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Code.org Relies on AWS to Teach Next-Generation Computer Science

2014

Code.org is a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Code.org’s vision is that every student in every school has the opportunity to learn computer science.

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Our applications stay up all the time during the Hour of Code, and … our website is always available year-round, because of the global availability of services like Amazon CloudFront.”

Jeremy Stone
Chief Technology Officer, Code.org

Reaching Students Worldwide Through the Hour of Code

In today’s technology-heavy, innovation-driven economy, students need the opportunity to learn computer science concepts and skills. That’s where Code.org comes in. Dedicated to expanding access to computer science education, the nonprofit organization provides free K–12 computer science curriculum, an online learning platform, and teacher training.

In addition to operating the learning platform that powers Code.org courses in hundreds of thousands of classrooms around world, the organization coordinates the Hour of Code every year. A global celebration and learning event, The Hour of Code takes place during Computer Science Education Week and reaches 100 million students in more than 180 countries.

To support more than 100,000 Hour of Code events around the world successfully during the week, Code.org needs both scalability and availability on a massive scale. “In terms of scalability, we have to prepare for 10 times more traffic on our website during the week, and we have one chance to get it right,” says Jeremy Stone, CTO of Code.org. “If we don’t have the compute capacity to meet the traffic demand, the events won’t work. And reliability is equally important, because students can’t code if our site is down.” Code.org must also comply with strict data protection controls. “As an EdTech company with a lot of student data, we are subject to very stringent security requirements,” Stone says.

Using AWS for Scalability, High Availability, and Security

To meet the challenges of providing an online coding environment to millions of students, Code.org chose to run its website, learning platform, and the Hour of Code on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud. “We went with AWS because it offers the right combination of scalability, reliability, flexibility, and security,” says Stone.

Code.org runs its platform and all Hour of Code events on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances, and the company takes advantage of AWS Auto Scaling to automatically adjust compute capacity based on demand. Code.org also uses Amazon CloudFront as its content delivery network for worldwide availability, and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store unstructured data such as uploaded student-created apps and other user content.

To secure student data, Code.org relies on AWS CloudTrail, AWS Certificate Manager, and AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM). Additionally, the company uses Amazon Redshift as a data warehouse for storing and analyzing student metrics. “We track how student performance improves throughout the year or several years,” says Stone. “Where teachers provide demographic data, we track participation and progression of girls and underrepresented minority students to ensure we are meeting our equity and diversity goals.”

Scaling by Tenfold to Help Students Learn to Code

Relying on AWS, Code.org can scale its website during the Hour of Code, so that it can account for the additional influx of students on its website who are eager to try coding for the first time. “Using AWS, we can easily scale to meet the demands of millions of students in more than 180 countries for the Hour of Code,” says Stone. Code.org can quickly scale from 250 cores to 2,200 cores during peak usage, thanks to AWS. “We recently scaled automatically from 8 to 150 virtual servers using Auto Scaling, and it was much more than we needed,” Stone says.

Making Learning Available Around the Globe

Code.org is using AWS to deliver an optimal experience for its users across the globe. For example, the organization relies on Amazon CloudFront to deliver high availability. “We can ensure our applications stay up all the time during the Hour of Code and that our website is always available year-round, because of the global availability of services like Amazon CloudFront,” says Stone. Code.org also takes advantage of the flexibility of having access to different Amazon EC2 instance types, whether memory- or compute-intensive, depending on its needs. “Students want our website to be fast, and we can deliver a very responsive experience with fast page-load times because of AWS,” says Stone.

Saving $1.3 Million Annually

By running its website and the Hour of Code in the cloud, Code.org saves $1.3 million per year in operational costs. “Being in the cloud, we don’t have to support our own data center, which obviously saves money,” says Stone. “More specifically, because we can essentially rent virtual servers for the week of the Hour of Code, we don’t have to pay to support those resources outside of that week. It would be prohibitively expensive to support our tenfold spike in traffic each year without the ability to lean on services like AWS Auto Scaling.”

Securing Student Data

Code.org can meet its stringent security requirements by using AWS services. “Strong security capabilities are integrated into AWS services, so we get a lot of built-in networking security, in addition to our own internal security practices,” says Stone. “We use AWS services to provide security capabilities, including encryption at rest with AWS Relational Database Service [RDS] and Key Management Service [KMS]; encryption in transit with AWS Certificate Manager; network security with AWS Virtual Private Cloud; and operational auditing with AWS CloudTrail. As a result, we are confident in our ability to protect data and comply with all security requirements.”

Working with AWS Educate to Help Students Build Cloud Technology Skills

Increasingly, Code.org is collaborating with AWS Educate to support Code.org’s mission: expanding access to computer science in schools and boosting participation by women and minorities. Code.org is working with AWS Educate, an initiative that gives students learning resources for building cloud technology skills through access to content, training, AWS technology, and employment opportunities. Most recently, AWS Educate helped develop a new code-building game offered for free during the Hour of Code. “We love working with AWS, and we love the pace of innovation AWS provides,” Stone says. “As we move into the future, we anticipate collaborating in new ways to educate students in computer science.”


About Code.org

Code.org is a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities.

Benefits of AWS

  • Scales by tenfold to deliver computer science education to millions of students globally
  • Delivers high availability during the Hour of Code
  • Saves $1.3 million in operational costs annually
  • Secures student data

 


AWS Services Used

Amazon EC2

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale cloud computing easier for developers.

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AWS Certificate Manager

AWS Certificate Manager is a service that lets you easily provision, manage, and deploy public and private Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) certificates for use with AWS services and your internal connected resources. 

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Amazon CloudFront

Amazon CloudFront is a fast content delivery network (CDN) service that securely delivers data, videos, applications, and APIs to customers globally with low latency, high transfer speeds, all within a developer-friendly environment.

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AWS CloudTrail

AWS CloudTrail is a service that enables governance, compliance, operational auditing, and risk auditing of your AWS account.

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Amazon S3

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is an object storage service that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance.

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AWS Identity and Access Management

AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) enables you to manage access to AWS services and resources securely.

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Amazon Redshift

Redshift powers mission critical analytical workloads for Fortune 500 companies, startups, and everything in between.

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AWS Educate

AWS Educate is Amazon’s global initiative to provide students and educators with the resources needed to accelerate cloud-related learning.

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