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7 takeaways from Velocity Europe

Taking a look at the current issues affecting the Web operations and performance space.

Editor’s note: The European edition of our Velocity conference wrapped up a few weeks ago, and now that the jet lag has passed I’ve had a chance to reflect on the talks and excellent hallway conversations I had throughout. And while I thoroughly enjoyed all the sessions I introduced, one of the downsides to being a chair is that I can’t attend all the other sessions at the same time. As such, I always look around for excellent dissections of the conference from other people; this summary by Peter Arijs from CoScale closely reflects some of the themes I saw, including a few of the standout talks.

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November in Barcelona was full of action for web and big data practitioners, with the Velocity and Strata-Hadoop conferences and side events such as WebPerfDays and Papis.io. As a startup in the web application monitoring and analytics space, it was the perfect time to get a pulse on the state of the art, and talk to some of our clients and prospects. Below is a summary of personal take-away points from selected Velocity sessions and personal interactions.

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Why the data center needs an operating system

It’s time for applications — not servers — to rule the data center.

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Developers today are building a new class of applications. These applications no longer fit on a single server, but instead run across a fleet of servers in a data center. Examples include analytics frameworks like Apache Hadoop and Apache Spark, message brokers like Apache Kafka, key-value stores like Apache Cassandra, as well as customer-facing applications such as those run by Twitter and Netflix.

These new applications are more than applications, they are distributed systems. Just as it became commonplace for developers to build multithreaded applications for single machines, it’s now becoming commonplace for developers to build distributed systems for data centers.

But it’s difficult for developers to build distributed systems, and it’s difficult for operators to run distributed systems. Why? Because we expose the wrong level of abstraction to both developers and operators: machines. Read more…

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How browsers get to know you in milliseconds

Behind the scenes of a real-time ad auction on the web.

A small technological marvel occurs on almost every visit to a web page. In the seconds that elapse between the user’s click and the display of the page, an ad auction takes place in which hundreds of bidders gather whatever information they can get on the user, determine which ads are likely to be of interest, place bids, and transmit the winning ad to be placed in the page.

How can all that happen in approximately 100 milliseconds? Let’s explore the timeline and find out what goes on behind the scenes in a modern ad auction. Most of the information I have comes from two companies that handle different stages of the auction: the ad exchange AppNexus and the demand side platform Yashi. Both store critical data in an Aerospike database running on flash to achieve sub-second speeds.

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Introducing “A Field Guide to the Distributed Development Stack”

Tools to develop massively distributed applications.

Editor’s Note: At the Velocity Conference in Barcelona we launched “A Field Guide to the Distributed Development Stack.” Early response has been encouraging, with reactions ranging from “If I only had this two years ago” to “I want to give a copy of this to everyone on my team.” Below, Andrew Odewahn explains how the Guide came to be and where it goes from here.


As we developed Atlas, O’Reilly’s next-generation publishing tool, it seemed like every day we were finding interesting new tools in the DevOps space, so I started a “Sticky” for the most interesting-looking tools to explore.

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At first, this worked fine. I was content to simply keep a list, where my only ordering criteria was “Huh, that looks cool. Someday when I have time, I’ll take a look at that,” in the same way you might buy an exercise DVD and then only occasionally pull it out and think “Huh, someday I’ll get to that.” But, as anyone who has watched DevOps for any length of time can tell you, it’s a space bursting with interesting and exciting new tools, so my list and guilt quickly got out of hand.

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Signals from Velocity Europe 2014

From design processes to postmortem complexity, here are key insights from Velocity Europe 2014.

Practitioners and experts from the web operations and performance worlds came together in Barcelona, Spain for Velocity Europe 2014. We’ve gathered highlights and insights from the event below.

Managing performance is like herding cats

Aaron Rudger, senior product marketing manager at Keynote Systems, says bridging the communication gap between IT and the marketing and business sectors is a bit like herding cats. Successful communication requires a narrative that discusses performance in the context of key business metrics, such as user engagement, abandonment, impression count, and revenue.

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The infinite hows

An argument against the Five Whys and an alternative approach you can apply.

Before I begin this post, let me say that this is intended to be a critique of the Five Whys method, not a criticism of the people who are in favor of using it. This critique I present is hardly original; most of this post is inspired by Todd Conklin, Sidney Dekker, and Nancy Leveson.

The concept of post-hoc explanation (or “postmortems” as they’re commonly known) is, at this point, taken hold in the web engineering and operations domain. I’d love to think that the concepts that we’ve taken from the new view on “human error” are becoming more widely known and that people are looking to explore their own narratives through those lenses.

I think that this is good, because my intent has always been (might always be) to help translate concepts from one domain to another. In order to do this effectively, we need to know also what to discard (or at least inspect critically) from those other domains.

The Five Whys is such an approach that I think we should discard.

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