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Book Reviews

Submission + - Book review: The Art of Scalability

Martijn de Boer writes: "The Art of Scalability
Martin L. Abbott & Michael T. Fisher

Creating high performance growing networks is really a special skill managers and network architects should posses 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, wether it's processes, organizational structure or setting up your project, this book covers it all.

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 tradeoffs 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 appropiate 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.

The book is available on Safari Books online, the publishers portal and other popular retailers."
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Book review: The Art of Scalability

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