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Scale and scalability. Junior discovers that it ain’t Jane Austen!

Scale and scalability. Junior discovers that it ain’t Jane Austen!

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Scale and scalability. Junior discovers that it ain’t Jane Austen!
Posted: Thursday, October 08, 2015

Only a couple of years ago I wrote about Proofs of Concepts and how they helped deployment and scalability. It’s worth repeating: To meet the multi-platform, multi-format requirements of a media business today, we need complex, largely automated workflows. And it makes sense to try them out first, in one part of the organization.

At IBC this year, however, I was told, more than once: “There isn’t budget for a Proof of Concept, because the margins are too slim.” So I thought I’d teach Junior a little about scalability to see if a child can help us with any ideas for getting hard things to work before you spend too much money.

Dad glared. Junior swallowed. Dad took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly and calmly.

“No Junior,” he said. “Scale refers to the size of things. Small scale is when you build little things and big scale is when you build big things.”
“Like LEGO?” proffered Junior with a confidence that he didn’t feel.
“Exactly!” exclaimed Dad beaming with pride.  “LEGO blocks are a bunch of similar components that you can use to build something small, and then you can build something bigger with the same components! LEGO blocks are a system that scales well.”
“Or like baking a cake?” Junior offered, now with a reinstated confidence.
“No,” replied Dad racking his brains to figure out why it didn’t work for cake. “A big LEGO model holds together just as well as a little one. But a HUGE cake has to be baked in a special way and in a special oven. As the cake gets bigger you have to do different things. Baking a cake doesn’t scale well.”

Poor Junior looked deflated. “I suppose the internet doesn’t scale – there’s only one internet.”
Dad brightened. The internet was safe territory. “Actually Junior, the internet scales very well. There have been lots of times in history where it broke, but clever people have found ways to fix it. One of the more modern techniques involves the Cloud and virtualization.”
Junior looked at Dad the way a hedgehog looks at a high speed truck at night.

“Imagine I wrote a special program that pretended to be a physical computer. It would do everything required so that my program looked just like a real computer,” said Dad.
“Soooo…” began Junior, “A computer running Windows will run a program that pretends to be a computer so that it can run Windows?”

“Exactly!” said Dad. “That’s called inception virtualization. Now I can take my new super-duper powerful physical computer and create four virtual computers that each run Windows. An example of this is Virtual Box. Now I find that the programs inside the physical computers are a bit wild and tend to crash each other if I don’t try and manage them. I can create a new special program that puts other programs in a container to keep them from harming each other – a bit like a force field.”

“Like Magneto in X-Men?” asked Junior.
“Exactly!” said Dad. “His force field lets sound and light pass through but not bullets or pennies or … metal stuff. A software container does the same. It lets some internet data and some protocols through but noteverything. An example of this is Docker. It allows us to use the physical computer much more efficiently. Now that our programs run nicely, we have to cope when something goes wrong. For example, if the computer is running our database, it would be nice if we automatically created another copy of that data on a different physical computer that might even be in a different country. An example of such a database is couchDB.”
“So, it’s just like mummy remembering every little thing that you do?” asked Junior quizzically.
Dad did not respond.

“This kind of good structure and good behavior now means that you can make many copies of your software on computers that someone else owns if you have a software program to manage the copying and configuration – like the program called Puppet.”
“So you can make your software dance and sing?” asked Junior.
Dad beamed with pride. “That’s exactly what I can do,” he replied, taking the compliment a bit too literally. “There are lots of tools out there to make life easier when you are making your own ‘cloudy’ system. You don’t HAVE to use the tools provided by companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google. You can even put some of those common controls into a workflow controller like the one made by Daddy’s company so that non-geeks can make the programs sing too!”

“That’s great!” said Junior. “Can we watch the movie now?”
“Which one?”
“The one that makes Mummy cry!”
It was now Dad’s turn to behave like a hedgehog in the night. “Daddy has to watch a YouTube so that he can help more people understand all the words that people use when talking about the Cloud.”
“I’ll go get Mummy then!” Junior yelped as he scuttled for the door.
Dad watched him go the way a hedgehog watches receding red tail lights.

Posted by Bruce Devlin

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