The importance of software scalability
Market research, planning, development, and connecting with your audience are all parts of building a business. They require time and energy. During the initial stages, it’s understandable that most companies focus on adopting software that can solve different tasks quickly and efficiently.
But what happens when you hit it big? Practically no one ever prepares you for that. Suddenly, your company becomes popular and you need to service more and more customers. This also means you have to expand your internal operations to cater for the new demand. Doing that might drive you to analyze the software you embraced during those first stages of business. Are your systems ready to accommodate all new clients and users?
The question above is all about your software’s scalability. You might have scalable software right from the start, so the scenario I’ve described above may not have an impact on you. But if you don’t have those kinds of systems, then you might have to double-check the scalability of your existing software to see how you can improve it.
What is software scalability?
Software scalability is best defined as any system’s ability to handle varying workloads. This applies not only to apps but also networks, algorithms, protocols, and a large etcetera. I’ve mentioned a sudden influx of new users but scalability can also work the other way. An app may have a seasonal nature, with high activity during the summer, and low engagement in the colder months.
The system needs to be able to handle both scenarios. A scalable app will remain efficient no matter the amount of data it has to process. This isn’t just about bandwidth. It also applies to adding new features and functionalities. After all, integrating something as basic as chat customer support shouldn’t require a total overhaul.
All the different dimensions
While scalability might feel like a one-definition term, the reality is that there are different dimensions of software scalability. These are:
1)Scalability of performance — The software’s ability to maintain consistent performance levels as the workload or user base increases over time This one doesn’t scale linearly. If you need it to support more users, you’ll need to add capacity.
2) Scalability of availability — The system’s ability to remain available and accessible to users even under increasing loads or adverse conditions.Here, it’s crucial to strike a balance between consistency, availability, and partition tolerance.
3) Scalability of maintenance — The software’s ability to be easily maintained and updated as it grows in size and complexity over time.
4) Scalability of expenditure — The solution’s ability to manage costs and resources efficiently as it grows in size and complexity over time. Sometimes, using ready-made market-leading components could be the most affordable option.
Building with scalability in mind
There are two possible scenarios when you should be thinking about scalability. The first and most important one is when you’re building (or integrating) new software. You should always try to implement software that’s scalable by default. So, either you pick one of the off-the-shelf alternatives that has good scalability or you build one keeping an eye on scalability.
Picking the correct architectural pattern
There are plenty of general, reusable solutions to commonly occurring problems in the world of coding. They’re called architecture patterns and each will have different operational logic.
In creating scalable software, the most common approaches are the layered (in-tier) where data flows from database to data task, and event-driven, where one agent distributes input data to different modules. Microservice is another popular option in which services run independently. Microkernel, on the other hand, takes care of repetitive operations. Finally, the space-based approach stores shards of databases across various servers.
Whichever you choose, remember that it’s essential to avoid a single point of failure (SPOF). Don’t let one component stop the entire system. Eliminate such weak spots and split architecture into smaller parts for the sake of consistency and continuity.
The cloud-native approach
A one-size-fits-all approach will likely never be possible in software development. However, one solution seems to serve many different businesses. It’s an amalgamation of microservices architecture and cloud hosting.
We’re talking about the cloud-native approach.
It involves domain-driven decomposition strategy (DDD) and continuous delivery and continuous integration (CI/CD) pipelines. This makes it flexible, yet resilient. What’s more, it allows developers to rely on other cloud-based products — leveraging pre-baked images, developer tools, and databases. The cloud-native approach minimizes startup time and can also cut costs.
Scaling low-performance systems
The scalability of the systems you use can fail you at any time. Maybe you built software that didn’t account for massive growth, so they can’t properly scale in the way you need them to. Perhaps you embraced software that hit a scalability ceiling after some time. What I’m saying is that There are moments when you’ll be forced to take a look at software you’ve been using for years to see how you can improve its scalability.
When? There will be signs. For instance, your system might become sluggish when users start to increase. Maybe some functionality crashes when multiple people are using it. Or perhaps you notice that you have to pay a lot more when scaling up.
All of these are signs that you need to check your system’s scalability to work on it.
Performing the initial analysis
Naturally, the whole process requires some preparation. The initial analysis or scalability testing will let you assess your existing software. To put it bluntly, you’ll need to overload it and see how it behaves. Do structural changes affect its ability to perform its tasks? Establish relevant performance criteria and track the metrics.
Common attributes you should pay attention to are:
- Response time — How quickly does your app respond to a user request? Anything longer than 5 seconds hampers the user experience.
- Resource usage — Pay particular attention to memory and network bandwidth.
- Throughput — The ability to process a certain number of requests per time interval.
- Cost — Focus on the price per transaction carried out by the app.
Two types of scalability
By enhancing your software scalability, you’ll be adding resources such as servers, and nodes to tend to your user base. There are two ways to do this.
- Horizontal scalability — Linking multiple hardware or software entities so that they are able to handle large amounts of work. It basically means adding and deleting servers in response to user demand. It’s the more complicated but also the more resilient option.
- Vertical scalability — Refers to the possibility of adding or decreasing the power of existing machines such as memory or central processing units. It’s a simpler but potentially more costly scenario.
Get ready to grow
Software scalability is a necessary feature for potentially limitless growth. That’s because it works for all kinds of companies, from the ones experiencing growth to seasonal businesses that need to constantly scale both up and down. A small food delivery service or medium-sized logistics facility can benefit equally from it. Scalability makes a business ready to seize the opportunity the minute it presents itself.
In addition to improved performance, it can also enable greater data security. With no single point of failure and decentralized cloud computing, it’s more difficult to sabotage and bring down. In the day and age of constant cyber attacks, it’s a brilliant asset to have.