Zynga.com, the social gaming specialist, has shifted its cloud hosting platform away from Amazon Web Services to a proprietary zCloud, built on Citrix’s XenServer and Cloudstack. Moreover, hosting for Zynga’s popular games accessible on Facebook will now mostly reside on zCloud.

Zygna.com, according to their press release, “is one of the first sites to be totally integrated with Facebook as an extension of the companies’ strong and collaborative partnership.” Nevertheless, Zynga has built a distribution channel apart from Facebook for its own games, in addition to those of its newly-announced third party developers, a development worth watching over the coming months.

For the first time in its history, Zynga is working with third party developers to create games on the new Zynga platform. These partners include: Mob Science, Row Sham Bow and Sava Transmedia. Third parties will have access to Zynga’s 240 million active monthly users as well as social engagement analytics, which the company views as a primary success driver.

Commenting on the “active social network” (ASN) metric, they write: “Through analytics and player feedback, Zynga learned that the number of active neighbors a player regularly engages within their game directly impacts how meaningful of an experience they have and how much they want to play. By tapping into a combination of features like the live Social Stream and analytics that measure ASN, Platform partners will be able to understand, refine and drive more social engagement in their games.”

In designing and developing Zynga.com, connecting the players of their social games topped the agenda. The press release stated: “Zynga.com is built with the goal of bringing players more ways to connect with more people on a new destination dedicated to social games. Zynga.com will enable players to meet and connect with other players who share a love for social games, ultimately giving them more friends to play with,” and thus increasing players’ success and enjoyment.

In an engineering blog from mid-February, Zynga CTO Allan Leinwald wrote:
“Between 2009 and 2011, we increased our physical server capacity by two orders of magnitude. We turned zCloud into a faster and more automated system. For social games specifically, zCloud offers 3x the efficiency of standard public cloud infrastructure. For example, where our games in the public cloud would require three physical servers, zCloud only uses one. We worked on provisioning and automation tools to make zCloud event faster and easier to set up. We’ve optimized storage operations and networking throughput for social gaming. Systems that took us days to set up instead took minutes. zCloud became a sports car that’s finely tuned for games.”

Leinwald added this since June 2011, every new game launch has been on zCloud, and at the start of 2012, 80% of their daily active users (DAU) were on zCloud with 20% on public clouds. That statistic is the mirror image from the start of 2011.

“Zynga was Amazon’s single largest customer,” said Sameer Dholakia, general manager of cloud platforms at Citrix, last month. “They were spending literally north of a $100 million a year renting infrastructure from Amazon. They needed it for elasticity. What they didn’t know, if I put out a game, was I going to get a million users, 10 million users, 50 million users? They had no idea. But once they did know, then you can actually build capacity to it. And so they have basically built what they call a zCloud, a Zynga cloud, that is an Amazon style cloud on premise on our stuff.”

With the knowledge of projected cloud spikes and the rollout of its zCloud platform, Zynga is in far greater control of its distribution and game development, compared to last year. Assuming a reliable and responsive cloud infrastructure, Zynga has positioned itself as a social gaming powerhouse, in my opinion.