The Chaos Monkey

What am I describing?

  1. A programmer writes a nasty little bit of code that has the sole purpose of causing disruption to servers and IT equipment.
  2. It randomly goes around deleting files, changing hardware configurations and a various of other mischief with the same result of impacting and disabling IT equipment providing user-services.
  3. The programmer calls this code ‘The Simian Army Chaos Monkey’.
  4. The programmer then installs this onto the live network of the cloud infrastructure of Netflix, which is currently serving hundreds of thousands of users with their streaming video entertainment servers.
  5. You might have experienced a sudden glitch whilst you’ve been watching Netflix. That sudden glitch that froze the movie when everything became slow? Your favourite movies or recommended movies list disappeared? Maybe the pictures for the movie collection you are browsing didn’t load? Or maybe all the movie recommendations just seem really stupid? There is a good chance that whilst this is happening to you, Netflix engineers are rushing to identify the unknown problem caused by the ‘Chaos Monkey’ that has disabled a portion of their infrastructure.

netflix_chaos_monkeyDoes this sound like the actions of a hacker and their virus? Welcome to how programmers are contracted by Netflix to always ensure it’s services remain un-interrupted! By allowing Chaos Monkey to roam free on its network to deliver constant and unpredictable havoc, it is one of the best ways to guarantee the backup and redundancy it needs to not be too worried if something breaks – they’ve seen it all before with this naughty little ‘resiliency testing tool’.

The open-source code can be download for all the monkeys in the Simian Army Github Code Respository.

I often think of the chaos monkey when I see media coverage of a high-profile student protest. In response if you watch TV news, you’ll see a repeatedly played video of one hooded anonymous lout with a covered face throwing a brick through a window which ultimately triggers police to move in. The commentary doesn’t usually point out that this person has police-issue boots on and are with the other protestors with the cameras – these agent provocateurs are the Metropolitan Police Force’s very own ‘chaos monkeys’.

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