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The Art of Scalability 63

Martijn de Boer writes "Creating high performance growing networks is really a special skill managers and network architects should possess to be ready for the future. The Art of Scalability is a book written for these kinds of functions, and prepares you for the present and the imminent future. Scalability is achieved by principles that work on many levels within enterprises, whether it's processes, organizational structure or setting up your project, this book covers it all." Read on for the rest of Martijn's review.
The Art of Scalability
author Martin L. Abbott and Michael T. Fisher
pages 592
publisher Addison Wesley
rating 8
reviewer Martijn de Boer
ISBN 0-13-703042-8
summary Explains everything from organizational processes to the techniques used to accomplish a scalable high performance project.
The sub-title for this book is "Scalable Web Architecture, Processes and Organizations for the Modern Enterprise" which is basically a catchy title for project managers and decision makers. It's just catchy enough to grab the book from a shelf and start digging into the table of contents, which is exactly the spot where you get hooked and decide to get the book. The book is written by two experts on the subject; both of them have a strong background in large corporations dealing with scalability. Throughout the book the authors shine a good light on tools and cases used for making a project scalable.

The book is divided into four sections which follow the process of starting a scalable project. First off you will need to know everything about strategy, organizational structure, the kind of people your organization needs and how to manage your team. The second part focuses on the how's and why's of scalability, aspects of planning for continuity, crisis and incident management. The later chapters in this second part talk about risks, how to value risk and the importance of testing to make educated conclusions about how far to scale your project, a notable mention here is chapter 19 which focuses on trade-offs in development speed or doing things the right way, often an underestimated point in these businesses. Architecting scalable solutions is the third part of the book, mainly taking a more technical approach to the matter. This part talks about containing faults and breaking up applications so they scale well. This goes all the way to scaling the database backend for your application to caching objects and making synchronous versus asynchronous calls to your application.

While most of the book is good for preparation, I think the fourth part of the book crosses the boundary from preparation to being very useful during the process as a fallback to your knowledge. It's titled accordingly "Solving other issues and challenges" and mainly focuses on things you will come across during the first and perhaps even later stages, providing solutions for unforeseen costs of data storage to monitoring your application for user experience, speed and the processes you will have to implement for this.

If you have read this far, and are thinking about how complex scalability really is, then you have found the right book. The clear writing style and detailed writing of numerous pitfalls for such big projects make this book a valuable asset to your knowledge base. It's also written in a challenging way, and between the lines there is also some humor (evident for instance in the reference to Rain Man in chapter 18), making it a fun way to learn or build upon a great skill set needed by organizations in the not so distant future. I feel very positively about the writing style of the book, but despite there being some illustrations there could be some more diagrams of organizational structure and the architecture of projects as I didn't find the illustrations adding much to the context.

The short appendixes to the book are mostly about calculating capacity for cpu power, bandwidth, etcetera. These appendixes actually provide sample calculations which are useful to backup your analysis when you need to make a bill of materials for your superiors and can also be used to better grasp the size of a project. Numbers mostly provide a context for the people above you, and I think these extra pieces of content could have deserved another part in the book, but perhaps it's better off as some food for thought.

Before starting with this book, I had not much prior knowledge about scaling projects other then some technical ideas of implementation. I always hate it when I know I'm just scratching the surface of something, and need to satisfy my urge to learn more about the subject. The Art of Scalability really helped me accomplish that, and provided much more background information then I expected. I was really surprised by the pieces about cloud computing, it's such a buzzword nowadays but the texts give it a real context.

If you are looking to set up a project or are generally interested by the concepts of scalability, then this is the right book for you. It's an appropriate recommendation for most businesses, because this knowledge can only be used to your advantage and just takes a little bit of time to read trough. It's a heavy subject, but once you finish the book you will be able to make a decision about architecture based on a good foundation of background information rooted in real situations.

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The Art of Scalability

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  • First two sections (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Curlsman ( 1041022 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:37PM (#31025124)
    are not going to happen in large organizations.
    Nobody ever knows everything about the strategy or organizational structure, and the people and managers change places and responsibilities faster than any project can proceed.
    And continuity, crisis and incident management are only longed for when the systems are down and eveybody is expected to work continuously until they're fixed, but never when it's time to pay for it.
  • Re:Warning (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jeppe Salvesen ( 101622 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @05:12PM (#31027076)

    Once you know how, making the solution fairly scalable is usually not a whole lot of extra work. Furthermore, if you don't bother learning how to do stuff right, you'll continue to make subpar products until you get your shot and then you waste that shot because your solution wasn't up to the task. Ahh.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle