Build Valuable Systems, Better and Faster

ADD Stack [Part-8]

This is the second series describing the ADD: a radically more productive development and delivery environment. The first article is here: Intro and described the truth and lies about developing software. The second article dealt with ‘Testing’. The third dealt with the application stack (Grails and other technologies). The fourth discussed UI alternatives. The fifth added some major aspects to the stack: Semi-Structured Data, Templates, and Dual or Isomorphic scripting. The sixth discussed UI frameworks in a bit more detail and ended with an Angular vs. Ember as a core choice. The seventh went into logging, analytics, and monitoring of the running applications and nodes.

Federation Application Infrastructure

The application stack we have so far:

  • UI (both client and server)
  • Application Server (Grails, Java, potentially scripting engine)
  • Database (Maria or similar)

Is very capable. Using it combined with the ADD ingredients:

  • GitHub – With resource, presence, application, and configuration information repositories
  • EC2 Instances – Running continuously or based on load, and running their ‘part’ plus any dynamic configuration
  • S3 – For resources
  • HipChat – To let everyone know

Makes for a very functional application. The nodes and their applications can talk to each other based on presence. The nodes and their application can keep certain data in-memory (cached). The nodes can launch other nodes to handle load or do certain tasks. An Application Server is a very generic thing and can do pretty much anything.

Standard Federation Components

Doing pretty much anything and everything turns out to be very confusing. For people. Big monoliths of capabilities are basically beyond comprehension. And the bigger the monolith, the harder it falls. The more likely it falls. And even if you have redundant monoliths, the system becomes very painful to maintain and to learn.

So instead of having the one super-capable application server, we can start breaking out some of the responsibilities of the application server into other system components, and then decide whether we need them or not. If we need them, we will be using a very main-stream approach that is redundant, scalable, and easily managed. It needs to ‘fit’ with our application, but it doesn’t have to be similar to the application (e.g. works with Java, written in Erlang, runs on Linux).

The list of standard system components isn’t that long, but it is longer than you need. If you are using all of these, you are likely over-engineering your solution. Try to start weaning yourself off some of this technology.

A partial list of federation components

  • Cache – For rapidly retrieving information that changes slowly or needs to be shared broadly
  • Queue – For getting information from producers (requests) to consumers (workers)
  • Distributed State – For precise and consistent decision-making among several different entities
  • Semistructured Database – For persistently storing data in a faster or more flexible format than the main database
  • SSO (Single Sign-on) – To enable users to get access to various resources without the resources having to authenticate
  • “Chat” – Real-time presence and data communication enabling ‘chat’ and various other capabilities
  • Map-Reduce – Taking large amounts of data and processing it to get answers to questions. Can be real-time or not
  • Forum – Supporting forum capabilities for customers to talk with each other
  • Customer Support – Supporting customer-facing capabilities, including defect and product request tracking
  • SMS / Email / Contact – Ability to send out emails, SMS, surveys, and other customer contact
  • Web Site – A separate web site from the main application
  • Web Content Creator – An ability to enable users to create content within your site (vs. doing it via templating)
  • Payment Processing – Handling the record of credit cards and payment processing
  • Freetext Search – The ability to search documents and similar free text
  • Workers – Special nodes that do work and either go idle or disappear when no work is needed

There are some more (e.g. the BI pipeline), but that is a pretty good list. Especially the ‘Workers’ is a category basically as broad as ‘Application’.

Working through the list, here are some examples:

Sadly, Rumble did use almost all of the above (and more) in some way or another, but that is seriously off-the-chart and incredibly expensive. Yes, it is powerful. No, your users do not care to pay you for that much power.

A company like Wikipedia/Wikimedia looks more like this:


It is good to understand what kinds of system components are out there and be aware that you don’t have to reinvent / recode them when you need them. Each of the above are good products. They do what they should to fill a particular need. And almost all of them are fault-tolerant and scalable, so they can join the rest of the very tolerant ADD stack. Or they are a service and you get what you pay for. If you really need one of them, certainly bring it aboard. It is better than creating a monolith. But if you can do without it, your application and you IT will be easier to understand and maintain.