accurately monitor this growth using our monitoring tools, and how to make sure the size and configuration of their database cluster was keeping up with this growth. 

OMGPOP had a hit on their hands so they wanted to be 100% confident the game was not going to have a problem with its growth so we worked with them very closely through this 3-week period.  Once the dynamics of Draw Something’s database workload was well understood and its growth was more predictable there was much less interaction with OMGPOP.  The database is now well over 100 servers and growing.

Did you envisage this happening with Draw Something - it becoming the fast growing mobile game with 50m downloads?

I’m not sure anyone can predict these things, we certainly couldn’t.  Once OMGPOP contacted us we, of course, were very curious about the game.  I think just about everyone at Couchbase downloaded it and started playing it.  I know I was playing more than 10 games at one point with various people at Couchbase and my family.  It certainly was a lot of fun and somewhat addicting so from that perspective I’m not surprised in went viral.



Chris Mayer

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