Web 1.0 Companies Definitely NEED To Scale

7 12 2005

Jeremy Wright: “Listen up. If your company relies on the web to stay alive, you’d damn well better be using at least some of the following “ladder to high availability”:

Backups, Redundant, Failover, Cluster, Distributed, Grid and finally Mesh.”

logo_home.gifI actually tend to agree with most comments to Jeremy’s post: It’s not so important for Web 2.0 startups to really scale so well, at the beginning.

However, I got bitten today by a particularly nasty failure on part of Trenitalia (sorry, no link here; I don’t want their scalability problems to become even worse), the Italian national railways company. I have been trying all afternoon to reserve a seat on a train to Rome, but their online reservation system is totally non-functioning. I’ve phoned their call center and they said their own terminals are stuck too. They even told me it’s been going like this since yesterday.

I tried going to the station, but the kiosks there display a large, red, “Out of order” message. There was a lot of people standing in queue at the manned counters. Apparently the terminals there are still functioning, or maybe they are distributing hand-written tickets, like in the days of yore.

I was planning to go to Rome next monday, but there’s a strike on that day. The train I was planning to take leaves one hour before the beginning of the strike, and the call center operator told me that he would have been able to reserve me a seat, strike notwithstanding, if only his terminal had worked.

Given that most trains will be suppressed on monday, the planes are of course all sold out. In the end, I thought it safer to leave on tuesday, so I cancelled one night at the hotel, but still I haven’t been able to reserve a train seat for tuesday.

Now, I don’t know whether this is a scalability problem or some kind of catastrophic failure, but given the reliance we’re starting to put into being able to conduct most of our businesses online, this is scary.




5 responses

7 12 2005
Jeremy Wright

… If the only time you need to scale is effectively when you need to scale (ie: when you’re popular), then doesn’t it make sense to have scalability in mind from the beginning?

7 12 2005

Jeremy, to be honest I think most commenters misread your post. It seems clear to me that you aren’t advocating that startups invest huge sums of money at the onset just to achieve five-9s uptime. Neither are most commenters saying that haphazardly putting together features without concern for scalability is fine, as long as it works. I think everybody agrees that you should at least design software so that it is not hopelessly unable to scale, from the beginning.

Anyway, I was just using this thread as a pretext to introduce my small, personal rant. Sorry if this added to the overall confusion :).

8 12 2005
Ian Holsman

Is that a scale issue?
it sounds more like a upgrade gone wrong.

8 12 2005
David Welton

It’s not a technology issue, it’s a people issue.

A really big company like that in Italy is probably so mired in politics that you immediately wonder about how their technology was even selected in the first place, who was selected to implement it, and so on.

You also wonder – will anyone get fired because the system has been down for so long?

14 12 2005
Agylen » On Rails

[…] With respect to the former, I was finally able to book my railway trip to Rome, despite my previously reported problems. I enjoyed traveling by train much more than traveling by plane. It’s true that it takes more time, but when you compare having to wait in line at the check-in counter, at the security control, at the gate, at the plane door, then traveling for one hour in a crammed space and finally having to wait for your luggage, to sitting quite comfortably for four hours, at half the price, the choice is clear. […]

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