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Why you must scale
Episode 136th May 2020 • Modern Digital Applications with Lee Atchison • Lee Atchison
00:00:00 00:12:51

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We often hear that being able to scale your application is important. But why is it important? Why do we need to be able to suddenly, and without notice, scale our application to handle double, triple, or even ten times the load it is currently experiencing?

Why is scaling important?

In this episode, I am going to talk about four basic reasons. Four reasons why scaling is important to the success of your business.

And then, what is the dynamic cloud?

This is Application Scaling, on Modern Digital Applications.

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The following are links mentioned in this episode, and links to related information:

Why you must scale

We often hear that being able to scale your application is important. But why is it important? Why do we need to be able to suddenly, and without notice, scale our application to handle double, triple, or even ten times the load it is currently experiencing?

Why is scaling important?

There are many reasons why our applications must scale. A growing business need is certainly one important reason. But there are other reasons why architecting your application so it can scale is important for your business.

I am going to talk about four basic reasons. Four reasons why scaling is important to the success of your business.

Reason #1. Support your growing business

This is the first, and the most basic reason why your application has to scale. As your business grows, your application needs grow. But there is more to it than that. There are three aspects of a growing business that impact your application and require it to scale.

First, is the most obvious. As you get more customers, your customer’s make more use of your applications and they need more access to your website. This requires more capacity and more growth for the IT infrastructure for your sites.

But that’s not the only aspect.

As your application itself grows and matures, typically you will add more and more features and capabilities to the application. Each new feature and each new capability means customers will make more use of your application. As each customer uses more of your application, the application itself has to scale. Simply by your business maturing over time, even if the size of your customer base doesn’t grow, the computation needs for your application grow and your application must scale.

And finally, as your business grows and matures, and your application grows and matures, your more complex application will require more engineers to work on the application simultaneously, and they will work on more complex components. Your application might be rearchitected to be service based. It might add additional external dependencies and provisions. You will have to support more deployments and more updates. Your application and your application infrastructure will need to scale to support larger development teams and larger projects.

This means you need more mature processes and procedures to scale the speed at which your larger team can improve your application.

Reason #2. Handle surprise situations

The second reason you need to be able to scale your application is to handle surprise situations and conditions. All businesses have their biggest days. These are the days where traffic is at the heaviest. These are days like Black Friday in retail, or the day of the Super Bowl for companies that advertise during that event, or open enrollment periods, or start of travel season.

But your business may have unexpected business bumps. These are the traffic increases that occur not because of a known big event, but because of an unknown or unexpected event. When an event occurs that is favorable to your business, you need to be ready to handle the increased load that occurs to support the event. If you cannot handle the increased load, you risk losing the new business, and you risk disappointing your existing customers.

Sudden business success can kill you if you can’t scale to meet the need.

Just ask Robinhood Financial.

Robinhood Financial is an investment company that provides investment management services. On Monday, March 2nd, 2020, Robinhood faced a business crisis. They faced a sudden increase in business.

On that day, the United States stock market had a record-breaking day. This record-breaking day resulted in a record number of account signups and customer market transactions. This is good news for a company such as Robinhood.

The problem was that their traffic load was not only high, it was too high.

They needed to be able to respond to a huge spike in traffic to their application. Unfortunately, they were unable to keep up with the sudden demand.

The result was a failure of their systems…and their application.

The Robinhood Financial site was down…for a day and a half. This was during a peak stock market time, a time when their customer’s needed them the most.

As a result, they lost out on a huge amount of easy, new business; and they created hardship and disappointment for many of their existing customers. Potential new customers and existing customers alike, were disappointed. A potential opportunity for huge growth and huge upside for the company…instead turned into a major negative event for the company. An event their founders had to publicly apologize for.

All because they couldn’t scale to handle the surprise traffic load.

To be successful, companies must be able to scale to meet sudden and unexpected traffic demands.

