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And then you grow by another 50%. If you go the commodity hardware route, you buy another 500 shitty $2000 servers. If you go the big-iron route, you buy another 2 $5,000,000 servers, because server price does not increase linearly with performance. If you're a big site, server vendors know they can charge you through the nose for it, because there are comparatively few hardware vendors that know what they're doing once you get up to that level of performance.

Look, if you're going to make the case that one should buy bigger servers instead of more servers, then this becomes an economic argument. The reason large web-scale companies don't do this is because it outsources one of their core competencies. When they scale horizontally across thousands of commodity machines, then knowledge of their problem domain becomes encoded in the scaling decisions they make and stays internal to the company. When they scale vertically by buying bigger hardware, then they are trading profits in exchange for having someone else worry about the difficulties of building really big, fast supercomputers. It makes life a lot easier for the engineers, but it destroys the company's bargaining position in the marketplace. Instead of having a proprietary competitive advantage, they are now the commodity application provider on top of somebody else's proprietary competitive advantage. If someone wants to compete with them, they buy the same big iron and write a Twitter clone, while if their server vendor wants to raise prices, it has them by the balls since the whole business is built on their architecture.

(I have a strong suspicion that Twitter would not be economically viable on big iron, anyway. They would end up in a situation similar to Pandora, where their existence is predicated on paying large rents to the people whose IP they use to build their business, and yet the advertising revenue coming in is not adequate to satisfy either the business or their suppliers.)




No, you buy another 2 servers at the same price, because performance continues to increase incredibly quickly, and what you got $200,000 2 years ago is now half the speed of what $200,000 gets you.

>When they scale horizontally across thousands of commodity machines, then knowledge of their problem domain becomes encoded in the scaling decisions they make and stays internal to the company.

Or to put it another way: "they create a massive maintenance nightmare for themselves like the one described in the article".

>When they scale vertically by buying bigger hardware, then they are trading profits in exchange for having someone else worry about the difficulties of building really big, fast supercomputers.

You are overestimating the cost of high end servers, or underestimating the cost of low end ones. Again, their existing redis cluster is less RAM, CPU power, and IO throughput than a single, relatively cheap server right now.

>Instead of having a proprietary competitive advantage, they are now the commodity application provider

Twitter is a commodity application provider. People don't use twitter because of how twitter made a mess of their back end. People don't care at all about the back end, it doesn't matter at all how they architect things from the users perspective.

>while if their server vendor wants to raise prices, it has them by the balls since the whole business is built on their architecture.

What do you think servers are? They aren't some magical dungeon that traps people who buy them. If oracle wants to fuck you, go talk to IBM. If IBM wants to fuck you, go talk to fujitsu, etc, etc.

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When two of your 2,000 servers die, your load balancers etc kick in and route around the problem.

When two of your two servers die, you ... um, well, you lose money and reputation. Quickly.

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If you buy $1 million servers, a whole lot of things needs to go bad in whole lots of ways that would likely take own large numbers of those 2,000 servers too. I'm not so sure I agree with the notion of going for those big servers myself, but having had mid range servers from a couple of the big-iron vendors in house, here's a few of the things you can expect once you tack a couple of extra digits on the server bill:

- Servers that phone home; sometimes the first you know of a potential problem is engineers at your door come to service your server.

- Hot swappable RAID'ed RAM.

- Hot swappable CPU's, with spares, and OS support for moving threads of CPU's that are showing risk factors for failure.

- Hot swappable storage where not just the disks are hot swappable, but whole disk bays, and even trays of hot swappable RAID controllers etc.

- Redundant fibre channel connections to those raid controllers from the rest of the system.

- Redundant network interfaces and power supplies (of course, even relatively entry level servers offers that these days).

In reality, once you go truly high end, you're talking about multiple racks full of kit that effectively does a lot of the redundancy we tend to try to engineer into software solutions either at the hardware level, or abstracted from you in software layers your application won't normally see (e.g. a typical high end IBM system will set aside a substantial percentage of CPU's as spares and/or for various offload and management purposes; IBM's "classic" "Shark" storage system used two highly redundant AIX servers as "just" storage controllers hidden behind SCSI or Fibre Channel interfaces, for example).

You don't get some server where a single component failure somewhere takes it down. Some of these vendors have decades of designing out single points of failure in their high end equipment.

Some of these systems have enough redundancy that you could probably fire a shotgun into a rack and still have decent odds that the server survives with "just" reduced capacity until your manufacturers engineers show up and asks you awkward questions about what you were up to.

In general you're better off looking at many of those systems as highly integrated clusters rather than individual servers, though some fairly high end systems actually offer "single system image" clustering (that is, your monster of a machine will still look like a single server from the application point of view even in the cases where the hardware looks more like a cluster, though it may have some unusual characteristics such as different access speeds to different parts of memory).

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