The Build

18:51

Things I Do Not Understand: “Web-Scale.”

27 October 2010

What does this mean?

It clearly means something along the lines of, “Can handle lots of transactions per unit time,” but how many?

I mean, WordPress with WP-SuperCache is “web scale” if all that is meant is, “Can be used to implement a high volume site,” but I assume those who are touting something as “web scale” are aiming higher than that.

Anyone care to offer a quantitative definition of this term?

Baron Schwartz at 19:33, 27 October 2010:

It’s something that Facebook and Google have the right to say, and they did, and everyone else thought that sounded impressive, so they are saying it too. Otherwise it has no meaning and cannot be defined.

r at 06:05, 28 October 2010:

It’s an implicit swipe at database engines: these are assumed to be incapable of handling Amazon (for example) connection/transaction load. Thus, coders assert that only their bespoke attempts at writing an engine surrogate will suffice. They’re full of that nasty brown stuff that oozes out of your bottom; a transaction engine has to fulfill the requirements of ACID laid out in, for example, Weikum&Vossen. They ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Some, alas, are willing to cut corners and feel oh so proud. Disaster awaits them.

john at 07:09, 28 October 2010:

In case you haven’t seen it:
Mongo DB is Web Scale:
http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/6995033/

Very funny, and I think responsible for part of the terms current popularity.

There is also one titled mysql-is-a-database, and features Postgresql, but not quite as funny.

Jacob Kaplan-Moss at 07:34, 28 October 2010:

Good question! I took at stab at answering, and it got a bit longer than I wanted to leave in a blog post, so I stuck it over here: http://www.jacobian.org/writing/web-scale/. Interested to hear your thoughts…

Bill Karwin at 09:46, 28 October 2010:

I think the context that’s implied by “web scale” is a web architecture that can handle traffic that increases so quickly that you literally can’t keep up with it by scaling vertically or horizontally with conventional systems.

In other words, the growth rate may be geometric or exponential, but your ability to increase capacity to handle that demand is linear.