Reason #3. Handle a partial outage

The third reason is a sneaky one. You need to be able scale in order to handle partial application outages. Partial outages can be a big problem for businesses. You have a large application, distributed across the globe in multiple data centers.or availability zones, if you are operating in the cloud.

You spread your application out like this for improved redundancy, availability, accessibility, and resiliency.

But now, one of your data centers goes down. Of course, since you are operating in more data centers, a single data center outage is far more likely. This means more chances for something to go wrong in any one of them.

But when a data center goes down, the traffic that would normally be sent to that data center has to be re-routed to other data centers. This results in a big uptick in traffic to those other data centers.

Can those data centers handle the increased traffic? If not, those data centers could go down as well. The result is your application can fail and become unavailable, due to excessive traffic.

This seems counter intuitive, but your plan to increase availability, just made your application less available.

Your plan for improved redundancy by increasing the number of data centers, actually made your application more fragile.

By increasing the number of data centers you were using, you increased the risk of a data center failure. And your application isn’t able to scale to handle the increased traffic needs of a data center failure. The result is an application melt down. A step to improve availability makes availability worse.

Can your other data centers accept the sudden challenge of handling the additional traffic that is sent to them from a failed data center? Can you respond to this sudden need for scale? You must, or your application is at risk.

Reason #4. Maintain availability

The fourth reason is to maintain availability. As your application gets more complex, it requires more interactions between many different components to work correctly.

If one of those components begins to act sluggishly, it can cause performance issues in downstream services. These downstream performance issues can become worse, and more critical problems can occur, such as transaction timeouts, corruption, data loss, and ultimately, upset customers.

A single service, slowing down for some simple reason, can cascade into a larger problem. And if your application can’t scale, the likelihood of individual components saturating and slowing down becomes a matter of when it will happen, not if if will happen.

Lack of scalability turns into lack of availability.

Lack of availability turns into failed customer expectations.

Failed customer expectations turns into a negative impact on your business.

Scaling is Critical

Scaling is critical to your business success. Whether your business is growing or not, you need to be able to handle the growing and spiky traffic needs of your customers…at anytime…or risk application failure, upset customers, and a business failure.

Scaling isn’t just important, it is a business necessity.

Tech Tapas — Dynamic Cloud

There are two ways that people utilize the cloud...the first is by taking an application that is designed to run anywhere, and run it in an infrastructure that was created in the cloud. This is typically called the static cloud, because you create resources, such as servers, that are long lived and use them to operate the application. The resource usage typically does not change much — or at all — over the long term as the application runs.

The other way is to only allocate the resources you absolutely need, when you need them. Given that it is very easy to allocate and free resources in a cloud — especially a public cloud — it’s relatively easy to build an application that allocates the resources it requires when it requires them, and frees the resources when they are no longer required.

This is called the dynamic cloud.

The dynamic cloud is where the true power of cloud computing exists, and where the true benefits of using the cloud can be unlocked. The ability to only consume the resources you absolutely require at the moment, coupled with the ability to quickly allocate the additional resources you require as your application needs increase — gives you incredible capabilities in building highly scalable applications that can meet your needs no matter the amount of traffic sent to them, yet conserve money when traffic is low.

When you perform a lift-n-shift migration of an application to the cloud, you typically move the application from a static data center to operating in a static cloud. You typically do not take advantage of the dynamic capabilities of cloud computing. Too often such application migrations end up being disappointments, because the application does not run any better in the cloud than it did in your own data center, yet the cloud resources may end up actually costing more money when used statically than equivalent resources in a static data center.

The only way to truly see the advantage of using cloud computing is to utilize the dynamic cloud to build dynamic applications. Then you only consume — and pay for — the resources you require at the time you require them, yet you can increase the resources available to your application very quickly to handle sudden increases in traffic.

Whether you are doing dynamic auto scaling, or using dynamic services such as Amazon DynamoDB, Google Big Table, AWS Lambda, or Azure Functions, using the cloud in a dynamic fashion — using the dynamic cloud — is the key to effectively utilizing the cloud to improve, and hence modernize, your application.

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