OpeniHeavy Insights 61 – Medicine of Austerity

Medicine of Austerity

by Sean Hull – November 1, 2009

Nowadays, everywhere you turn, pundits and economists are talking about the medicine of austerity. Especially in regards to government spending that is crucial in the short term (or so says Keynes) but unsustainable in the long term. My favorite analogy I’ve yet heard is “when the tide goes out, you can quickly see who was swimming naked”.

Austerity is another way of saying tightening your belt, reigning in debt or paying the piper. It is in effect the other side – perhaps the painful side, of the credit coin.

For businesses it means paying off debts, while at the same time having more difficulty securing credit to grow. So it means taking a long hard look at spending, sifting through budgets, and deciding what is essential and what can be trimmed. The punch bowl is indeed a distant memory, and we’re still climbing out of our hangover looking for lessons and rules of thumb to keep us out of this situation in the future.

We think this all means there’s never been a better time to engage in open source technologies. And here are three really compelling business reasons:

Reason One: Less restrictive licensing Install the software in your development environment as quickly as your production environment, and rollout new servers that can contribute to the whole enterprise, without licensing headaches and restrictions. That does lower costs in the end because red tape and licensing headaches can mean time, and in the end money.

Reason Two: Peer under the hood This is perhaps a less obvious, or perhaps invisible advantage to open source. But for developers, programmers, and administrators working on and solving problems day-to-day, having the ability to peer under the hood can be invaluable. It means you’re not constrained by the speed at which your vendor can solve a problem and get a patch or more importantly their interest in doing so. Sometimes problems and issues come up which are not a problem for a majority of customers, so will take a back seat to more pressing issues. With open source technologies your engineers have the option to find, fix, and apply their own patch on their own time.

Reason Three: Lower overall costs This is the reason most easily itemized on your bottom line. Yes with open source technologies you still have the costs of expertise and implementation, but with lower cost commodity hardware, and license costs at or near zero, that is sure to reduce your overall costs.

We think now more than ever it’s time to take the medicine of austerity, and look at your computing costs with a mind to where and how open source technologies can be stirred into the mix. Mixing them into the pot on the periphery first, can allow you to test the waters, taste and blend and find the right flavor for your enterprise.

Review: Nudges

by Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein

I always enjoy books full of unconventional wisdom about how to influence the world around us. Levitt & Dubner’s Freakonomics and Gladwell’s The Tipping Point fall firmly in that category.

In a time when better decisions and choices are exactly what we need, and when they remain perhaps as elusive as ever, this book contains plenty of medicine worth taking.

View Nudge on Amazon

Success Story–Media and Entertainment Conglomerate

The Business

A website aggregating twitter feeds for celebrities, with sophisticated search functionality.

The Problem

Having been recently acquired by a large media and entertainment conglomerate, their traffic had already tripled.  What’s more they expected their unique pageviews to grow by 20 to 30 times in the coming six months.

Our Process

We worked closely with the lead architect and designer of the site to understand some of the technical difficulties they were encountering.  We discussed key areas of the site, and where performance was most lacking.

Next we reviewed the underlying infrastructure with an eye for misconfigurations, misuse of or badly allocated resources, and general configuration best practices.  They used Amazon EC2 cloud hosted servers for the database, webserver, and other components of the application.

The Solution

Our first round of reviews spanned a couple of days.  We found many issues with the configuration which could dramatically affect performance.  We adjusted settings in both the webserver, and the database to optimally maximize the platform upon which they were hosted.  These initial changes reduced the load average on the server from a steady level of 10.0 to an average of 2.0.

Our second round of review involved a serious look at the application.  We worked closely with the developer to understand what the application was doing.  We identified those areas of the application causing the heaviest footprint on the server, and worked with the developer to tune those specific areas.  In addition we examined the underlying database structures, tables and looked for relevant indexes, adding those as necessary to support the specific requirements of the application.

After this second round of changes, tweaks, adjustments, and rearchitecting, the load average on the server was reduced dramatically, to a mere 0.10.  The overall affect was dramatic.  With 100 times reduction in the load on the server, the websites performance was snappy, and very responsive.  The end user experience was noticeably changed.  A smile comes on your face when you visit your favorite site, to find it working fast and furious!

Results

The results to the business were dramatic.  Not only were their short term troubles addressed, as the site was handling the new traffic without a hick up.  What’s more they had the confidence and peace of mind now to go forward with new advertising campaigns, secure in the knowledge that the site really could perform, and handle a 20 to 30 times increase in traffic with ease.