Please Stop Talking About Google & Amazon Infrastructure. It’s Irrelevant

People seems love hearing about big technology companies like Google and Amazon for inspiration and ideas about infrastructure and operations. This is a bad idea. Lets say that you like baking your own bread and you want to improve your technique. Where do you go ?

Do you:

  1. Buy a bread machine and a bag of “just add water” bread mix at the local supermarket.
  2. Purchase a book, flour, yeast and starting baking in your own kitchen.
  3. Attend a class at your local organic collective to learn artisanal bread making using organic flour,  pedigree sour-dough start and your own clay oven built in your back garden.
  4. Head to nearest baking factory that makes 50000 loaves of bread per day that is using custom-made high tech machinery designed by expert manufacturing engineers and supported by a production team so as to learn how to make bread ?

IT infrastructure is similar in concept. You take a bunch of ingredients, mix them together in the right proportions, take some care about the preparation and you should have an IT Infrastructure equivalent of a “loaf of bread”.

If you chose to go with Option 1 – Bread Machine, then you might be small company trying to get something done with limited time and http://gregferro.comresources. Simple, quick and low cost is what a bread machine is to baking. If you chose Option 2 – Bake at Home then you are likely a medium sized business where the technology needs can solved by a mid-level practitioner with some time and motivation. Both of these options provide results that are good for the use case because the use case is “good enough for my requirements”.

Option 3 is a large enterprise. Your company doesn’t actually make bread, the technology is there to support some other activity. But you are serious about your technology, it’s must be a certain kind of bread and made to high standards. At the same time, you are a sandwich shop makes sandwiches but doesn’t make bread. You just use it.

Which leads us to Option 4. A factory that makes bread has a lot of fancy technology that makes bread. It’s doesn’t make sandwiches and it can’t make one loaf of bread. It can only make truck loads of bread or the machinery isn’t profitable to run. Sure, a factory can look like a complicated and very large bread machine but in reality it is a completely different beast. You will never own a bread factory, you can’t take the equipment home. A factory has specific challenges just achieving handling of tonnes  of flour, controlling room sized ovens and storing the prepared product for shipment. None of these issues are relevant at smaller scale.

But small boys just loves looking at fire engines and big machines. We need to get over this.

Of course, a factory makes lots of cheap bread but it only makes a few types. You can buy that bread cheaply at the SaaS or PaaS “Supermarket” but the product isn’t as good as you could make yourself if you only had the time and money to buy a bread machine or learn how to make bread yourself. I’ve stretched this metaphor as far as it can go so I will quit while I’m ahead.

The point is that you shouldn’t look to big web companies for solutions for Enterprise IT. The use cases, processes and outcomes all depend on your needs and the tradeoffs you have to make. But please, please stop caring how Google, Amazon or Facebook run their factories because it has zero relevance to your systems. Just make bread.

  • Merrill Hammond

    Fantastic comparison.

  • Ethan Banks

    Outstanding analogy as well as point made.

  • Peter J. Welcher

    Great analogy! It seems like press, bloggers, and companies forget that
    Google, Amazon, and others, and even Silicon Valley / San Francisco
    startups, have different needs and budgets than the rest of the world. — @pjwelcher


    Good and important analogy but I think it is still necessary to look and try to understand their infrastructure and some technology such as Big Data. Once GFS and other papers have been published people started to look at and now even medium enterprises explore Hadoop Map Reduce etc. Of course business requirement might be different but sometimes technology can drive business as well , right?.
    Thanks for sharing the post.

  • Michael Leonard

    This makes me want to get back to baking bread. Maybe I should take a class. To the point of the blog I’m seeing an increasing discussion of scale out architectures based on IP CLOS that is being used by some large data center operators, in particular OTT types. Is this what you are referring to? Are you seeing this as a trend or not? Are you suggesting that it isn’t going to trickle down?

    • Etherealmind

      From my view, CLOS or ECMP networks are moving from HPC to Enterprise as is the the normal pathway for technology. The fact that ECMP networks architectures work for high density compute at Google or Amazon isn’t surprising given that they took existing technology and used it because they have higher utilisation.

      They didn’t invent ECMP technology but, credit due, they have proven that it works nicely for Enterprise networking. Thanks for that!