How To Scale a Software Product?
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Wondering how to scale your software product?
You have come to the right place.
Scaling a product in the right way will ensure that it retains all its previous performance and reliability levels that your users have come to expect as part of your brand.
What does it mean to scale a product?
Let’s cover a few basics first and let’s understand what software scalability is. Many people often use software scalability interchangeably with performance, however, that’s not quite correct.
While the performance of a software system refers to how quickly it can respond to requests, scalability focuses on the volume. The key question to measure scalability is how many requests a software system handles simultaneously.
In other words, scalability is the ability of a software system to grow and manage greater demands. Read “Scalability” for more insights.
The importance of software scalability
Businesses might overlook the importance of scalability during their initial years since they focus on delivering the key functionalities accurately. During these years, they also focus on the performance of their software products.
They see the importance of scalability when they focus on growth. Their software applications will need to manage a growing number of users when they grow, moreover, the applications will need to deal with an increase in the volume of data.
A lack of software scalability creates bottlenecks at this stage, and the importance of scalability becomes apparent. Read “The importance of scalability” for more insights.
The various types of software scaling
There are two types of software scaling, and they differ in how you implement them. These two types are as follows:
- Vertical scaling: In this case, you have found out that your server isn’t scaling as desired, therefore, you add more resources to it. E.g., you could add more RAM or CPU. As you can see, there is a limitation since you can’t keep adding resources to one server beyond a point.
- Horizontal scaling: Horizontal scaling involves distributing your workloads among multiple servers. Naturally, you need the right computing infrastructure for this since you will add physical machines.
Vertical scaling is suitable when you know how much more workload your software needs to address. On the other hand, horizontal scaling helps when you don’t know the workload the software will need to handle in the future. Read “What types of scalability are usually referred to in software engineering?” to learn more.
The different dimensions of software scalability
Software scalability has many dimensions, and you need to factor them in while designing your software for scalability. These dimensions are as follows:
- Scalability of performance: You need high performance to support more users, and adding more capacity can help to improve the performance of the software. However, this is subject to limits since performance doesn’t scale linearly.
- Scalability of availability: You need to weigh between consistency, availability, and partition tolerance when designing a scalable system. A system with strong consistency lets users read the most recent updates immediately, however, this impacts the other two. You might need to settle for eventual consistency, i.e., users will eventually see all the updates, although with a minor time lag.
- Scalability of maintenance: Software and their IT infrastructure need regular maintenance, which is a key consideration while designing scalable systems.
- Scalability of expenditure: Building everything by yourselves offers many customization options, however, it increases both the digital product development process and maintenance costs. Using available market-leading components may give fewer customization options, however, they cost less. It’s easier to find people to support such components, which reduces your maintenance costs.
Read more about these dimensions in “Scalability design principles”.
How do you scale your software product?
Let’s now consider the various principles for scaling your software product. These are as follows:
1. Avoid a “Single Point of Failure” (SPOF)
A “Single Point of Failure” (SPOF) is a hardware or software component in a system whose failure makes the entire system unavailable to its users. There are various categories of SPOFs, e.g.:
- Hardware failures like server crashes;
- Software failures;
- Database corruptions.
Are you wondering why we are talking about SPOFs in a guide about scalability? Well, the reason is simple; you can’t scale anything unless you can split it!
As a first step towards designing a scalable software product, mitigate SPOFs. You can do so by introducing redundancy in your system, which can be hardware redundancy, software redundancy, or a combination of both. Read “Availability and Single Points of Failure”.
Note that introducing redundancy increases your initial costs since you must provide for redundancy. However, you will be able to take advantage of it later when you need to scale up, furthermore, it has obvious benefits for availability and performance.
2. Scale horizontally instead of scaling vertically
Scaling vertically, which is also called “scaling up”, has its advantages. However, this limits your growth since you can only add so many resources to one server!
Horizontal scaling, i.e., “scaling out” doesn’t impose such limits. You have a higher initial cost, however, the benefits are many, e.g.:
- The availability of your system increases.
- You don’t need to worry about hardware capacity.
The advent of managed cloud services has made horizontal scaling easier. Using such managed cloud services can help with horizontal scaling in the following ways:
- Your cost will be directly tied to resource usage, and you won’t need to pay for peak demand always.
- Cloud providers offer built-in redundancy.
- You can estimate your IT infrastructure costs effectively.
Read “Horizontal vs. vertical scaling: Which is right for your app?” for more insights on why you should use horizontal scaling.
3. Use the right architecture pattern
Your choice of architecture pattern greatly influences the scalability of your app. The nature of the software will determine the choice of the architecture pattern, however, the following are a few popular patterns:
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- Layered (n-tier) architecture: This pattern has many layers, and the data enters the topmost layer. The data flows through different layers with their tasks. The innermost layer is the database layer.
- Event-driven architecture: Here, one central agent accepts the input data and directs it to different modules with their specific tasks.
- Microservices architecture: This is suitable if you have multiple services that are completely independent of each other. In this pattern, you can run these different services from different servers and scale them according to the demand for them. I have explained this pattern in “10 best practices for building a microservice architecture”.
