Behind the scenes at EPIC36, one of the UK’s biggest gaming LAN parties, is a technology and network infrastructure that needs to be built from scratch in less than 48 hours.
This network needs to be able to support up to 700 people and 1,000+ customer devices over four days of competitive and casual gaming, with high reliability and low latency. Then, when the last galaxy has been conquered and the last bullets have been fired, the network needs to be dismantled and packed away, ready for the next event. Whereupon the whole process begins again.
The Unique Quirks of Networked Gaming
Event organizer EPIC.LAN makes the process look easy. “We have a rack and a set of servers that we can either put in our van and transport somewhere, or we can actually throw it in the back of a car and transport it as well,” says Jon Winkle, Founder and Managing Director.
“We do it three times a year. And we've been doing it since 2003,” continues Winkle. “An Esports tournament, where people can win money playing CS:GO, Valorant, and StarCraft 2, makes up about 60% of [an EPIC] event. Then the other 40% or so just play whatever they want throughout the weekend. So, it can be casual games like Golf With Your Friends, through to games like Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart, anything people want to play just because they're sat there with their friends.”
Networking sits at the core of EPIC.LAN’s business. It defines it. “Alongside our own events, we operate a tech services agency that's got a big focus on the networking side of things for Esports—the boring bit that nobody else wants to do, because it's not shiny and flashy, with lights and LEDs and Pyro.
“We also have a dedicated tournament platform… We run game server hosting for Esports tournaments and leagues, plus we do equipment hire, crew sourcing, broadcast production, PC rentals, the lot. Basically, anything that people putting on a gaming event aren't sure how to do they come to us, and we will work out the ‘how’ for them.”
Gaming has unique quirks from a network point of view, especially compared to traditional corporate environments where an IT team has bought every PC. EPIC.LAN’s events, for example, operate in the style of a traditional LAN party, where players bring along their own computers (or games consoles) and plug them into the EPIC.LAN network. As Winkle adds: “We don't know what [devices] people are going to turn up with until they get there.”
An Overriding Need for Mobility
This technology diversity poses certain challenges and, as EPIC.LAN’s events have grown, they reached a point where they were maxing out their existing compute resources. “Every interaction that people take across the Internet and the network [at our events] runs through our servers,” explains Dan Oxborrow, Development Manager at EPIC.LAN. “But they were dated. We refreshed the SSDs a few years ago, but that was all we could do to our old hardware. We got to the point where we couldn’t keep squeezing a bit more life out of them.”
EPIC.LAN events operate in the style of a traditional LAN party and can cater for up to 700 people and 1,000+ customer devices.
EPIC.LAN identified two improvements they needed to make—faster CPUs and more RAM. But, with portability a key concern for their events business, they couldn’t compromise on server size. “We’ve used full-depth rack servers in the past,” says Oxborrow, “but they were huge and there was no way to transport them but on a truck. To stay more mobile, we needed short depth servers. But there are not many people out there that offer them. We'd always gone to more mainstream providers, but because we wanted something more customized, we had to shop around.”
The search for a short-depth server solution brought EPIC.LAN to Broadberry Data Systems Limited, a specialist in the sale, supply, and support of highly customizable industrial server and storage solutions. “Broadberry’s USP is our ability to offer a massive range of solutions to meet every application,” says Graham Hemson, Marketing lead at Broadberry. “This includes a range of highly customizable short depth servers that are frequently used as appliance servers, or simply to reduce footprint and maximize server density where space is at a premium.”
The Intel Partner Advantage
As an Intel Platinum Provider for over 20 years, Broadberry has the ability to work closely with Intel technical sales advisors to build computing solutions that meet specific complex customer requirements. “Partnering with Intel allows us to put our customers directly in contact with Intel engineers for complex projects,” says Graham Hemson. “Working directly with the manufacturer of the solution is a massive benefit to the customer as nobody understands the underlying technology better than them.”
“For us,” explains Jon Winkle, “the fact that Broadberry is an Intel partner and works closely with Intel, means that we get a service that goes a little bit beyond anyone else.”
Ultimately, EPIC.LAN opted for a CyberServe system that supports up to 512 GB of RAM and is powered by an eight-core Intel® Xeon® Silver 4208 processor. The increased computing resources available will enable EPIC.LAN to grow its events business and extend the services it offers to clients.
“In less than a year,” says Jon Winkle, “we've gone from one full time member of staff, which was me, to four, with probably some more on the way. We’re looking strong and it’s busier than it was pre-COVID-19. We’ve still got our own [EPIC] events and we’ve launched a new style event, which is still a gaming event, but we've gone for a more luxury type feel to it. Thanks to Broadberry and Intel, we’re heading in the right direction.”