10 innovators changing the game for Internet infrastructure

The Customer: Debra Chrapaty, CIO of Zynga

by Barbara Darrow

During her past lives as a tech exec at the NBA, Etrade (s etfc), Microsoft (s msft) and Cisco (s csco) over the past 25 years, and now as CIO of Zynga (s znga), Debra Chrapaty has had a front row seat as the era of cloud computing rolled in. “Back in 2008, when I was at my first Structure conference, we barely talked about cloud. That has certainly changed,” she said during a recent interview.

Back then IT leaders thought they had to own all of the infrastructure. CIOs now feel quite comfortable — as long as they’re careful about security — about putting things in the cloud, says Chrapaty. “People thought that moving things beyond the office disabled their ability to serve the business and now they realize that’s not true,” she says.

What the cloud has done, in her view, is let IT consume more base level technology and services, which frees up internal staff to tailor higher-end services for their companies. The basic argument is: Why waste valuable resources deploying, patching and upgrading commodity software like say, email, when a SaaS provider can do that for you? Clearly, Chrapaty is a fan of outsourcing non-core IT.

Zynga uses Salesforce.com (s CRM) for some of its customer-service related apps, as well as Chatter for enterprise social networking. “I’m busy helping build one of the largest social graph businesses in the world. Imagine if I had to build that customer service and social networking stuff as well,” she said.

Zynga was, famously, also an early and large adopter of Amazon Web Services(s amzn) to run much of its games’ workloads, but the company has pulled more of that work into its own internal zCloud over the past year. While that might seem counterintuitive to her outsourcing stance, Chrapaty said CIOs must use the best platform for their needs. And those game workloads, after all, are Zynga’s core business.

Chrapaty says that Zynga has had a lot of success running its own environment because the company tweaks its games for speed and performance, and tests those metrics on a daily basis. Zynga is also very sensitive about running on multiple platforms and that can be difficult in a third-party cloud, said Chrapaty who will speak at GigaOM’s Structure event later this month about Zynga’s ability to deal with unpredictable demand.

That is no knock on Amazon, which still runs peak workloads for Zynga. “I admire Amazon — what they realized long ago is that infrastructure is very expensive. They built their own and spent so much on it they realized that their standard app might use a lot of I/O but not that much storage so they could sell it off. It’s absolutely brilliant.”

Chrapaty contrasts what she does now — focus on the needs of millions of game players — to what she did early in her career. When she was CIO of the NBA in 1995 there weren’t many options for do-it-yourself IT. “I built a data center in Secaucus, N.J because I had [Lotus] Notes(s ibm) to run. So, I cabled the office and ran it. At that time, if I could have taken advantage of something like Amazon, I would have.”

As the quality and variety of cloud-based services continues to rise, Chrapaty has no doubt that CIOs, who are getting more comfortable with the cloud, will press them into service. In reality, she contends, offloading lots of the blocking and tackling to outside providers with expertise in that area, IT can add more value and serve customers better.