- Microkernel architecture: This is suitable for high-usage tools that have a common set of tasks that are executed repeatedly. This architecture uses a microkernel that stores these repetitive business operations.
- Space-based architecture: This pattern is suitable when the load is high on the database. In the case of the space-based architecture pattern, the processing logic accesses different horizontal shards of the database, which are on different servers.
You can read our guide “Large enterprise Java projects architecture” for more insights.
4. Identify the metrics to track scalability
In the ultimate analysis, the scalability of your software will impact its performance. You can measure appropriate metrics to judge whether your app scales well, and these metrics are the following:
- Memory utilization;
- CPU usage;
- Network I/O;
- Disk I/O.
Read “8 key application performance metrics & how to measure them” to learn more about these metrics.
You need to use appropriate application performance monitoring (APM) tools to measure the above metrics. There are several such tools in the market, e.g., Traceview, New Relic, AppDynamics, Dynatrace, etc. You can read about such tools in “10 best APM tools (application performance monitoring tools)”.
5. Use cloud computing smartly
I have already explained how cloud computing can help to scale your software horizontally, and here I will elaborate on how various cloud computing models matter to you. Managed cloud services providers like AWS make it easy for you to add computing capacity.
There are various cloud computing models, as explained in “SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS: What’s the difference and how to choose”. Depending on your requirement, you can use either of the following:
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): Here, the managed cloud services provider offers cloud computing infrastructure, which includes servers, networking, operating systems, and storage.
- Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): PaaS platforms go a step further and they offer middleware and runtime environments. They also enable you to integrate APIs easily, moreover, you can add services like databases easily. Reputed PaaS platforms like AWS Elastic Beanstalk offer robust DevOps, APM, and auto-scaling solutions. I have explained the advantages of PaaS platforms in “10 top PaaS providers”.
Additionally, there are managed cloud services platforms that manage the mobile backend, and these are known as “Mobile Backend as a Service” (MBaaS) platforms. MBaaS platforms manage the cloud infrastructure and persistent storage, therefore, developers don’t need to focus on the mobile backend.
MBaaS platforms enable you to integrate APIs, moreover, they help you to scale your mobile app. Read our guide “How to choose the best Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS)?” to understand the advantages of MBaaS platforms.
6. Push workload to clients and use APIs
You will likely have many more clients than servers while designing your application. If you can push work to clients, then you will need to send fewer responses to them. This helps to scale your software.
While APIs can help to improve scalability, you need to design them carefully. APIs are accessed over the Internet and they are vulnerable to key application security risks, as explained in “Advantages and disadvantages of API for business”.
Proactively mitigate API security risks by taking the following steps:
- Use authentication tokens;
- Use digital signatures;
- Utilize industry-standard encryption algorithms like AES-256;
- Use techniques like quotas, throttling, and secure gateways.
Our guide “How to build RESTful API for your mobile app?” can help to design and develop secure APIs.
7. Use caching to improve scalability
Caching is a form of storage where applications store pre-computed results. It’s a high-speed layer of data storage that stores transient data, which helps to respond faster to future requests for the same data.
Caching requires less time to return pre-computed data than returning that data from its primary storage location. It uses fast-access hardware like RAM.
In addition to helping with performance, caching helps to improve scalability. Read more about it in “Caching overview”.
8. Use the right databases to achieve scalability
Your choice of database influences the scalability of your software. Depending on your business requirements, you might need to use a “Relational Database Management Systems” (RDBMS), which are also called SQL databases.
Additionally, you might need to store disconnected data, i.e., data that has no transactional relationship. In this case, you will need to use a NoSQL database.
MySQL, MSSQL, Oracle, and PostgreSQL are great examples of scalable RDBMSs. On the other hand, MongoDB, Redis, and Cassandra are popular choices for scalable NoSQL databases. Read more about this in “What kind of database is suitable for a scalable web app?”.
9. Make the right choice of technology to scale a product successfully
Your choice of the runtime environment and framework influence the scalability of your software. While your business requirements drive your choice, some runtime environments have proven track records concerning scalability.
Wondering how to scale your software product?
This guide can certainly help you, however, you need a competent development team and product manager to design and develop scalable software. We, at DevTeam.Space, have the right people to help you, and you can judge our capabilities by reading “How to build a scalable web application?”.
If you, as a business CEO or CTO, are looking for a credible software development partner, DevTeam.Space can help you via its field-expert software developers community. Write to us your initial project requirements and one of our managers will get back to you to discuss how we can help.
Frequently Asked Questions on how to scale a product
To scale a product means that you in some way update your product or the infrastructure powering it with the aim of allowing more users to use it and gather customer feedback. Without this update, if a higher number of users use the app, its performance level would decline to such a level that they would not be able to.
You will need to focus on the infrastructure side of things. Do a comprehensive review of your app and its infrastructure so that you can establish a product-market fit and see what elements need to be upgraded. For more information, read this article.
Technically it is possible to scale all software products. However, some will require significant updates if they are to be scaled successfully.