Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I was going to post a comment on Allan Leinwand's post titled Web 2.0 & Death of the Network Engineer on GigaOM, but there were too many already and I didn't feel like reading them all. So I'm writing a quick response over here instead.

The CTO cited in the article knew nothing about the infrastructure details supporting his Web 2.0 venture. I wish him luck, but I think he's on the path to trouble.

The difference between good and great software engineers (or any professional, really) is knowledge of and attention to details. Anyone can write a stored procedure or a C# app, but a great developer's version will be 10% faster and more stable. Over time this can translate into huge savings, especially if that piece of code is run 10,000 times (or in some shops, 10,000 times A DAY).

Infrastructure works similarly. Specified, set up, and maintained properly, a company can squeeze maximum performance and capacity out of its infrastructure. This may not mean much when talking about one $10,000 web server here or there, but let's look at another piece of infrastructure that can make a much bigger difference: database hardware.

Database servers and disks have been by far the most expensive pieces of hardware owned by each team I've worked on, and the most susceptible to underutilization. For example, you can buy a 4-socket quad-core Clovertown server with cycles out the wazoo for under $30k, but if you only put $10k into the disks for it, it's not going to do much. And even if you do put more money into it, you need to know where it's going - will you go with fast, cheap, inflexible SAS storage, a soon-outgrown entry-level SAN like a CX3-10, or a monster DMX3000 but with no budget left over for spindles? Then when you buy it, who's going to have the knowledge to set it up so that it performs properly? If you dump all your DBs on one set of disks, you're potentially giving up a lot of performance, which means you'll have to buy more disks constantly as you scale up your user base.

A CTO who doesn't know these things is bad enough, but one who doesn't care is potentially leading his company into a financial quagmire. If you don't know what you're doing, it's easy to spend millions on infrastructure when you could have spent thousands. And the difference is knowing what you need and knowing how to use it.

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