Saturday, September 16, 2006

Design Time Agility over Runtime Performance Cost

Last week we were working with a client to define their core architectural principles. We had listed, "Agility over Performance" and this created substantial debate. The first question was, "why were services going to perform slower?" - and, couldn't we have "Agility and Performance"?

On occasion architects will get lucky and find new technologies and approaches that are not conflicting. It has been my experience that this is the exception not the norm. More common is the need to resolve competing interests such as 'agility' or 'performance'. And when they do compete, it is the job of the architect to give guidance.

The services found in your environment will likely be victim to two primary performance degrading elements:
1. They will be remote and will fall victim to all of the performance issues associated with distributed computing
2. They will likely use a fat stack to describe the services, like the WS-I Basic Profile.

Now that we've described the performance issues we have to ask ourselves, "will the system perform worse?" And the answer is, "not necessarily". You see, for the last few decades we've been making our software systems more agile from a design/develop perspective. When we went from C to C++ we took a performance/cost hit. When we went to virtual machines we took a hit. When we moved to fully managed containers we took a hit. And when we move to distributed web services we will take another hit. This is intentional.

A fundamental notion that I.T. embraces is that we must increase developer productivity to enable "development at the speed of business". The new abstraction layers that enable us to increase developer agility have a cost - and that cost is system performance. However, There is no need to say that it is an "agility over performance" issue; rather, it is a "system agility over performance cost" issue. By this I mean we can continue to see the same levels of runtime performance, but it will cost us more in terms of hardware (and other performance increasing techniques). Warning: This principle isn't a license to go write fat-bloated code. Balancing design time agility and runtime performance cost is a delicate matter. Many I.T. shops have implicitly embraced the opposite view (Runtime Performance Cost over Design Time Agility). These shops must rethink their core architectural value system.

Summary: The principle is, "Design Time Agility over Runtime Performance Cost". This means that with SOA,
1. You should expect your time-to-deliver index to get better
2. You should not expect runtime performance to get worse. Instead, you should plan on resolving the performance issues.
3. You should expect (performance/cost) to go down

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