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Why Rearchitecting Might Not Always Be the Best Idea

Performance
Deadlines
New Manager

8 September, 2021

Alfredo Fernandez Acuna
Alfredo Fernandez Acuna

Engineering Manager at The Workshop

Alfredo Fernandez Acuna, Engineering Manager, shares how he incrementally developed and improved the system, instead of rearchitecting it.

Problem

We identified that one of our systems could only handle a low number of transactions per second 一 we had about 30% of the performance that we needed. It was far off from what the Product expected and what our clients wanted from the system. The success among this was that we made small incremental changes to the system, slowly winning performance improvements as opposed to rearchitecting the whole system. We had strong deadlines to work towards, which meant no time for working on the system from scratch. The only option left was to incrementally deliver those improvements.

Actions taken

To begin with, I was new to the team and did not have adequate knowledge of the system. I started by asking the team to document the main flows of the system, which helped in understanding the different components of the system, and the messages being exchanged between them, and whether they were synchronous or asynchronous. This allowed us to start discussions around what the main bottlenecks of the system are and how easy it is to improve them.

Following that, we created scripts for load testing, clearly identifying what was being simulated and what was being mocked. We ran load tests gradually incrementing the traffic levels in order to benchmark the system to know what the system could support on a daily basis. Also, we created stress tests that would tell us the breaking point of the system. After running the load tests we were able to analyse the results and determine in practice which was the real bottlenecks. These load tests also helped us get quick feedback after implementing any improvements.

Thanks to this work we found some low-hanging fruit whereby we could have significant performance gains by simply adding more infrastructure, and by changing some tuning parameters of our Databases. We also identified a layer of caching at the application level that stores pre-computed results that would give us significant performance gains, as we would avoid repeated computations and also avoid disk access.

Lessons learned

  • Avoid the temptation to perform a massive re-architecture of the system or to re-design the system from scratch unless you have data to back it up. Rearchitecting the system costs a lot in terms of effort and also kills time for the client to see any value.
  • Have measurable and actionable goals. If the system does not meet its performance expectations, be sure to know what those expectations are in numbers.
  • Be pragmatic and evidence-driven. As engineers, our instincts are important, but you should always gather evidence or data to back your instincts up.

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