AWS GameDay


Unicorn Rentals Logo

Welcome to Unicorn Rentals! AWS GameDay invites you to try your hand at managing the infrastructure of the biggest player in the Legendary Animal Rental Market (LARM). This fictional company that AWS made for people to play as on GameDay is an excellent parody of all the worst practices you’ve heard of and lived through, believing in security through obscurity and firing their engineering team every few weeks. Unicorn Rentals needs YOUR HELP to deal with a swathe of mission-critical issues throughout the day.

A while ago I attended an AWS GameDay run for my company and had a fantastic time. I had a smattering of AWS knowledge around buckets and EC2, and learned some more about those and a dozen other AWS services, enough of a variety that those with more experience could still work on something new to them. Working on challenges as a group and having staff on hand with advice meant you were never stuck for too long on something.

All the challenges were worth an amount of points for a successful completion and points over time for the rest of the day, displayed on a dashboard at the front of the room. Points over time was an elegant way to award more points to early completions, especially since maintaining points income was also part of the challenge. Success was determined automatically by AWS-managed scripts (e.g. regularly requesting data from various endpoints on a website). Certain implementations might not scale well and lose you points over time, and the resources on your account could even be meddled with by AWS. You would see your team losing points over time and a rough error message, leading to sudden bonus rounds where you debugged what you or your teammates created before.

GameDay Dashboard
Dashboard with total score and "trend", current rate of score change

The sandbox that AWS had built that tested your code and awarded points automatically, providing instant feedback, was an engaging framework for the GameDay and I’m sure it helps AWS to scale these events up with less staff. If you get the chance to participate at a conference or otherwise, I’d recommend GameDay to anyone relatively new to AWS. Here’s some of the flavourful challenge briefings to give you a feel of the theme and scope of the day.

dude where’s my website?

Six months ago, one of the Ops team began a project called “dude where’s my website”. This was a skunkworks project to create backups and a DR environment for Unicorn.Rentals, in the unlikely event that we’d ever need to recover the site.
It turns out that this is rather more likely than we expected.

Where in the world is Kyle Sandiego?

Our CEO, Kyle, has taken a sabbatical and is traveling around the world. Being that he is a social media junkie, he keeps posting selfies of himself around the world. But he’s moving so quickly that we don’t have enough time for our interns to look at the images to try and find out where he is.

Casual Infrastructure Causes Disasters

“During the hyper growth of Unicorn Rentals, we struggled to retain experienced developers. Some got better offers from “real” organizations, others were allergic to chowder, some objected to frequent Thunder-dome challenges…

Anyway, we have a unicorn metadata service, that we never secured in any way. And now its being abused by third parties…
Now there are many smart ways to solve this problem, but we do not currently have the time or people. So, instead, we are going to build a shared secret into the source code of an API Proxy application and deploy it every 4 minutes.

Fix our Unicorn Rental Return Processor

This module will repair our broken Unicorn Rental Return processor and hopefully allow us to successfully track down our missing and outstanding unicorns. We will do this by modernizing our existing code base and adopting some Cloud Native AWS Services.

Our modernization effort has taken a steep dive and ground to a screeching halt. In fact, all Unicorn Rentals that are being returned by our extremely satisfied customers are no longer being processed. This is causing a very large backlog in the rental return processing queue.

Full GameDay Let’s Play