Monthly Archives: May 2014

Scalable Internet Architectures: A Review

I just finished reading Theo Schlossnagle’s Scalable Internet Architectures. This book is seven years old, but the concepts in it are still as current and useful as they were when the book was published. If your job is to design, build, run, or manage systems at scale, this book is worth reading. Now, scale ain’t what it used to be – this book won’t provide you step-by-step instructions for building the next Google or Facebook (mostly because it focuses on technology and tools, not on process). In fact, when this book was written Facebook was probably only 10,000 servers or so. But what the book will teach you will get you a good chunk of the way to being able to build a giant.

Here are some of the things I really liked about this book:

  • It uses an actual, real-life example throughout most of the topics. Including real empirical results on various implementations. This is indescribably awesome, and related to the next thing I love about the book:
  • Theo has been there, done that, and learned from it. He exudes competence on stage or in person, and it comes through in the book. There is a bit of a ‘tude, but it’s easy to look past it.
  • The distinction drawn between performance and scalability is one that many fail to grasp. Theo explains it in some detail, including why it matters.
  • Theo is an extraordinary troubleshooter, and he presents troubleshooting concepts in this book with such clarity of exposition that it’s easy to overlook how insightful they are.
  • For a seven-year-old book, I was very surprised to see the explanation of TCP-level HA and loadbalancing without the use of hardware appliances. Back then I certainly wasn’t hip to these mechanisms.
  • Theo (and Circonus) are well-known for their focus on business-level metrics (a focus I think is spot on). His description of this and metrics in general is outstanding.
  • The discussion of RDBMS vs NoSQL (Chapter 10 – The Right Tool for the Job) is the best I’ve read on the topic. (Even though “NoSQL” wasn’t a thing when the book was written). He analyzes his workload in terms of requirements against ACID and then shows you why those semantics aren’t relevant in this case. He then walks you through the NoSQL implementation and shows you the resultant speedup. Awesome. I’ve seen fairly significant platform decisions made with far less thought and data behind them.

What’s in this book isn’t glamorous. But it works. If you want to know how to build scalable and reliable online systems, there’s nothing better than to spend a day with Theo. If you can’t do that, then read this book.