Why the Twitter IPO mentions scalability

ShannaBanan-o-rama

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1. High availability is hard

After seven years in the business you might think Twitter has operations and scalability nailed. I wouldn’t blame you for hoping, but here’s one thing they said in their IPO filing:

“we are not currently serving traffic equally through our co-located data centers”

What does this mean exactly? Let’s think of your drive to work everyday. Remember that one intersection that’s always congested? Could the city designers have envisioned that 50 or 100 years ago? Probably not. In the present day, with all the buildings & roads, can we redesign around it? Not easily. So we adapt, and evolve and deal with the day-to-day realities of an evolving city.

James Urquhart says these are complex systems. The internet, the cloud and your startup infrastructure are by nature brittle.

Also: Why generalists are better at scaling the web.

2. Fail whale is part of the DNA

The graphic above is a whimsical remake of Twitter’s own by Shanna Banan. Consider though, someone at twitter was tasked with designing a graphic for when the site fails. The devops team then built a page for failure, and have itat the ready, for when there’s an outage, not if. It’s symbolic of the many other things your operations team does behind the scenes in expectation of that fateful day.

As Eric Ries argues, design for failure. Then manage it.

Related: 5 reasons why scalability is a process.

3. Investors, wall street: we’re working on it

What Twitter is really saying is, hey investors, we understand that five nines is extremely difficult, we’re vulnerable in certain ways and want to disclose that.

ReadWrite argues Twitter has not banished the fail whale and is “surprisingly vulnerable”. Readwrite, I ask you… who has? Google? Nope. Facebook? Nope. Not AirBNB or Reddit either.

These are world class firms. They’ve got the deep pockets to do it right, and the engineering talent to match. They still have failures.

Read this: How to hire a developer that doesn’t suck.

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