IT jargon demystified: What you need to know about scalability

A new series of expertIP posts aimed at single-site businesses helps break down commonly-used tech terms in ways that a layman can understand. First up: the reason so many organizations suffer growing pains

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The scenario: In an ideal world, all software programs would run well whether they were offered to customers from a single-site business or a large national branch with dozens of locations. The reality is they often don’t, for a variety of reasons. Getting to the bottom of an application performance issue may lead to a conversation with your tech team (if you have one) or your managed services provider where someone raises the issue of scalability. Don’t worry if you’re not clear at first about what that means.

The definition: Some people might be tempted to nod and pretend they understand scalability because the basic meaning is fairly intuitive. Like climbing a mountain, scalability from an application and IT infrastructure perspective is about whether the software or the hardware that supports it can rise to the occasion of whatever demands are being placed on them. But there’s more to it than that.

There’s a difference, for example, between horizontal and vertical scalabilty. Horizontal means applications will work on a group of servers; if one of them fails, there’s enough backup in place to keep things running smoothly. Vertical scalability is about using a combination of processing power, memory and other tools to run one application on one server.

Why it matters: Small businesses with a single location still want technology to let them look and act as powerful as a large organization, and scalable networks and applications allow that to happen. Building in scalability from the get-go is a smart way of avoiding paying extra costs instead of having to fine-tune the way software is installed on servers or the way servers are configured because it was ignored.

Your next move: If you’re offering new online purchase capabilities to your Web site, trying out a new database of some kind or a similar project, have a conversation about scalability and figure out what’s the right approach. Sometimes businesses grow really quickly, and their IT should be prepared to grow with them. A good provider will offer the kind of optimized network that ensures scalability, which means with the right partner, you may never have to think about the term again.



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