Scalability in Software Development: A 101 Guide for Businesses
Almost every successful business needs scalable software. It doesn't matter if you run a small online food delivery company or a large logistics facility, your software needs to grow with your company. However, it's not always clear what exactly software scalability means, nor how to achieve it. Many dedicated articles are crammed with information only developers would understand and after reading dozens of blog posts, you're still at square one.
The best way to get highly performant, scalable software is to entrust the task to a company like MadAppGang that will take care of all the work. But even with expert developers on the job, it’s still helpful to know the basics of software scalability. At the very least, you need to outline what you need to the developers.
To help you and our customers understand scalability in software development, MadAppGang has put together this 101 guide for businesses. In this article we'll explore the meaning of scalability, what factors affect it, and how to effectively achieve scalable software. Scalability is a keyword, so let's define it first and see what types of scalability exist.
What is scalability?
In software, scalability means a system’s ability to handle varying workloads as the needs of your business change. A scalable app is an app that remains productive whether it’s handling a lot of traffic, users, and data or a little. It doesn't matter whether you're adding a new functionality or handling a sudden surge in user requests, a scalable app should cope with all kinds of situations.
Sounds good, right? So how do you achieve scalability in software development?
You design an app that allows you to easily add resources (servers, nodes, and so on) as and when needed. When everything is built correctly, system crashes won't ruin your sales campaign or halt the work of several departments for hours or even days. On the contrary, your software will provide resources to expand your audience, customer base, and help you avoid issues such as reduced performance, poor user experience, downtime, and even lower Google rankings.
There are two types of software scalability:
- Horizontal – In this case, multiple hardware or software entities are linked together to handle increasingly large amounts of work. It usually means that the company adds or deletes servers in response to workloads.
- Vertical – This type of scaling refers to a possibility to add or decrease power (for instance, memory or central processing units) of the existing machines.
Building and managing horizontal scaling architectures is generally more complicated. Nevertheless, it's the most popular choice for fast-growth applications since it's more resilient. If a server dies, another one can automatically step in and take its place. However, vertical scaling can be a suitable option for small and medium-sized companies as it's less complex and cheaper.
Factors to consider to build a scalable solution
Creating a resilient and scalable application is a complex process. The proper way to deal with technology planning is to entrust this task to an experienced team of developers. Nonetheless, for an entrepreneur, knowing the key elements of building an app is useful. Let's take a look at those elements now:
It's possible to scale a monolithic application. But microservices is a more appropriate architectural approach for scalability. Systems built with monolithic architecture can only be scaled holistically, which is inefficient and expensive. Then, as apps grow, their codebases become increasingly complex and difficult to comprehend. The integrated development environment becomes overloaded, resulting in a slower startup time for such apps.
Very often, when scaling a monolithic app is inefficient, companies shift to a microservices structure. Microservices-based software consists of a number of independent components with their own tech stack. This construction allows you to scale any service separately according to the current situation and requirements. Furthermore, the microservices architecture gives you the freedom to make changes and control the application at any time, with no downtime.
Today, choosing a tech stack is easier than ten-twelve years ago. Today, almost all modern frameworks, databases, and programming languages support scalability to some degree. Some technologies, though, are more valuable in certain cases. Golang, for example, might be the best choice of a programming language due to its high readability, performance, and concurrency capabilities.
When we’re talking about scalability in software development, it's more important to focus on the quality of the code. While the app's design is most likely to impact scalability, clear and readable code is still essential. You should be able to easily update your code to meet evolving requirements. The fewer lines your codebase has, the more scalable it is. This also refers to repeating parts. The code should be re-used, not duplicated.
The choice of hosting has a greater impact on scaling than the choice of the stack. Hosting refers to the computing sources and services you use for app development and management — to put it simply, it's all about where your app lives. Generally, you have two options:
On-premises hosting – A business uses its own computers and servers to store and run software. This type of hosting is less flexible and more expensive, but for some businesses in highly regulated industries it’s a wise choice. On-premises hosting may provide better security and control over servers and backups in some cases, but it may significantly limit scalability.
Cloud hosting – A business uses third-party services. Having software housed off-site means it’s monitored and maintained by the hosting supplier, which eliminates the need for an in-house team and the purchase of extra hardware. Plus, a cloud offers unlimited scalability since you aren't held back by bandwidth, storage, or the computing power of on-site servers.
Cloud vs on-premise cost comparison. Source: Microsoft
Cloud-native for maximum scalability
Based on the above, it may seem that microservices architecture and cloud hosting are all you need for scalability. However, these are just two parts of something bigger: a cloud-native approach. At MadAppGang, we always recommend cloud-native for projects that need infinite scalability, flexibility, and resilience.
Advantages of the cloud-native approach. Source: Medium
Cloud-native refers more to the way software is developed and deployed than to its location. A specific approach to designing and delivering software, a cloud-native approach involves microservices, automation, a domain driven decomposition strategy (DDD), the use of stateless applications, and a Continuous Delivery and Continuous Integration (CI/CD) pipeline.
A cloud-native approach also means that you can profit from all the benefits of the cloud. Take advantage of managed services from big cloud vendors to handle microservice orchestration, back-end software management, and much more. Besides, there are a range of other cloud-based products — pre-baked images, databases, developer tools, and more — that minimise startup time and handle increasing loads.
Even with large and complex projects, such as an app for Evergen, an Australian energy services company, this approach works perfectly. As part of our work with Evergen, MadAppGang developed an Android and iOS app, and a web portal that collects telemetry and manages green energy resources efficiently.
A cloud-native approach enabled us to make the app scalable with minimal effort, which as needed as Evergen expects a tenfold increase in customers over the next two years.
Scalability in software development refers to designing solutions that continue to function efficiently with a growing number of users. For businesses, this means that regardless of how big your business gets, the software can handle increased users, customers, or requests.
Architecture patterns provide diverse options for scaling. If, however, you need almost infinite scalability and flexibility, opt for a cloud-native approach.
A cloud-native approach is the most efficient and fastest way to build a scalable solution. And, in the long run, it's also cost-effective. Due to the high level of automation and the managed services provided by cloud vendors, you can manage your software with a smaller team. You can respond to growing traffic instantly and without difficulty. A new feature, update, or a service fix doesn't affect the entire app, so there’s no downtime. You also have the flexibility to scale down if needed. In such cases, you just use fewer services during peak hours and pay lower hosting fees.
However complicated the process may seem, the outcome is worth it. Besides, if you entrust your project to MadAppGang, we'll make sure that everything goes smoothly. Our team consists of experienced specialists who know how to organise the task so you get scalable software solutions in record time. Call us today and let's chat about how MadAppGang and the cloud-native approach can help your business grow and prosper.