‘Explain Scalability in 90 sec’
February 22, 2011
A really scary alien holds me hostage and wants to know what this ‘scalability’ thing is. I have 90 sec. I have to give a shot to squeeze 15 years of field lesson intuitively enough in a minute to save humanity. Let’s try –
‘A tiny little ant can carry 30 times its weight. Now, scale the ant proportionally up to the weight of an average human to about 150lbs. It can only carry about 30lbs at that scale, less than half of an average human of same weight.
Systems function fundamentally different at scale. It is never linear and it depends on multiple internal and external factors. In ants case, e.g., the factors range from the anatomy of its leg, curvature of its back, gravity, little sand particle that may have gotten stuck under its belly and be wrongly inflated to 56lbs when it scales up to whether the ant remains motivated to carry heavy things or hit a fast-food place first thing after.
Understanding this multiplicity and non-linearity — really understanding it well — is half of solving scalability. The other half is common-sense, and not trying to steal ‘ant’ patterns when building an ‘owl’ system or vice versa.
Now, oh Honorable Alien, since no one else can replace us humans – please spare us for now.’