Posts Tagged 'Scalability'

August 28, 2008

The Speed of Light is Your Enemy

One of my favorite sites is highscalability.com. As someone with an engineering background, reading about the ways other people solve a variety of problems is really quite interesting.

A recent article talks about the impact of latency on web site viewers. It sounds like common sense that the slower a site is, the more viewers you lose, but what is amazing is that even a latency measured in milliseconds can cost a web site viewers.

The article focuses mainly on application specific solutions to latency, and briefly mentions how to deliver static content like images, videos, documents, etc. There are a couple ways to solve the static content delivery problem such as making your web server as efficient as you can. But that can only help so much. Physics - the speed of light - starts to be your enemy. If you are truly worried about shaving milliseconds off your content delivery time, you have to get your content closer to your viewers.

You can do this yourself by getting servers in datacenters in multiple sites in different geographic locations. This isn't the easiest solution for everyone but does have its advantages such as keeping you in absolute control of your content. The much easier option is to use a CDN (Content Delivery Network).

CDNs are getting more popular and the price is dropping rapidly. Akamai isn't the only game in town anymore and you don't have to pay dollars per GB of traffic or sign a contract with a large commit for a multi-year time frame. CDN traffic costs can be very competitive costing only a few pennies more per Gb compared with traffic costs from a shared or dedicated server. Plus, CDNs optimize their servers for delivering content quickly.

Just to throw some math into the discussion let's see how long it would take an electron to go from New York to San Francisco (4,125,910 meters / 299,792,458 meters per second = 13.7 milliseconds). 13.7 millisconds one way, now double that for the request to go there and the response to return. Now we are up to 27.4 milliseconds. And that is assuming a straight shot with no routers slowing things down. Let's look at Melbourne to London. (16,891,360 meters / 299,792,458 meters per second = 56.3 milliseconds). Now double that, throw in some router overhead and you can see that the delays are starting to be noticeable.

The moral of the story is that for most everybody, distributing static content geographically using a CDN is the right thing to do. That problem has been solved. The harder problem is how to get your application running as efficiently as possible. I'll leave that topic for another time.

-@nday91

January 25, 2008

Virtualized Virtualization

For the past several months, we have been struggling with how to implement virtualization in a hosting environment. Xen, VMWare, Virtuozzo, Parrallels, and Virtual Iron just to name a few. As many of you know, the software world courts the enterprise and the hosting world is left to shove the square peg into a round hole. Once again, these software packages have been designed for one company with many servers versus one company with many clients with many servers.

The most shocking reality about virtualization is the lack of scalability. Now, before you call quack shack to have my head examined – hear me out. All (and I mean all) of the virtualization products on the market scale extremely well to a couple hundred physical servers (lets call it 200). These technologies were designed to be used in companies that have relatively small subsets of physical servers (yes…I think 200 is small) managed through a centralized console. The idea is – those 200 servers should be utilized more efficiently thereby creating 400 to 2000 virtual machines. This model works great in companies that only have the need for one or two mass “virtual deployments.”

Now, fast forward to SoftLayer where we have already virtualized every aspect of the datacenter and we manage over 12,000 servers. Let’s run through the high points of virtualization - Rapid deployment – we got that. Asset tracking – yip, been there done that. Network management – baked and done. Add services on-the-fly – is there any other way? Complete control – piece of cake. Eliminate inefficiencies – have you seen our offerings? In essence, SoftLayer has abstracted the physical layer from the datacenter and left our customers with a complete virtualized datacenter environment. So, the questions remains – how do we virtualize the virtualized?

-@lavosby

January 8, 2008

Are Your Leaders Scalable?

Over the last two years, SoftLayer has grown from nothing to over 10,000 servers and by the end of this year could surpass 30,000 servers if growth continues on its current track. A key component in managing this growth is finding leaders with the ability to scale as the company grows. More often than not, entrepreneurs are good at starting businesses but not good at growing them. In that vein, if you are the leader of a startup, what traits does your management team needs to have if one is to build the biggest, baddest and most valuable company in an industry?

Battle wounds: We all have read the stories about Bill Gates quitting Harvard to start Microsoft, Michael Dell selling servers out of his dorm room, and Larry and Sergey leaving Stanford to start Google. It is very rare that someone can come out of college and start something that becomes the dominant player in an industry. The majority are an amalgamation of our experiences of years of operating any one of a number of businesses. Look for the managers with some scars. Even the aforementioned entrepreneurs are pretty much battle tested by now.

Visionary: As fast as SoftLayer is growing, we better have a pretty good vision of where we are going so we don't run this Porsche off a cliff and into an abyss. We have seen many potential customer IT managers come to us in a panic upon their sudden realization that no more servers can be added to their datacenter because of inadequate planning for power and cooling. And I am not just picking on IT; this applies to the finance function as well. As the CFO, I have to have a vision for what my organization is going to look like all along the way, from the startup phase to an IPO, merger or acquisition or whatever other path this journey takes us.

Communication skills: Today's CFO must be more technically proficient than his predecessors; however, this does not negate for the financial or any other executive to be able to communicate not only with company staff, but customers, vendors, bankers and shareholders as well. As discussed in other blogs, the internet has given all of us the ability to communicate in so many different ways than in the past. The challenge of any manager is to figure out which method of communication is the most effective in a given situation to get the job done and keep the organization moving forward.

Je ne sais quoi: It's a French phrase we as Americans have used over the years to refer to a certain quality someone has that cannot be explained. A good manager has to have this “Presence”. While the internet and email and all forms electronic communication have made the world smaller, to have an impact a leader still needs to be out communicating, listening and understanding to keep the team on the right track. The leader who sits in his office all day can review a lot of data but needs to get out to find what is really going on inside a company. The “Ivory Tower” manager is doomed to failure in today's fast paced business environment.

Rock in times of adversity: For all of us who have participated in startups (and I have done four now), there are going to be tough times. You can count on that. How you react in those situations sends a message about your ability to lead to your staff. As a leader, you have to be the go-to person in tough times. Are you prepared to handle the adversity?

The team: Much like a professional hockey team (I would use football but my son plays hockey and this is my blog), you can't do it all alone. From the general manager on down, the owner/president of a team has to have the ability to attract top notch staff to who he can delegate the work of moving the organization toward the ultimate prize in hockey, The Stanley Cup. If he can't and tries to keeps all the work for himself, he will find himself on the outside looking in.

Do we have the team to scale? So far it appears that we do. Are we going to have to add additional leadership along the way for us to achieve our goals? Absolutely. We have just added a Chief Strategy Officer to the executive management team.

We continue to be confident our management team can provide the leadership needed to grow SoftLayer into an industry leader.

Are you as confident in your team?

- Mike Jones (Who?)

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