New York Times moves gaming and crossword platform to Google App Engine from AWS

“Cloud computing platform as a service, recently adopted by the New York Times (6, 3, 6)”

The New York Times has announced it has moved its games platform to Google App Engine from Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Having first published its daily crossword in 1942, the NYTimes built its first website in 1996, with the digital daily crossword starting life as a web-based Java applet. Since then, the publisher has overseen growth into a suite of mobile apps and a website with more than 300,000 paid subscribers. The further introduction of a free daily mini crossword three years ago put ‘a lot of strain’ on the company’s architecture, according to JP Robinson, NYTimes principal software engineer.

“As the crossword grew in popularity, our architecture started to hit its scaling limitations for handling game traffic,” explained Robinson in a post announcing the move. “Due to the inelastic architecture of our legacy system, we needed to have the systems scaled up to handle our peak traffic at 10pm when the daily puzzle is published.

“The legacy stack leaned on technologies that required some level of human interaction and could take hours to scale up and down. We needed to scale within minutes,” he added. “The system is generally at that peak traffic for only a few minutes a day, so this setup was very costly for the New York Times games team.”

Among the features of Google App Engine that Robinson and the games team have taken advantage of is combined access and app logging – helping simplify debugging – API security and autoscaling, although noting the 10pm daily peak caused problems at first.

Robinson added that while the migration to Google Cloud Platform (GCP) was undertaken seven months ago, all games API traffic now goes through App Engine, with 90% of traffic served purely by App Engine services and GCP databases. The publisher also claims it has cut infrastructure costs by half as a result of the move.

AWS has been creating some interesting headlines of its own in recent weeks. As this publication has previously reported, in June Walmart told technology companies and vendors to move off Amazon’s cloud or risk losing the retail giant’s business. Last month, columnist David Auslander argued that the potential winners in such a move could be Microsoft and Google, AWS’ primary rivals in cloud infrastructure, adding that while AWS remains the “clear leader” in public cloud provisioning, it “also makes them the hunted.”

Since then, Walmart’s anti-Amazon feeling has become more pronounced. According to a note from Trip Chowdhry of Global Equities Research – first spotted by Barron’s – Walmart should expect to go “full steam” on NVIDIA, utilising its graphics chips to create its own NVDA GPU Clusters on ‘Walmart Cloud’, or, rather, OneOps, which the company acquired in 2013. Similarly, Walmart last month announced it was teaming up with Google for voice-enabled commerce – again with Amazon in its sights.

Despite all this, of course, Amazon remains by far and away the market leader. AWS hit $4.1 billion in revenue for its most recent quarter, and cited Discovery Communications, Ancestry California Polytechnic State University as among its latest customer wins, the latter two going ‘all-in’ on the Amazon cloud.

You can read the full NYTimes blog post here.