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What Is App Scaling and Why Scalability Matters?

June 24, 2023

So, you want to grow big, you want to grow fast. Turns out there are parallels to both no-code and traditional development that can help you with that. A rare article on scaling, suitable for both no-coders and the old guard.

Picture this: you're on the brink of launching your marvelous app to the world. It's a culmination of your hard work, creativity, and passion. Before you hit that grand "launch" button, there's an important question that demands your attention: Can your app's code structure handle the magnificent growth that awaits?

Well..that’s a good question. Your app needs to be ready for the big leagues right from the very beginning, even before it sees the light of day in the hands of your users. And here's the key to unlocking that certainty: extensive testing.

Think of it this way: would you ever think of selling a car without thoroughly testing it? Imagine if it lacked durability, underperformed, had faulty brakes, or couldn't handle sharp turns. What if its safety features fell short of protecting passengers during accidents? What if the engine refused to start on the showroom floor? Ouch! The mere thought is enough to damage your brand's reputation.

Applications follow a similar path. No matter how enticing your app's benefits may be, customers won't stick around if they encounter performance issues that could be avoided. 

We're talking about missed opportunities, frustrated users, and potential customers slipping through your fingers like sand. Here’s how you do it right (especially with the help of no-code).

What is app scaling?

Scalability in an app boils down to its ability to grow and take on more users while adapting to the changing needs of your business. It's mostly about the app’s backend, database, and the servers where they're hosted.

To pump up scalability, there are loads of tricks of the trade. These range from things at the app development level, like using database-level functions, to infrastructure level tactics, such as multi-threading. Any developer or server architect worth their salt, along with infrastructure service providers, will use a cocktail of these strategies to ensure top-notch scalability.

The upside? You can add more bells and whistles to your app without sweating about potential performance setbacks. The basic aim of any app is to deliver steady and reliable functionality and performance, whether it's being used by a dozen people or by millions.

But here's the kicker: 

A shoddy backend design or setup just won't cut it. Though you might be able to sort out configuration issues on the fly, a badly designed backend usually means a full makeover – and that's going to cost you.

Neglecting scalability from the get-go can cause your app’s initial success to fail just as fast. There's no better way to scare off users than an app that's plagued with poor performance, sluggish load times, and frequent crashes.

Importance of scalability

Scalability is so important in software because it lets a company adapt to fluctuating network needs and prevents customer loss due to service disruptions if growth outpaces the network. It's about keeping customers satisfied and downsizing the network when demand is low to save IT costs.

In app development, your tech choice matters. Node.js is a favorite for easy scalability, fitting both mobile and web development. Figuring out your server need isn't always a cinch, even though cloud hosting services allow for capacity adjustment.

Multi-server setup enables horizontal scaling, an essential for scalability. This involves using various servers to handle the same tasks, sharing a common database and logic. Load balancers then spread the traffic across these servers.

Anyway, more on that below.

Different types of app scaling

Horizontal scaling (a.k.a. "scaling out") and vertical scaling (a.k.a. "scaling up") both focus on bulking up your infrastructure with computing resources. Yet, they are different beasts altogether when it comes to how they're rolled out and how they perform.

Cheers, @nandus05. This is how works in meme terms.

Horizontal scaling

For horizontal scaling, you're simply adding more nodes or machines to your setup to deal with increased demands. For instance, if your web app's server is at its wits' end handling traffic, getting another server could be your ticket.

Vertical scaling

Vertical scaling isn't about adding more machines but pumping up the power of your current ones to keep up with demand. So if your server is crying out for more processing juice, boosting the processing power and memory of the existing machine might be the way to go.

Here's the bottom line: Horizontal scaling beefs up your infrastructure by adding more machines, while vertical scaling does it by juicing up your existing machines with more CPU power or RAM.

Choosing between horizontal or vertical scaling largely hinges on the nature of your app and projected server load increases, among other factors. Duh!

Scalability challenges

Scalability hitches are commonplace when your app balloons, but remember, it's the full system architecture that dictates the capacity to grow, not just the size of the application. 

For instance, using ruby-on-rails to construct your project isn't the smartest move if your app is expanding at a fast clip, but that doesn't automatically mean Rails is a nightmare for scaling.

