Betting on SQL Server 2016

Over the past decade, the sports betting market has evolved. Mobile betting instantly transformed the way players could bet, allowing people to place wagers in real-time/in play events on almost every major sporting event without having to rely on a desktop computer. With just a click, players could see the odds in real time and access scores and results instantaneously, enabling them to wager anywhere, anytime from the palms of their hands.

Sportsbooks have been around since the 1800s, ever since bookmakers first took bets on horse races. In recent years it’s become a highly competitive market with major companies dominating the online sports betting scene. Entering the market in 2006 was deemed by many in the industry to be risky business. Others thought differently.

Succeeding in a seemingly mature and saturated market would require a distinct competitive advantage.  In 2006, no company dominated the mobile segment of the sports betting market. This was when Betway entered the market for an online sportsbook. The company looked to its software provider, Microgaming, for a mobile offering that would give it the edge to succeed in the world of sportsbooks and Microgaming’s principal developer, Derivco, stepped up to take on the challenge!

For most of its 20-year history, Derivco, a multinational software development company, had focused on developing world-class software for slots, bingo, poker and table games. The company was well armed with a wealth of expertise in game design and a passion for new technologies that positioned it well to develop a sportsbook system that would take the online sports betting market by storm.

This system has gone from strength to strength in recent years, providing Betway with the latest software to complement an ever evolving mobile device market and crafting new features to gain and retain players with a high quality gaming experience that cater to increasingly demanding customers. But with the growing demands, Derivco needed to ensure its sportsbook system could support the rise in sports betting that operators were seeing.

But how to maintain and support growth?

Derivco’s software began to surpass even the most optimistic forecasts. By 2017, concurrent users are expected to soar twelvefold, and to maintain its competitive advantage, Derivco’s technology not only needed the headroom to support a significant increase in concurrent users, it also needed to support the sudden surges of users to peak load that accompanied attention-grabbing global events.

Derivco Ipswich turned its attention to new technologies that would fortify its ability to provide the needed headroom and support continued growth for years to come.

Derivco looked at improving the software’s underlying database which ran on Microsoft SQL Server 2014. So far, the server held up well, but Derivco was looking for a cost-effective solution that could provide assurance that performance wasn’t sacrificed when the database load increased further.

More than a bet

“We thought that SQL Server 2016 might hold the answer,” says Roger Creyke, Chief Architect at the Derivco Ipswich Studio. “All the features that were of interest to us–In-Memory OLTP, AlwaysOn Availability Groups, and Temporal Databases—were enhanced in SQL 2016.”

The take-no-chances approach called for more than a bet on the newest Microsoft SQL Server. It called for rigorous testing at Microsoft Labs – and that’s what it got when Derivco participated in the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program for SQL Server 2016.

One of the first tests Derivco and Microsoft personnel conducted was to see how sportsbook software would perform by simply running it on SQL Server 2016 with no changes to the architecture or supporting infrastructure. Derivco and Microsoft expected a few percentage points increase in scalability–but that’s what they got.

“Simply by upgrading to SQL Server 2016, without any tweaking whatsoever, we saw a 25 percent uplift in the number of concurrent players we could support,” says Bren Newman, Group CTO, Derivco. “That’s incredible to get that out box. We listened to Microsoft promises and they were true.”

5,000 players? Try 100,000 players

The story gets even better. With modest adjustments to adopt In-Memory OLTP, the scalability of the sportsbook system really took off, rising by 500 per cent to 30,000 players. Creyke and his colleagues estimate that with the modest architectural changes to support multiple-read hardware servers, the concurrency number can surpass 100,000, providing ample headroom for years to come. And that was just the increase in concurrent Betway players the software could support. Derivco can also use SQL Server 2016 to increase the number of concurrent events it supports, a crucial factor for sportsbook operators to attract and retain additional players.

“The number of events we support has a huge impact on the number of players,” says Creyke. “In the past when we were on peak load, we sometimes had to sacrifice events because of the contention for CPU usage. With SQL Server 2016 and In-Memory OLTP, we don’t have to do that.”

Derivco tested the AlwaysOn Availability Groups in SQL Server 2016, and now uses the feature to replace the Windows Failover Clustering on which it formerly relied. With Availability Groups, Derivco can now add the multiple-read servers that enable massive scalability and more.

“We are using Availability Groups for faster and more efficient backup and disaster recovery, which has tremendous business value for us, especially given the immediacy that users expect from a gaming environment,” says Creyke. “Also, this gives us the opportunity to synchronize databases in the development environment, leading to a more agile environment in which servers can be spun up when we need them.”

Not taking a chance also means being able to quickly troubleshoot and correct any errors that do occur. An audit trail is an important tool for Derivco in confirming the status of fast-changing data at any given time. It can be used to confirm the price that a customer sees at any moment and during development it can be used to troubleshoot an application tier that may not be implementing data correctly.

This was a crucial tool that wasn’t available to Derivco before SQL Server 2016. Now, with the database software’s Temporal Database, Derivco can maintain a historical record of In-Memory tables, leading to faster troubleshooting across the full DevOps spectrum.

“It can be challenging to do any sort of test on data because data moves so quickly in the sports world,” says Paul Cheek, Data Architect at Derivco. “Now, no matter what the current state of the data is, we can go back and verify that we received the changes we were expecting.”

“We just don’t see the ceiling anymore”

For Derivco, perhaps one of the best features that comes with SQL Server 2016 is one that’s not listed on any data sheet: confidence.

“With SQL Server 2016, we just don’t see limits anymore,” says Newman, “Before, we might get concerned when Microgaming asked for new functionality for its customers, because we didn’t see how we could scale it. Now, we have greater confidence that we can support a growing load and with additional functionality without compromising performance and supportability.”

“We are using Availability Groups for faster, more efficient backup and disaster recovery, which has tremendous business value for us, especially given the immediacy that users expect from a gaming environment,” said Creyke.

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