The Start-up and the Database

Posted in: Technical Track

My first senior production database role was at an established start-up, Preview Travel, that had just been purchased by a similarly established, but better positioned start-up, Travelocity. Since then, I’ve worked with start-ups in all stages of growth and I’ve seen definite patterns in how database infrastructures are designed, implemented and maintained (or the lack thereof). I’ve seen these phases of growth presented elsewhere, often at a level of granularity that didn’t work for me. I am a believer of simplicity wherever possible. So, these are the levels of growth as I see them, recognizing that the only generalization you can make is that every situation will be unique:

  • Prototype
  • Initial Production
  • Pain Point 1: Availability
  • Pain Point 2: Performance
  • Pain Point 3: Scalability
  • Maintenance Mode

Each of these phases must be taken with a viewpoint of the entire business. While all of us OCD architects and administrators would absoutely love to design the perfect solution from scratch, it is not realistic for a company on a shoestring budget or that has no clue about the traffic patterns they’ll be driving. Bottlenecks and pain points need to be looked at as indicators of needs for a) growth or b) improved processes. Taken in this manner, one can create a roadmap for growth based on the individual site’s needs rather than busting the budget immediately or optimizing for scenarios that will never occur.

Of course, there is an exception, and that is pain points that compromise a site’s revenue or reputation. Luckily, in 80 – 90% of the scenarios (potentially more!) these are problems that have already been solved to some degree. In the immortal words of Tyler Durden – you are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. That’s where my job comes in, to help utilize those existing lessons learned before investing in new solutions from scratch. Each phase has them, and that’s where I will be focusing my initial posts.

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