With the motto “Enjoy becoming better every day,” and founded on the idea that games can be used for more than just entertainment, Peak brings its brain-training app to millions of users a month. The London-based startup’s team of 25 developers, scientists, and designers create bite-sized exercises that focus on particular cognitive skills in areas such as problem solving , language, mental agility, memory, and focus. Results are visualized so users can see how they’ve performed in each area, and they can even compare their results to other users with a similar profile or profession. The mobile app is available for Android and Apple devices. The massive amounts of user data generated by the app has the potential to provide insights that could be applied in areas such as education and health.
“From the start, our vision was ambitious,” says Itamar Lesuisse, founder and CEO of Peak. “We knew we had to come to market fast with our first product, but we also knew that if Peak went well there would be scope to use the data for research purposes.”
The firm required an infrastructure that could cope with large increases in demand, as well as a platform that would allow it to innovate without massive upfront investment. “Scalability was a major thing for us—being able to grow capacity easily when we have a promotion or expect a spike in traffic,” says Bertrand Lamarque, director of engineering at Peak. “But for me, scalability is also about adding functionality fast. This is fundamental to giving us the agility we need to keep developing our product.”
Lesuisse continues, “Although there were other providers around at the time that we could have launched with quickly, there was only one provider with which we could fulfill our long-term ambitions. We went straight to Amazon Web Services.”
Why Amazon Web Services
With a small development team, speed and ease of implementation were significant considerations for Peak. “It was vital that deployment was fast,” says Lamarque. “If we hadn’t used AWS, it would have taken several engineers to get a project like this off the ground, but as it was, it took only one person for the entire implementation.”
The solution includes Amazon DynamoDB, which provides fast access to data and massive scalability, along with the high-performance Amazon Redshift data warehouse service, which is used for all of the firm’s analytics. For scalable object storage, Peak uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). AWS Data Pipeline moves log data from Amazon S3 to Amazon Redshift, and is also used to export data from DynamoDB to Amazon S3 and Redshift. Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) stores messages before they are sent to end users.
Lamarque emphasizes that AWS Elastic Beanstalk is a central piece of the AWS jigsaw at Peak—the team uses it to deploy and manage applications easily in the cloud. He says, “Normally, it takes a lot of time to create, launch, and scale new services, but with Elastic Beanstalk it’s easy to get applications up and running. It’s a crucial part of our solution and allows us to experiment and develop new ideas.”
Regular interaction with Amazon Web Services—both during implementation and after—was helpful for Peak. “Time spent talking to the AWS team was invaluable at the implementation stage and remains a big part of our relationship, not least because AWS moves so fast,” says Lamarque. “Regular contact with the team at Amazon helps us get our heads around the services and how best to leverage them.”
Being able to move faster with fewer resources is a significant advantage for Peak. “We just click on a button and instantly get huge amounts of capacity. Without AWS, we wouldn’t be able to do this with the resources available to us,” says Lamarque. “The ability to grow from two to four services or increase read/write capacity of a database without spending more than five minutes on it from an IT management perspective is amazing.”
With more than one million games played a day, and each game being about 8 KB of compressed data, the infrastructure has to handle more than 8 GB of compressed data daily. It also needs to have the capacity to scale to handle much larger spikes in demand. This is something Lamarque is confident about in using AWS: “If we had two or three million more users tomorrow than we had today, it wouldn’t worry me. And, significantly, I don’t have to waste time planning for this eventuality—the system just scales to accommodate whatever amount of users we have.”
This confidence was put to the test recently, as Lesuisse recalls: “About the same time as Peak was featured in the Apple app store, we had a high-profile PR event. To say that this generated a lot of interest is an understatement. In one day, the load on our server more than doubled. We didn’t predict that this would happen or have any special measures in place, and the amazing thing is the system just coped. It was just a normal day for us—we didn’t even blink. This wouldn’t have been possible without AWS.”
While ease of management and scalability are core advantages of the startup’s AWS-based infrastructure, it’s the agility that the cloud technology enables that really stands out as a key to the company’s success. “We’ve managed to get this far and keep our operations lean and focused because we know it’s exactly this sort of structure that fosters innovation. AWS understands this too. It helps us create great services rather than worrying about how our infrastructure will cope if those services succeed in the market and demand goes through the roof,” says Lesuisse.
Lamarque continues on the theme of innovation, “To be able to fail cheaply is key to our operations. The AWS-based infrastructure encourages us to experiment because we know if something doesn’t work, we haven’t wasted masses of time and money on an idea. On the other hand, we can get up and running with a successful idea really quickly. It’s a win-win situation with AWS.”
With an eye to the future, and some exciting opportunities enabled by its agile IT, Lesuisse concludes, “Using AWS, we have a platform that will grow with us. Key to our plans is leveraging our valuable data for research projects that could have wide-reaching applications in education, health, and many other fields.”
“Using AWS, we have a platform that will grow with us. Key to our strategy is leveraging our valuable data for research projects that could have wide-reaching applications in education, health, and many other fields.”
Itamar Lesuisse, Founder and CEO