Sure, Twitter swapped Rails for Scala, but look at Shopify - been growing non-stop on Rails for a decade, handling over 50k requests per minute with a 45ms response time. There's a ton of specialized frameworks out there, but which one you pick depends on stuff like the needs of your app, the popularity and cost of the framework, support availability, and a bunch of other factors.

Even if you're not wrestling with performance or scalability issues on the scale of Twitter or Shopify, laying out a proper plan and executing it right from the get-go is invaluable. 

You'll probably run into a myriad of troubles when you try to scale. Here are a few usual suspects:

  • Sloppy memory management
  • Subpar database engine
  • Complex database schema with awful indexing
  • Scarcity of physical resources like memory or CPUs
  • Botched server configuration
  • Crappy database queries
  • Shoddy caching
  • And the list just goes on and on.

There are also hundreds of quality open-source tools at your disposal that you can quickly incorporate into your stack, and plenty of profiling and analysis tools to help you spot the weak spots in your system.

Or, you could opt for no-code instead, because this entire scalability issue is already resolved. You basically pay a penny for it, since the platform devs already did all the heavy lifting for you. The rest is done by the hosting of choice.

Strategies for overcoming scaling challenges

Just go for no-code! Not yet? Dang it. It would be so much simpler otherwise, and this article wouldn’t exist. Anyway…

Opt for cloud-based solutions

If you're a budding startup constructing a web app, you should seriously consider leveraging a PaaS like Heroku or an IaaS like AWS

Why? 

Because these cloud services handle a bunch of the heavy lifting involved in web app development and upkeep. This includes everything from infrastructure and storage to servers, networking, databases, middleware, and even the runtime environment. 

PaaS and IaaS also make scaling less of a headache by offering auto-scaling. Add in the reliability and availability of SLAs, and you're looking at a pretty sweet deal.

Just to mention, Directual is already utilizing AWS services (among other hosting solutions) to help our scale their apps into high heavens without much problem. Just saying.

Determine if you need to scale in the first place

Don't waste time and money on scaling if it isn't necessary. Scaling can get pricey, and you should only do it if the expected benefits outweigh the costs, not because it's a hot topic. 

  • Collect data: Does your web app align with your growth strategy? Check if your user base is growing, and if it is, how fast and for how long? What are your predictions for the future?
  • Evaluate your storage plan: Can it handle size fluctuations?

Identify your scalability problems using metrics

If you've determined that your web app needs scaling, the next step is to figure out what problems you need to solve. You can use these four metrics to identify them:

  • CPU usage: If this is high, your app may have performance problems. This metric is typically measured by app-monitoring tools.
  • Memory utilization: This shows how much RAM a system is using at a specific time.
  • Network Input/Output: This shows how long it takes to send data between processes. Check which instances take the longest.
  • Disk Input/Output: This refers to all the actions that occur on a physical disk.

Select your application monitoring tools

You've chosen your metrics, so now you need tools to track them. Heroku and AWS offer robust application monitoring solutions. 

For instance, Elastic Beanstalk (AWS) has its built-in monitoring solution, and Heroku uses the New Relic add-on. Other good options in the market include Datadog AMP, New Relic AMP, and AppDynamics.

Pick the right software architecture pattern for scalability

This is mission-critical to application scalability. The architecture you choose can significantly affect scalability.

  • Monolithic architecture: This type of app is built as one large system, often with a single codebase. This is a solid choice for small apps because of the advantage of having a single codebase with many features. However, it can become messy and difficult to manage as the application grows and gains more features.
  • Microservices architecture: This is the opposite of a monolithic architecture, with the app built as a series of small services, each with its codebase. These services each have their logic and database and perform specific functions. This architecture is flexible, with no strict dependencies between modules, making updates easier. Many organizations start with a monolith and then switch to a microservices architecture as their application grows.

Manage load balancing

This is all about spreading the load of traffic over numerous resources so none of them get swamped. It's a way to make sure your app resources are put to work efficiently.

It operates between the app users and the app servers, doling out the traffic based on preset rules and algorithms. These rules take into account a variety of elements such as the capacity of the server, its availability, and how fast it responds.

Perform database optimization

Your app is tied to a database. And it's a no-brainer - as your app expands, so does your database. Your choice of database will depend on the kind of data you need to store: relational (like MySQL or PostgreSQL) or unstructured (like a NoSQL database such as MongoDB). Your database should integrate seamlessly with your app, whether it's relational or unstructured.

