Thursday, August 19, 2004

Jon Udell on The Scalability Myth

IT Myth 6: IT doesn't scale: Virtually any technology is scalable, provided you combine the right ingredients and implement them effectively

Here's some quotes:

In the end, scalability isn’t an inherent property of programming languages, application servers, or even databases. It arises from the artful combination of ingredients into an effective solution.

To get a bit off topic, and into my interest in perception, I'll point out that the view he's arguing against, that scalability is an inherent property of things, is another example of people perceiving properties as inherent parts of things. As if a certain application server simply has this property of scalability, regardless of how it is used. What this picture leaves out is that properties are usually context-sensitive, and arise because of the particulars of the given context. For example, colour is not a property that is inherently in an object, but is contextual, as it is dependent upon who the perceiver is - different types of animals have different types of colour perception machinery. The thing is, seeing properties in a context-free fashion is easier to do, and I think you have to learn how to, in general, see them in a context-sensitive fashion.

Formats and protocols that people can read and write enhance scalability along the human axis.

I thought this bit in the article was a bit vague. Scalability of what exactly? The number of varied people that can read and write it? I suppose that would be what he means.


  1. If you haven't (and it sounds like you have), you should read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig. Your statements about properties ring familiar with his discussion of "quality". He is of quite dubious philosophical standing, from what I've heard, but its a good and provocative read nonetheless.

  2. Hey Jim,
    Sounds interesting - I've heard of it before, but I haven't read it. I know quite a few people have commented on properties being contextual... and though my memory is not very good, I remember the book "The Collapse of Chaos" by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen talks quite explicitly (no, I don't mean that type of explicit :-)) on the subject. I hope my argument didn't sound like it was getting metaphysical - because that's pretty much the opposite of what I had intended. That is, I think the view that things simply have certain properties tends to ignore the reality that there are real reasons for why the propertyies exists, and that those reasons can potentially vary in different contexts.