MySpace: IT on a wing and a Microsoft prayer

MySpace: IT on a wing and a Microsoft prayer

Summary: 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.

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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.

Topic: Social Enterprise

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27 comments
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  • Big systems not built on MSFT platform

    MySpace is the exception for a good reason. MSFT systems don't scale conveniently and performance suffers as the load increases. I have built some pretty high traffic systems on ColdFusion and one or two on legacy ASP 3.0 that could handle some pretty decent traffic, but not .NET. That bogs under load and seems to have constant memory leak issues. I learned early on not to count on garbage collection. If you open/close your connections manually, like you had to in legacy ASP, you'll generally get better memory performance.

    Honestly, I don't even feel like .NET wins on time to market for smaller apps, either. A good PHP/MySQL developer can nearly pace development in .NET. At least I can and I'm certainly not an elite PHP developer.
    Chad_z
    • MySpace CFM pages

      Why do the majority of myspace pages end with cfm. Isn't that the extension for Cold Fusion? And you can't even compare CF to .Net, the two are not even in the same category. CF is a joke of a development environment.
      C#2010
      • MySpace CFM pages

        MySpace uses BlueDragon.Net so they can keep legacy CF code but have it run in the .Net environment.

        Scott Guthrie had a blog post about the change 9-12 months ago, shortly after Mix06, about the MySpace move to .Net.
        Gungnir
        • WOW - that's even worse

          So they added another translation layer. It seems it would be better to rewrite it using C#, but i'm on the outside and I don't know what hurdles they are having. I just doubt that was the best solution...
          C#2010
      • Ah, the voice of the ignorant...

        Can you explain to me how a J2EE application isn't "in the same category" as .NET? Oh, that's right, it isn't. Java is a much more dependable and proven server platform than .NET.

        Or maybe you didn't know CF is now running on top of a J2EE server? Seriously, don't slam language you obviously have no experience with. Development in CF is extremely rapid, powerful (full access to all Java functionality), and reliable (fully supports clustering for load balance and failover).

        As pointed out by others in this post, MySpace was written in CF5, which is back when CF was written on top of C++, and now they are in the process of migrating to .NET via Blue Dragon. Old code, very down-level server software, migrating to new language... to me this adds up to just starting over with the new language.
        6dust
    • Do you know what you're talking about?

      Let's see...what big companies and/or applications are running on Microsoft software? How about NASDAQ, Unilever, Weyerhauser, Barclayz...Microsoft (one of the biggest IT driven companies in the world). Also, you mention "Legacy ASP 3.0." What is that? Microsoft just released the .NET Framework 3.0 a couple of months ago. How did you manage to build one or two "legacy ASP 3.0" systems? If you're ferring to Microsoft old (aka "classic") ASP then you're talking truly old technology. ASP.NET was released more than five years ago, replacing classic ASP which is un-managed.
      marksashton
  • A Microsoft Prayer?

    Looks like MySpace is showing that the anti-MS crowd is just that, anti-MS.
    As for .NET. I've never used a more productive runtime. The speed of .NET web sites is sufficient and the ability to build very complex distributed apps with minimal effort is great. Maybe some don't learn how to write the code to run optimally? I love the tools and VSTO has become a blessing. The next gen of .NET, it's runtime classes and capabilities are massive and cutting edge.
    xuniL_z
    • Agreed....

      I could not agree more. .Net has been a total success for my group.
      C#2010
    • It sounds like MySpace is far from a success story, and is having problems

      scaling. The big success story at MySpace is the artistic contribution. They are successful in spite of the Microsoft platform, NOT because of it.
      DonnieBoy
      • And the usefullness of that post was what?

        Like "0"?

        YouTube is successful in spite of Google, not becuase of it or the underlying technology.

        The common thread between your statement and mine?: no one made claim that they were the reason for it's success, so why go out of your way to interject that?.

        The truth is that no system will scale easily unless planned to do so from the very begining.
        John Zern
        • Opps: BTW

          You should read marksashton's post, he did make a good point and some nice examples.
          John Zern
        • Very few companies use Windows for things that need to scale.

          And, the platform choice for MySpace is giving them problems. They never dreamed they would grow so fast, and their platform choice is coming back to haunt them.

          On the other hand, Google is successful, in great part BECAUSE of their choice to use Linux on commodity servers. The SPEED at which Google can scale out is un-matched in the industry. The COST at which Google can scale out is un-matched in the industry.

          You want to blow one company having success on Windows servers (but with scalability problems) into something that says Windows is a great choice for large systems that need to scale.
          DonnieBoy
          • See marksashton's post for a list ...

            ... of other large scale implimentations of Windows and stop spreading your FUD.
            ShadeTree
      • If mySpace is not a success story ...

        ... then why all the growth? Please also name a single system that hasn't sufferred from growing pains? What it really sounds like is sour grapes from you!
        ShadeTree
        • Yes, MySpace is successful, and it is IN SPITE of Windows. Nothing to do

          with Windows. But, as their user base soars, if they can't keep up, then Windows could cause them lots of problems. The proven solution is Unix/Linux.
          DonnieBoy
          • Google is successfull in spite of Linux/Unix

            Your grandiose statement is as ridiculous as you are. If mySpace wasn't reliable then it wouldn't be as popular as it is. There are many large scale implimenations based on Windows which is also a proven solution.
            ShadeTree
    • the anti-MS crowd...

      I think most everybody who works in IT is an avid member of the amti-MS crowd at least a few times a month. Then there are the vocal minority...the NBM'ers and the ABM'ers. As a professional software developer, I find myself there about one day out of my normal work week.

      Now, as for .NET... 1.0 blew chunks, but everybody knew it would. I can't think of any 1.0 releases of any consequence that didn't. 2.0 is better, but there still are a flew kludgy things. Microsoft absolutely excels at making difficult tasks easy, but also making what should be an easy task a monumental undertaking. It's not a bad framework for development though, from a number of different languages. And combined with Windows, IIS and SQL Server, Microsoft could counter LAMP with WISN. Ok, maybe not.

      As for the whole scalability thing, most of us know that Windows isn't the most scalable operating system in the enterprise. It's getting better, but it's just not there yet. When you're talking about a .NET app running on a Windows server, you're already less scalable than you could be simply because of the operating system. Once you get past that, 2.0 seems to scale fairly well if you write tight code. Unfortunately, .NET makes it too easy to not write tight code. But if you do, it scales very nicely.

      The biggest gripe I ever have with Microft, and this goes across a lot of their product lines, is that they make things that should be difficult too easy. It's nice that a small company can have their computer guy throw together a nice corporate intranet using Visual Studio Express, MSDE and DotNetNuke starter kit. It's not nice when that same company has their computer guy make a few changes to the Commerce starter kit, buy some bandwidth and host their e-commerce site in house to save money. I know there are people out there thinking that this doesn't happen. Let me assure you, it does. Frequently. And the computer guy's idea of a good corporate firewall is the one he saw at Best Buy over the weekend on sale for $49. It should be crystal clear that some things are simply over someone's head, but Microsoft has managed to blur that line a bit too much for my taste.
      jasonp@...
      • Truthy

        Jason, you should consider starting to blog, if you don't already. Your post is devastatingly funny and quite truthy.
        michael@...
  • MySpace - Cold Fusion

    Every myspace page accept the browse feature is a Cold Fusion page. And it seems they are using the 'fuseaction' framework, which would explain why they are having problems scaling.
    C#2010
    • Really???

      I didn't know that. Definitely explains the issues. Cold Fusion is notoriously slow, crappy and has problems scaling.
      BFD