It was the week before the Cricket World Cup in February 2007. Kevin and Craig Meltzer's newly launched fantasy leagues gaming website, Ultimate Dream Teams, was receiving a lot more hits than they had anticipated.
A heck of a lot more.
But, instead of being exhilarated, the Meltzers were worried. What had started out as a passion project with the input of various friends and associates who were likewise sports fans had taken on a life of its own.
The brothers weren't sure that the underlying technology was up to the task of processing these kinds of volumes. “We were taken aback by the uptake and interest in playing these games,” says Kevin Meltzer. “The Dream Teams platform had been developed by a team as a hobby project, but they didn't have the focus on high volume websites that was required.”
Calling in the gurus
As the system's instability became more and more apparent, Kevin and Craig realised that they had to do something fast, or risk the whole project coming apart at the seams.
Craig had heard of a Java solutions company, GuruHut, with a good name in the industry, and had been hoping for an opportunity to work with them through his other company, Consology.
“We were already looking for ways that we could work together, because they have a great reputation in the market,” Craig Meltzer says. “The site provided us with the opportunity to do so.”
So they approached GuruHut with an impossible task on a ridiculous deadline - and an even tighter deadline to make their minds up about whether to take the job.
“We hadn't really done anything like that before in an online gaming space, so we were concerned about whether we'd have the time and energy to get it running within the very tight deadline,” says Grant Finnemore, CEO of GuruHut. Ultimately, the allure of a new challenge proved too great for GuruHut to resist, and they agreed to throw their resources into getting the system up and running in time for the first over.
“We knew we had their full support, and we weren't hamstrung by having to deal with decisions that had been made in the past,” says Finnemore.
“They were very good clients, who had the faith that we were doing right by them, and provided whatever we needed to get the site up and running.”They set two programmers on the job, working 16 hours a day in the three days before the start of the World Cup.
The pressure mounted with every hour that passed, but at the same time, the work wasn't that difficult for the GuruHut programmers. The process was made easier by the fact that most of the code had already been written - but needed tidying up.
“We examined the technical choices that had been made and the code used and found that they fell short of what we would consider to be best practice,” says Finnemore. “So we moved lots of the choices out of the system and replaced them with more compelling ones.”
Cuts and choices
In the time leading up to the World Cup, and in the two weeks after the launch of the site, they were able to reduce the complexity of the system considerably, paring the lines of code down from over 20 000 lines to around 7 500 with no reduction in functionality.
“The underlying technology was the same as would be used in many other applications, and wasn't actually specific to gaming,” says Finnemore. “We made a few choices like the use of Flash that was introduced later on in the game. It was a useful and interesting learning exercise from that point of view.” GuruHut also made a point of using open-source technologies, rather than forcing Ultimate Dream Teams to purchase expensive software.
“All the technologies we used were open source, and that strongly fits in with our internal culture of trying to find the right solution for the client, where they don't have to pay for extensive licenses of projects,” says Finnemore.
The solution that they delivered not only made the system capable of bearing the weight of great volumes of users at the time, it future-proofed it as well, making it fully scalable to cope with other sports events and increasing volumes.
Since no other South African websites - save for airlines and banks - really deal with these volumes of users and transactions, this made it possible for the site to continue to flourish.
The ongoing relationship
“We've grown in uptake and grown in exposure,” says Kevin Meltzer. “Our platform is white labeled and offered out by other brands.
We've also partnered with SuperSport and developed a platform called Super Dream Teams.
With several other brands on board, we've had in excess of 170 000 teams entered in all the competitions we've done over the last two years, with over 15 000 people entering fantasy teams for the recent T20 World Cup alone.”
It seems obvious that having architected the solution that saved the site's bacon, GuruHut would continue the relationship and maintain and adjust the site with every new game and tournament on the sporting calendar.
But, this is not how GuruHut likes to work.
Their company policy is to provide a solution, pass on the knowledge and then remove themselves from the day-to-day maintenance of the technology.
“There will always be things that they need, and in future they will come to us for advice or assistance, and we will engage with them,” says Finnemore “But in the short term, the operational focus has been moved in-house, and that is what we aim to achieve with all of our clients.
”Ultimate Dream Teams now staffs the project themselves, freeing them up from the expense of retaining contractors as a long-term engagement.
GuruHut helped them to establish their competency around the repetitive work of site maintenance and the loading of new competitions.
Naturally Ultimate Dream Teams is happy with this. “The GuruHut team have great skills and have done incredible work for us,” says Kevin Meltzer.
“They put a great deal of effort into the work they do, it's a trusting relationship, and it will continue in the future.”