Sunday, February 28, 2010

What is “Scalable”?

You hear it all the time.  Vendors blabber about it.  IT engineers drop the word like sugar packets in a coffee cup.  Business pundits toss it around like a tennis ball on a court.  Scalable.

What is “Scalable”?

In the most basic form it means something can be scaled or grown larger and maintain some proportional characteristic.  For example, growing a business operation from 10 to 1,000 and the output metric grows by the same (or some proportional ratio) factor.

But that’s not entirely accurate.

The problem is that the assumption is always monolithic.  It assumes a system, process or entity is scaled as a whole, in one unit or grouping.  But you can scale in many ways.  It’s impossible to compare one scalar method with another as a whole.  There is no axiom that applies consistently across all scalar methods.

For example, do you grow the business operation by hiring and filling up an office under the existing management framework, or do you split into multiple operations in multiple offices with multiple leadership channels?

Do you add servers to your data center, or do you add more data centers and do you add physical or virtual servers?

Maybe you see the picture here: Monolithic or Hierarchical structural expansion.

Remember, NOTHING scales equally in all ways.  Most things scale best in one way only.

So the next time someone says something is “scalable” or asks “is it scalable”, ask them “in what way?”

Dave’s Rule: Problems scale infinitely, Solution never do.

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