Hiccups in HQ Trivia Game Point to Opportunity for Colocation Providers in Delivering Agile Data Centers at the Edge

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My family has caught the HQ trivia bug, but the app is also bugging us, with its tendency for glitches including stalled video. It appears to be an example of an application becoming so popular so fast that the technology platform it runs on can’t keep up. In that, there’s a lesson – and opportunity – for colocation providers.

If you’re not aware, HQ trivia is a free, interactive iPhone trivia game (with Android in beta as of this writing) where twice a day (3 p.m. and 9 p.m. EST) you get the chance to correctly answer 12 questions to win a share of a real money prize, usually $1,000 or $2,000. Although on Sunday, January 21, the prize was $15,000 – not coincidentally attracting the largest audience to date, more than 1.6 million players.

Indeed, the game has surged in popularity over the last few months. On Oct. 16 of last year, the 9 p.m. game had about 3,600 players. On Jan. 7, the 9 p.m. game we played had 1.2 million players, a record at the time – but a short-lived one.

But that popularity has not come without its challenges. I’ve got a reasonably fast Internet connection from my iPhone at home, between 20M to north of 60M, depending on whether I’m connected to the 5GHz or 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band. But still, every time I’ve played I’ve experienced glitches, usually brief disruptions in the live video stream. Once it prevented me from getting an answer in on time, on the very first question, meaning I was bounced from the game, causing my wife to beat me for the 3rd consecutive time. Ouch.

Then there are issues squarely on the HQ end. The 3 p.m. game on Jan. 9 was interrupted twice, with viewers seeing only a screen saying, “Technical Difficulties.” Each lasted probably no more than a minute, but coming during round 10 it must have seemed like an eternity to anyone still in the game (luckily, perhaps, that didn’t include me). Apparently, HQ has been dealing with technical issues for months, judging from this November tweet:

HQ is the brainchild of Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, the same duo who co-founded Vine, the six-second video app that Twitter acquired in 2012. Clearly, they have significant mobile video experience. And, according to a report in TechCrunch, the two have “a few million dollars” funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners to develop video apps. So, money doesn’t seem to be the problem either.

As far as I can tell, HQ has not explained the technology behind its game in detail, so it’s hard to say exactly what’s causing the glitches. To gain some insight, I got in touch with Geert Faber, VP, Americas for Ex Machina, which makes an interactive platform used by TV game shows and other large-scale live streaming applications. Faber wrote at least a couple of blog posts about HQ, including this one discussing its scalability challenges.

“In general, you want to ramp up enough capacity before the show starts and scale down when the show is over. This sounds obvious but it requires a custom solution to do this efficiently,” he told me via email. “In general, our solutions run on AWS within a single region depending on the required scale. However, for redundancy reasons we often run our solution on multiple regions as fallback.”

What we’re really talking about here is the need for agility, meaning that ability to scale up or down rapidly as required at the edge of the network. The HQ game is perhaps a dramatic example of this requirement, as it needs lots of capacity for only about 15 min., twice per day. But the very existence of companies like Ex Machina, which has plenty of customers using its platform to deliver similar content, shows that customer needs are evolving.

As companies continue to make use of Internet of Things technology and adopt applications such as interactive video, they will have varying workload requirements. Colocation companies will have a role to play in fulfilling those requirements, whether it’s providing services to Internet Giants like AWS or to customers directly. It remains to be seen whether HQ can work out its kinks before they start driving users away. But it’s clear that opportunity will be ripe for colocation providers that can step up their agility game.

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