Baseline's David Carr has an interesting tale of MySpace's IT operations. In a nutshell, the company is winging it with a Microsoft-based platform amid massive growth.
Here are a few takeaways from the article, which is linked here to the printer version (the story is broken up too much for me to stand). Note: It's a long scroll but you get the full story and all the sidebars, but it's worth the trip.
Takeaway 1: MySpace's site is running on Windows 2003 for servers, .Net as a platform and SQL Server 2005. This approach runs counter to the way many Web sites are run. For instance, Zillow, another hot site dealing with exponential growth, uses SQL in the background, but develops with Java and Linux.
Takeaway 2: Media companies as IT operators. Carr writes:
Jakob Nielsen, the former Sun Microsystems engineer who has become famous for his Web site critiques as a principal of the Nielsen Norman Group consultancy, says it's clear that MySpace wasn't created with the kind of systematic approach to computer engineering that went into Yahoo, eBay or Google. Like many other observers, he believes MySpace was surprised by its own growth. "I don't think that they have to reinvent all of computer science to do what they're doing, but it is a large-scale computer science problem," he says.
Nielsen's on target and there's a good reason why MySpace didn't have a systemic approach from the start--it is a media company. Now Yahoo is also a media company, but it was cooked up by engineering types. Media companies need some computer science DNA to work today. No offense against Fox, but it just doesn't have the core competency in IT. In my experience, media sites with heavy spikes in traffic seem to stumble. CBS Sportsline is a recent example and my hunch is that when CBS bought Sportsline a lot of IT talent left. ESPN, owned by Disney, can also falter during crunch time.
Takeaway 3: Social media is addictive. Carr writes that Keynote Systems sees error rates about 20 percent on average. Any other Web business would falter with those rates. MySpace keeps going.
Takeaway 4: MySpace is either going to be on helluva reference customer for Microsoft or a disaster. Carr writes:
One problem is that MySpace is pushing Microsoft's Web technologies into territory that only Microsoft itself has begun to explore. As of November, MySpace was exceeding the number of simultaneous connections supported by SQL Server, causing the software to crash. The specific circumstances that trigger one of these crashes occur only about once every three days, but it's still frequent enough to be annoying. And anytime a database craps out, that's bad news if the data for the page you're trying to view is stored there.
MySpace's site performance issues are more an indicator of management's IT planning--it didn't pick an architecture that could scale. But now MySpace could become a referendum on Microsoft's Web tools.
Takeaway 5: Think ahead. Seems to me that MySpace is boxed in with its architecture. MySpace is young, but already has the problem faced by many older companies--it's locked into legacy applications with no time to start over. Even if MySpace wanted to, it couldn't join the Java-Linux club. MySpace's fortunes ride with Microsoft's technology. The upside: Microsoft will move heaven and earth to help MySpace work--it has no choice since the social media site is an indicator of whether .Net can scale.