Course Description

This course explores advanced topics in highly scalable Internet services and their underlying systems architecture. Software today is primarily delivered as a service: accessible globally via web browsers and mobile applications and backed by millions of servers. Modern web frameworks (e.g., Ruby on Rails, Django, and Express), and continuous improvements to cloud providers (e.g., Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure) make it increasingly easier to build and deploy these systems.

Despite these advances, building scalable Internet services today still requires an understanding of topics like caching, load balancing, security, and monitoring. In this course we will examine these topics and more: the state of the art in building scalable Internet services.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:


Lecture material will cover the essentials of building large scale Internet services. The lecture schedule and slides are available online at Lecture attendance is optional, but strongly recommended as interactive examples will be provided during lecture that often won’t be well reflected in the online material.


Mandatory labs will meet once a week in Phelps 3525. These labs offer students a chance to collaborate on their projects and demo progress on the primary project.

Initial Projects

There will be four projects in the first five weeks of the course, one per week with the fourth project spanning two weeks. These projects will ensure students have the basic knowledge to build and deploy modern, simple, and scalable web services without needing a deep understanding of how the underlying systems enable scalability. The first three projects are to be completed individually, and the fourth completed in a pair.

Primary Project

The goal of the course’s primary project is for students to experience and resolve pain points encountered when building and deploying a moderate-sized scalable web service. Students will do this using some of the latest web technologies in order to learn how to tackle scalability and fault-tolerance concerns. Projects will be conducted in agile teams of four students, and each team will build their own scalable web site using fundamental web technologies and the Ruby on Rails framework.


Percent Item
3 Project 0 (Static Web Page)
6 Project 1 (AWS Lambda)
9 Project 2 (Google’s Cloud Run)
12 Project 3 (Chat Server and Client)
65 Primary Project Individual Grade
5 Participation

Participation can be earned by asking or answering questions during lectures, and asking or answering public questions on Piazza.

Projects 0 through 3 are scored as either complete (100%) or incomplete (0%); there is no fractional score.

Late submissions incur a 1% penalty for every minute late rounded up to the nearest minute. For example, if the deadline is 13:59:59, an assignment submitted at 14:00:00 will receive 99% of its score, and an assignment submitted at 15:00:00 will receive only 39% of its score.

Primary Project Scoring

At the end of the quarter each group’s project will be assigned a score based on their web service being of sufficient complexity, and the group’s description of their methodological approach to load testing and subsequent scaling via various techniques as described in their project write-up and/or in their project presentation. Objectively these components break down into:

Percent Item
50 load testing and scaling (communicated through presentation and/or write-up)
30 web service complexity
10 quality of project presentation
10 quality of project write-up

Primary Project Individual Grading

The project individual grade is computed by multiplying a student’s group’s project score by their individual project score. Individual project scores are computed by summing the relative percent of work each individual’s teammates confidentially assigns them.

For example, given a three person group with a group grade of 95% and the following peer-graded scores:

  Alice Bob Chuck
Alice - 55% 45%
Bob 60% - 40%
Chuck 52% 48% -
Total 112% 103% 85%

Then Alice’s Primary Project Individual Grade would be 106.4%, Bob with 97.85% and Chuck with 80.75%.

We will confidentially conduct the peer grading process twice during the course. Only the outcome of the second peer-grade (on the day of presentations) will be used to compute the final grade.

Any moderate deviations from near-equal grades will require discussion.

Letter Grades

Letter grades will be assigned as follows:

Percent Grade
96 ⅔ A+
93 ⅓ A
90 A-
86 ⅔ B+
83 ⅓ B
80 B-
76 ⅔ C+
73 ⅓ C
0 F

The number listed is the lower bound of the percent grade for the given range. It is expected that you are a relatively equal contributor in your group, with adjustments for significant positive outliers. Thus, please take note of the drop directly from C to F.