The Domino Effect

Discussions on scaling are focused on the application, but don’t forget everything else. And I do mean everything.

You played with dominos as a child, I’m sure, or perhaps your children do now. You know what happens when the first domino topples and hits the second and then the third and then… The entire chain topples to the ground. When you play dominos it’s actually cool to watch them topple in interesting patterns. Playing a game of dominos with your infrastructure, however, is not.


Almost every discussion revolving around “scale” are centered on the application. Don’t get me wrong, that’s the right place to start, but there are quite a few other facets of IT and the business that need to be “scale-ready” if you’re anticipating hot and heavy growth. A recent article on dramatic growth delved a bit more deeply into what at first glance may appear to be non-technical, i.e. business, related growth concerns but upon deeper reflection you may see the connection back to technology.

Make sure your third parties are ready to scale - Whoever you are working with, whether it be suppliers for your widget manufacturing or your shipping company who was used to pushing only 100 pieces of product a week, you have to make sure that the third parties you are working with can scale with you. If your suppliers can’t ensure that your widgets ordered during peak sales can be fulfilled in a timely matter, or that your boxes cannot be shipped more than 100 at a time, then you will have massive problems that are outside of your control. Also understand that it’s not that easy just to pick up and find another supplier to support the excess volume that your current supplier cannot manage.

TheNextWeb: Growth Can Kill

Relating this back to technology, if you’re integrated with or rely upon any kind of third-party or hosted service you simply must ask can they handle the anticipated growth? Can they scale out?


One of the great equalizing aspects of the Internet was the ability of smaller suppliers, distributors, and providers to be able to provide and consume services from anyone. This made them more competitive as the costs, previously a barrier to enter the marketplace, were eliminated in terms of the technology required to be a participate in the supply-chain game. While often cost-competitive, reliance on any third-party supplier can be detrimental to the health of an organization. Growth in this case really can kill: the infrastructure, the application, and ultimately the business.

The aforementioned article is talking strictly about the business side of third-parties, but consider when the business side of a third-party supplier is providing services – think payment processing or order-processing – and those services are integrated via technology. It’s an application, somewhere. If it can’t scale, you can’t scale. It’s riding atop an infrastructure, somewhere. Which means if its infrastructure can’t scale, you can’t scale. And if it relies on third-third-party services that can’t scale, well, you get the picture. Ad infinitum.

You might be patting yourself on the back because you don’t rely upon any third-party services but you might want to wait a minute before you do. The least scalable point in your chain might be you, after all.

We focus on scaling out the application but what about the means by which folks find your application in the first place? Yes, you guessed it. What about your DNS infrastructure? Is it ready? It is able to handle the deluge? Or did you leave it running on an old server that’s still running a 100 MB connection to the rest of your network because, well, it ain’t broke.

What about e-mail? Sure you might be able to handle the incoming connections but what about storage? How much capacity is available for storing all that e-mail from satisfied customers? What about the storage for your application? And your infrastructure? Of particular interest might be your logging servers…they’re going to have a lot of traffic to log, right? It’s got to go somewhere…


A complete scalability strategy should be just that: complete. It’s got to be as comprehensive as a disaster recovery or business continuity strategy. It must take into consideration all the myriad points in your infrastructure where an increase in traffic might increase other related and just as significant technology that also must be scaled and ready to go.

Because when the first domino topples, the entire chain is going to go. The sound of dominos toppling is almost pleasant. The sound coming from the data center when the infrastructure topples is, well, not so pleasant.

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Published Aug 02, 2010
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