Classcraft is an educational tool that turns learning into a game. As schools and students flocked to use the new app, performance problems threatened to leave Classcraft stuck at the loading stage.
Classcraft turned to IBM Compose to level up the app’s performance and scalability—and make day-to-day management easier—delivering a great learning experience for more than two million users.
Frees up10-20 hours a month previously spent on database maintenance
Seamlessscalability makes it easy for Classcraft to grow as the app takes off
Powerfulcloud platform delivers predictable performance and high availability
Business challenge story
Making learning an adventure
“It’s boring.” That’s an answer many parents get when they ask their children about school.
Shawn Young, a former 11th grade teacher, and Co-founder & CEO of Classcraft, has seen this first-hand in his career. He states: “There’s a crisis in education right now. We’ve started solving lots of logistical problems, such as parent communication, homework and distributing resources, with technology. But now, as a market, we’re realizing that all these great tools aren’t actually enough to get students excited about coming to school.”
Worse, a recent Gallup study found out that this disengagement increases as students progress, causing dropouts. At home, students have a richer digital interactive experience through the internet, social media and games, but at school, this experience is missing. Classcraft was invented to solve this engagement problem.
In 2013, Shawn Young created a basic online role-playing game (RPG) that would make classroom participation more engaging for his students. A former student posted the game on Reddit. Within a week, it went to the top of the website’s gaming community. And suddenly thousands of teachers were sending inquiries about the game.
The first beta of Classcraft was launched in January 2014 and then an open version of the product was made available in August of the same year. The entire monolithic single server app was originally hosted using a managed cloud service.
It all worked fine for a year, but as Classcraft exploded in popularity it started to see some hiccups with the architecture. The team had only one server, but needed the ability to run multiple instances of the app.
The obvious solution was to scale vertically by adding more memory to the servers. So, Classcraft switched to the top tier of its cloud hosting service. The company also scaled out its environment horizontally and upgraded its MongoDB database system—fixes which helped mitigate some of the performance issues.
However, all these changes came at a cost. Scaling a MongoDB infrastructure can be very complicated. For Classcraft, scaling the database horizontally was becoming a real challenge. At peak times, the team was spending up to 20 hours a month on database administration tasks.
During one upgrade, Shawn Young says: “I stayed up all night, and I hadn’t completed the migration—I thought I would do it quickly the next day, but basically it was becoming a huge time sink. My senior developer and I were running on fumes. The end of that first night I started looking into other solutions.”
Powering up performance
That’s when Classcraft decided to move to IBM Compose—a cloud-hosted platform for building applications on open-source database technologies. The timing was perfect, as Compose had just introduced the WiredTiger storage engine option, which opens up a whole new set of possibilities when it comes to scaling MongoDB vertically and tuning storage. Classcraft took advantage of the new storage engine to migrate its entire platform very easily.
As the Classcraft app evolved, the team developed features requiring advanced search capabilities. For this, Classcraft turned to IBM Compose for Elasticsearch, which offers a powerful tool for performing rich data analysis on large volumes of data.
Shawn Young remarks: “With IBM Compose, you don’t have to provision an entire Elasticsearch setup yourself. I can just press a button on the Compose console and then I know, for our use, it’s probably the best way that it should be set up.”
Another feature Classcraft liked about Compose was the ability to assign user permissions and roles, as Shawn Young explains: “For a while we would restrict access to the database on our old stack, because someone could potentially just go in there and write queries and erase all the users. You don’t want to let anybody do that. It’s actually pretty cool to be able to give developers selective access using IBM Compose.”
With Compose, Classcraft was able to select the right tools for the app it was building without all the administrative overhead. Using IBM Compose, the team has cut time spent on database-related administration from 20 hours a month to zero, while being confident that they have a scalable and secure MongoDB infrastructure.
“Looking back, I am very happy that we moved to Compose,” says Shawn Young. “Basically, IBM Compose took the hassle of database management off our hands so we could focus on what’s most important to us—our product. And I didn’t have to do anything. It’s pretty great!”
So how is Classcraft doing these days? According to Shawn Young: “Fantastic!”
The app just passed 2.5 million users and is available in 75 countries in 10 languages. People are flooding social media with great testimonials and feedback. Classcraft's success is getting noticed in academia too, with several researchers publishing papers on its achievements.
And then there are schools where kids are dressed up in armor and performing giant dance battles against one another—as part of a game exercise! Occasionally Classcraft will get a testimonial from a teacher that says: “This has completely changed my classroom. It’s the best thing that’s happened to me in my entire career.”
“It’s all very humbling,” concludes Shawn Young. “We have to thank IBM Compose for having our back as we set out to make an impact in the educational sector.”
Take the next step
IBM Compose is a cloud-hosted platform for building enterprise applications on open source database technologies. Offering a choice of the best in open-source software databases, ready to go into production within minutes to support web and mobile apps, Compose combines practically unlimited auto-scaling with practically zero administration. For more information or to try Compose, visit: ibm.com/cloud/compose