03Aug

For the first day of my sabbatical, I went to a conference

Posted by Elf Sternberg as personal

I spent much of the first day of my sabbatical at Go Northwest, a conference sponsored by my previous employer, and one for which I already had tickets. It was somewhat informative, although I learned more about JSON Web Tokens and Macaroons (thank you, Tess Rinearson) than I did anything at all about Go, the programming language. Most of the Go-related stuff seemed to be fairly high level and well within my skillset. I did learn a bit about blockchain applications and still remain skeptical that there are any use cases for them that don’t involve trying to hide stuff from government agencies.

One thing that I did pay strong attention to was David Crenshaw, a guy who had done what I did: spent a year not working for anyone, only to start up a whole bunch of passive income opportunities. And one thing he said stuck with me: "Almost all of the solutions being sold today are distributed systems but, except for a small class of business problems, even smaller than you think, nobody needs them. Very few problems exceed the size of a single large instance." (An Amazon "large" is a two-core CPU with 8GB of RAM.) This has often been my experience, too; there’s nothing in the world that needs a fifty-instance fleet.

The only reason to really worry that much about this sort of thing is when you need geographic distribution for either performance or reliability reasons. But geographic distribution and contend delivery networking is a different problem from what most distributed systems are trying to solve. You don’t even need that much observability if your system is fairly small.

I firmly believe Crenshaw’s right, and that the state-of-the-art in medium-sized deployments is being ignored while people chase the Kubernetes money. Google and Amazon have every right and need to do that; they have money and engineering time to burn. The rest of us don’t.

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