What if you knew a person who clearly knew an awful lot about large-scale software systems? Someone who earned their way to their knowledge and wisdom by spending days and nights analyzing, measuring and debugging when everyone else had already given up and gone home? Someone considered the “go-to guy” who could always fix things if the system were to encounter a mysterious problem so serious that it resulted in very real revenue loss for the customer for every second of downtime? And what if you could rig up some sort of device to easily tap into the way that person thinks, thereby getting a clear understanding of the rules by which he or she designs, builds, deploys, analyzes, measures, debugs, operates, manages, and upgrades those large-scale systems?
Michael Nygard is such a person, and luckily for the rest of us, he’s already created such a device: his book, entitled Release It! Design and Deploy Production-Ready Software.
Success is a problem we’d like our systems to have. So, we focus our energies on building them as best as we can. Since we tend to focus there, books also tend target only that initial development phase. Most books focus on analysis and design issues, or on the methods and processes for doing analysis, design, implementation, and testing. Sometimes you find a book that focuses on debugging, and some even get into performance and scalability concerns.
But I’ve never seen a book like this one. It addresses the truly hard part of software development, which is running a successful large-scale system in production.
The book is a patterns book, but the patterns it presents are concrete. First, there are patterns and anti-patterns for stability and capacity, intermixed with war stories about real-life large-scale systems that failed hard for reasons that wouldn’t ever occur at smaller scales. Nygard’s war stories bring the patterns and anti-patterns into focus, providing very real reasons for their existence, and hard-won proof that they do indeed work.
Following the patterns, the second half of the book discusses general design issues and operations issues. These parts build on the patterns and focus on gotchas, large and small, that keep small systems from growing into large ones. The general design chapters provide numerous suggestions for eliminating seemingly innocuous mistakes that can kill a system as scale increases. Finally, the operations sections put you in the shoes of the people who have to keep the system running in production, describing what you as a developer can do to make their lives easier (thereby making your own life easier too). Along the way, Nygard keeps us grounded by occasionally presenting more stories and scenarios, some of which include actual dollar figures for the choices and trade-offs made. Engineering always comes down to building the best system possible within the allotted budget, but how many books targeting software developers do you know that talk in concrete terms of costs?
Nygard’s writing style is clear and concise. If you read his book and read his blog, you’ll find the styles to be identical. I’m guessing his book’s copy editor didn’t have a lot of work to do to get this book ready for production.
Bottom line: if you care at all about production software systems, you’ll want to read this book.