Chess is one of the world’s oldest games, dating back to the sixth century. Its enduring appeal ensured that it was also one of the first computer games in history, developed in 1948. Now, people play chess anytime, anywhere and against anyone. And a lot of those games are played out on Chess.com. “I started Chess.com in 2007 as a passion project with a friend,” explains its founder and CEO, Erik Allebest. “Fast forward 15 years, and we’re the number one chess platform in the world. We have a team of 400 programmers, content editors and support staff, all working remotely across 40 countries.” Chess.com now hosts more than 10 million games daily and runs regular coaching sessions and tournaments for its 80 million users.
Chess.com was fully remote before COVID-19 made home-working the norm. So when lockdowns were imposed worldwide, the team carried on working as normal, but their workload multiplied. “With so many more people stuck at home, our traffic quadrupled in a short period of time. We went from a million daily active users to five million,” says Allebest.
To manage this fast pace, Chess.com sought out technology companies with the agility to help it innovate and scale. “We’re busy deploying and pushing and provisioning, all at really high speed,“ says Allebest. “We look to work with partners who are hyperresponsive to our needs, and we could see that DoiT International would really help us make the most of Google Cloud and optimize Chess.com for our users.”
Building a future-proof global infrastructure
Chess.com began working with DoiT in March 2020, the same time it moved to Google Cloud. This also coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when demand for Chess.com was ramping up. Google introduced Chess.com to DoiT, and the Chess.com team quickly discovered that DoiT shared the global growth outlook that drew Chess.com to Google Cloud.
“We opted to migrate a lot of our infrastructure over to Google Cloud because its global approach to networks and projects better mirrors ours. We could also see that DoiT had the inside knowledge and experience of scaling that we would benefit from too,” says Grzegorz Dlugolecki, Lead Cloud and Kubernetes Engineer, Chess.com.
Filling the knowledge gaps
Adopting any new technology always involves a learning curve. Chess.com charged DoiT with lessening that curve. Dlugolecki says: “We have a huge amount of knowledge on our side, but when it came to designing the ideal architecture on Google Cloud, we needed DoiT and Google Cloud to help us offer solutions to our challenges.”
Providing answers fast
Following a quick, trouble-free onboarding to the DoiT systems, Chess.com saw the difference immediately. “Straight away, I noticed how much easier it was to communicate with DoiT than it had been with our previous support provider,” says Dlugolecki. “We can get an almost instant answer from DoiT via our dedicated Slack channel, we can talk directly with DoiT engineers via Google Meet, and we get fast responses from the ticketing system, often within 15 minutes.”
Taking latency out of the game
Lessening any technical delays between chess moves is crucial when playing online. The Chess.com team is now looking at the global distribution of its servers to provide optimal routing to minimize latency, and DoiT is always on hand to offer advice and support. When Chess.com suddenly began experiencing random 100% CPU, for example, DoiT came to the rescue fast. “This was impacting one of our most important services deployed in Google Cloud, and we were finding it hard to debug,” explains Dlugolecki. “It was caused by a low-level networking issue and the large scale of connections that the service was handling, around 300,000 per second, causing high spikes in latency. DoiT helped solve the problem by showing us how to make improvements to the low-level network-tuning.”
Providing a holistic view of all the Chess pieces
While its members are busy playing chess with minimal latency, behind the scenes, the Chess.com team is running a lot of systems that analyze each game, detect cheating and recommend player improvements. And to service all of this, Chess.com runs some operations on other cloud services. Previously, it was difficult to get an overview of how all its cloud services worked together, but DoiT’s technology platform helps Chess.com get a clearer picture of its cloud use and billing. “The DoiT platform gives us a unified view of multiple Google Cloud accounts and our other cloud providers on one panel,” says Dlugolecki. “I also like the anomaly alerts, which show spikes in our cloud billing across our projects, highlighting if any of our GCP projects are suddenly seeing a rise in costs in a non-linear way.”
Securing a remote global team
Not only does DoiT help Chess.com get a holistic view of its platform, it also helps it to have oversight over its virtual global team, including its partners at DoiT. “We use the Google Cloud Identity Platform, which allows us to give our employees secure access to our services from public networks without a Virtual Private Network. And DoiT provides a great ticketing system that allows us to give secure temporary credentials to DoiT engineers for the period the ticket is active. This ensures that they are restricted to working only on the project related to the ticket, and it means that we don’t need to permanently give DoiT permissions into our infrastructure,” says Dlugolecki.
Continuous learning on tap
Chess.com has constant access to DoiT’s invaluable insider knowledge of Google Cloud. “Let’s say we are building a service with Cloud BigTable or BigQuery, DoiT shows us the best practices for building future-proof architectures with them, so we achieve the best performance from them cost-effectively,” says Dlugolecki. “For example, we pay for BigQuery based on the amount of data that it ingests to answer a query. DoiT showed us how to structure queries to limit the scanning BigQuery has to do and that means the cost is lower.”
Researching new technologies
Chess.com draws on DoiT’s know-how when it comes to researching new Google solutions too. “Because DoiT has direct communication with Google Cloud, they often give us information on upcoming features or will tell us whether Google Cloud is likely to be open to creating a feature for us, which saves us a lot of time and energy.”
This frees up Chess.com to focus on providing more services for its members. And there are always more moves for it to make. “We’re launching new features all the time,” says Allebest. “We’ve recently started a chess league, and we’ve launched an insights product that looks at all of your games and analyzes the metadata to assess what kind of player you are. We are also using machine learning to show players how they can improve, and DoiT is supporting us with all of these initiatives.”