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Home arrow Computer Science arrow Designing Data-Intensive Applications. The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable and Maintainable Systems


If you have worked in software engineering in recent years, especially in server-side and backend systems, you have probably been bombarded with a plethora of buzzwords relating to storage and processing of data. NoSQL! Big Data! Web-scale! Sharding! Eventual consistency! ACID! CAP theorem! Cloud services! MapReduce! Real-time!

In the last decade we have seen many interesting developments in databases, in distributed systems, and in the ways we build applications on top of them. There are various driving forces for these developments:

  • • Internet companies such as Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Twitter are handling huge volumes of data and traffic, forcing them to create new tools that enable them to efficiently handle such scale.
  • • Businesses need to be agile, test hypotheses cheaply, and respond quickly to new market insights by keeping development cycles short and data models flexible.
  • • Free and open source software has become very successful and is now preferred to commercial or bespoke in-house software in many environments.
  • • CPU clock speeds are barely increasing, but multi-core processors are standard, and networks are getting faster. This means parallelism is only going to increase.
  • • Even if you work on a small team, you can now build systems that are distributed across many machines and even multiple geographic regions, thanks to infrastructure as a service (IaaS) such as Amazon Web Services.
  • • Many services are now expected to be highly available; extended downtime due to outages or maintenance is becoming increasingly unacceptable.

Data-intensive applications are pushing the boundaries of what is possible by making use of these technological developments. We call an application data-intensive if data is its primary challenge—the quantity of data, the complexity of data, or the speed at which it is changing—as opposed to compute-intensive, where CPU cycles are the bottleneck.

The tools and technologies that help data-intensive applications store and process data have been rapidly adapting to these changes. New types of database systems (“NoSQL”) have been getting lots of attention, but message queues, caches, search indexes, frameworks for batch and stream processing, and related technologies are very important too. Many applications use some combination of these.

The buzzwords that fill this space are a sign of enthusiasm for the new possibilities, which is a great thing. However, as software engineers and architects, we also need to have a technically accurate and precise understanding of the various technologies and their trade-offs if we want to build good applications. For that understanding, we have to dig deeper than buzzwords.

Fortunately, behind the rapid changes in technology, there are enduring principles that remain true, no matter which version of a particular tool you are using. If you understand those principles, you’re in a position to see where each tool fits in, how to make good use of it, and how to avoid its pitfalls. That’s where this book comes in.

The goal of this book is to help you navigate the diverse and fast-changing landscape of technologies for processing and storing data. This book is not a tutorial for one particular tool, nor is it a textbook full of dry theory. Instead, we will look at examples of successful data systems: technologies that form the foundation of many popular applications and that have to meet scalability, performance, and reliability requirements in production every day.

We will dig into the internals of those systems, tease apart their key algorithms, discuss their principles and the trade-offs they have to make. On this journey, we will try to find useful ways of thinking about data systems—not just how they work, but also why they work that way, and what questions we need to ask.

After reading this book, you will be in a great position to decide which kind of technology is appropriate for which purpose, and understand how tools can be combined to form the foundation of a good application architecture. You won’t be ready to build your own database storage engine from scratch, but fortunately that is rarely necessary. You will, however, develop a good intuition for what your systems are doing under the hood so that you can reason about their behavior, make good design decisions, and track down any problems that may arise.

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