21 Jun 2020

Standing on the shoulders of giants

An interview with Alex Zevenbergen to discuss how Microsoft Azure ServiceFabric enabled Banach Technology to build market leading, innovative and highly scalable systems.

Only a few years ago, development teams working on new software, products or applications outside of large corporations would have been unlikely to consider Microsoft technologies for their main platform. 

Yet times have changed, and today Microsoft is seen as a wholly viable option in many cases, with its Azure Service Fabric platform largely responsible for the turnaround.

Microsoft Azure Service Fabric (MASF) is a distributed systems platform that makes it easy to package, deploy, and manage scalable and reliable microservices and containers. 

It invites teams to focus on building applications and business logic, without having to worry about the hard-distributed systems problems such as reliability, scalability, management and latency.

The latter, in particular, makes the platform of great interest to those in the sports betting field, where latency in play represents perhaps the most significant challenge of all. 

It’s one of the reasons why Banach Technology, a GroupVery client, was among the first to adopt the platform to develop its own sports applications. Founded by a team who all played a key role in establishing the Quants division of Paddy Power, Banach develops easy-to-use, simple-to-integrate betting products for a range of partners – and they’re one of the Azure platform’s biggest SME consumers.

We spoke to one of their founders, Alex Zevenbergen, about the use of MASF in Banach’s solutions.

Why Microsoft Azure?

“The main problem we were trying to solve was being able to scale on-demand, without the complexities of getting servers talking to each other and maintaining consistency” says Alex. “We wanted a framework that would handle all that for us.” 

The Banach team looked at Containers, conducted a basic proof of concept of hosting web servers with state housed SQL Server, then looked at akka.NET before discovering Microsoft Azure Service Fabric.

“The thing that Service Fabric gives you – and to be honest the cloud as a whole – is that ability to scale completely horizontally. It gives you the capability to slice and dice your infrastructure if you want that level of control,” explains Alex.

“That’s important, because as the sports betting industry continues to grow, more and more sports are going to be online. More games on at the same time, greater complexity of markets, all requiring more compute power.”

“We’re now in a situation where we can just say we want to scale horizontally, push that button and it will just work. We don’t have to re-architect anything. We don’t have to start again, which a lot of companies have had to do in the recent past – and some are still doing today.”

The benefits of Microsoft Azure Service Fabric (MASF)

At Banach, product innovation results from the development and running of complex algorithms. Yet historically, such algorithms are so compute intensive that they’re slow and hard to optimise. By enabling the business to build models, run algorithms and move data around faster, Azure provides a platform for greater and more rapid innovation. 

Here’s a summary of the key benefits that Banach has taken advantage of through its use of MASF.

Set-and-forget infrastructure: 

With Azure’s infrastructure simply taking care of itself, considerable efficiencies and cost savings can be found. “Out of 35 of us” says Alex ”we have just one person who is strong on the Azure IAAS side. Apart from that, we have no specific infrastructure engineers – yet we’ve been able to run a platform for the past three years with only one outage.”

Scalability, speed and insight:

As well as speeding up development, MASF facilitates the measurement and evaluation of the end-to-end process. “At the moment, we’re gathering metrics around how often we do deployments, how many deployments end in production bugs or in an issue in production, and then how much time is spent fixing that”, says Alex. “Those metrics really tell you how good you are as a development team.”

Zero downtime release paradigm:

MASF adopts a zero downtime release model, which includes various checks and balances built in, ensuring that each upgrade domain completes successfully before moving over to the next. In theory, if something is wrong with an upgrade, only the first upgrade domain would be affected and can be rolled back – while the system keeps on running.

Industry knowhow:

As one of the early adopters of MASF, Banach acknowledged the general challenge of finding people with experience in the platform – certainly in the early days. Yet when it comes to dealing with Microsoft themselves, Alex has been surprised by the level of specific industry knowledge available. “In terms of finding answers to questions we’ve had, they’ve been very helpful. “There’s plenty of expertise in there around the sports betting industry and its development challenges, which is rare to see.

Betting on the future

Despite the application still being less than three years old, Banach’s first full product is now live with multiple clients – and the business lays claim to having “by far the best product feature set in football.”

Moving forward, the firm is seeking to duplicate its success across multiple sports, as it aims to achieve its stated mission of becoming the “Bloomberg of Betting.” 

“To do that” says Alex, “we know we’re going to have to handle lots more streams and quantities of data. At the moment, we handle market prices, we handle trader opinions and similar game-related data. But the next thing we are probably going to deal with is real-time betting information at far higher levels than we currently do.”

“Because we don’t interact with the end user directly, the amount of data we have to process is limited by our client base. As we’re adding new clients, we’ll have more streams of data to pass into our models, and we’ll need to handle far higher quantities of data at the same time.”

Microsoft Azure Service Fabric has enabled Banach to scale it’s core product (and indeed business), while minimising the hassle that comes with managing infrastructure. This has allowed its development team to focus all efforts on innovating – to create its powerful and highly differentiated algorithms – without distraction. 

As Banach’s product continues to evolve in size and complexity, any worries of performance are likely to be minimal too, due to the platform’s seemingly limitless scalability.

In 2019 Banach Technology selected Groupvery as their key nearshore partner to help them build complex and highly scalable risk and trading systems.