Sunday, May 10, 2015

Web-scale: I do not think it means what you think it means!

When I blogged about transactions recently one of the comments referenced "web-scale" and how application servers aren't well suited for web-scale distributed applications. I'm going to write something specific about this later but it got me to thinking: what does that actually mean? To paraphrase Inigo Montoya "You keep using that term, I do not think it means what you think it means." Many people and groups use the term but there really isn't a common (agreed) definition. It's a cop out to claim that we don't need such a definition because everyone who is sufficiently "in the know" will "know it when they see it".

The web has been around now for a long time. Over the years it has grown considerably and yet many sites back in the late 1990's would not be considered "web-scale" today. But back then they almost certainly were. Despite what many people may suggest today, sites then and now got by well using "traditional" (or dated?) technologies such as relational databases, CORBA, probably even COBOL! Coping will millions of requests, terabytes of data etc.

It's only fair that our definition of "web-scale" should change over time in much the same way as our definition of things like "personal transport" change from "horse" to "car", or even "jet pack". But we don't even have a definition of "web-scale" that we can all get behind and then evolve. It's subjective and therefore fairly useless as a way of signifying whether anything is or is not suitable for the kinds of applications or services people develop for the web. Ideally we'd fix this before anyone (person, group, company) used the term again, but I doubt that'll happen.

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