By optimizing your database, you're boosting both performance and scalability. There's a bunch of ways you can pull this off.

Index optimization

This is about ramping up database query speeds by granting quick data access, which in turn cuts down the retrieval time from the database.

Query optimization

This involves beefing up the efficiency of your database queries to deal with large volumes of traffic and data.

Query optimization spots and tackles performance issues by looking at how the query is run, pinpointing inefficient queries, and tweaking the database schema to better the performance of the query.

Compression

This is the act of shrinking the storage requirements of the database (i.e., the data that needs to be read from the disk) to enhance the performance of the query.

Pick the right framework for scalability

Your choice of framework can significantly affect your app's scalability, especially as you add features. Depending on your preferred development language, you have several options. 

Django and Ruby on Rails are solid choices for scalable web apps, but if you compare Ruby on Rails with Node.Js, Node.Js is better suited for running complex projects with asynchronous queries. 

There are other frameworks like Angular JS, React.js, and Laravel to consider. Remember, the success of your scalable application largely depends on your choice of infrastructure and architecture.

Additional factors to consider when building scalable web apps:

  • Sustainable design: The quality of your code also plays a big role in scalability.
  • Testing: Testing is a crucial part of the web app development lifecycle. Good load and performance testing can help your app grow smoothly. Realistic load testing is also important to accurately simulate your web app's environment, users, and data. A Test-driven Development (TDD) approach can be beneficial.
  • Deployment Challenges: If you have several services interacting with each other, you'll need to implement and test reliable communication mechanisms and orchestration services to minimize disruptions. This is a DevOps practice and is particularly useful for projects requiring timely results and multiple contributors.
  • Third-party services (via APIs): These are often a cause of bottlenecks and operational failures. 
  • Security: No web app is completely secure. Make sure to implement practices to enhance security against potential issues, such as hashing and salting databases where passwords are stored or securing client-server communication.

Future of app scaling

Old school development, unlike no-code solutions, chews up a ton of resources and requires a fleet of software developers just to get a project across the finish line.

No-code tools hand the reins of the development process back to you. Imagine a marketing team taking a no-code project by the horns and launching it to great success, without needing a single line of code from a professional developer.

The emergence of no-code development has bulldozed the roadblocks to digitizing business processes, making it a smoother ride. On the whole, no-code solutions have lit a fire under developer productivity and have shifted the focus towards crafting innovative app solutions.

And! 

The rise of AI and machine learning, combined with no-code platforms, is a match made in heaven that already makes no-coding a breeze to both perform and scale. Everything that you would have otherwise performed yourself to let your app scale, is already a part of the bigger package a no-code platform like Directual offers.

Afterword

In conclusion, overlooking scalability can lead to disastrous consequences. There is a fair share of challenges, such as memory management, database optimization, and server configuration, and there are various tools available to overcome these obstacles. 

If you want to grow right, pick the right tech stack. If you want to do it the easier way, opt for no-code, as it’s already sorted for you.

Got questions? Send us a message at hello@directual.com, or join one of our communities (available in the footer below).

FAQ

What makes a platform scalable?
What makes a platform scalable?

A platform is scalable when it can effectively manage and accommodate increasing loads of work or demand without affecting its performance, speed, or functionality. A no-code platform like Directual has built-in scalability features, enabling users to develop applications that can easily handle a growing number of tasks or users as demand increases.

Does improving scalability improve performance?
Does improving scalability improve performance?

Improving scalability often leads to enhanced performance. Scalability improvements ensure that as the workload increases, the platform or application can handle it without experiencing a decrease in performance. While scalability is crucial for high performance under increased load, it doesn't necessarily mean an improvement in speed or efficiency under normal or low loads. It's about sustaining performance under increasing demand.

Why is scalability important for apps?
Why is scalability important for apps?

Scalability is important for apps because it ensures they can handle growth and change. As an application gains more users, processes more data, or needs to add new features, it must be able to scale to accommodate these changes without a drop in performance. Without scalability, an app might become slow or unresponsive during peak usage times, or it might limit a business's ability to expand its services or customer base.

What are the different types of app scaling?
What are the different types of app scaling?

There are two types of app scaling. Vertical scaling (or 'scaling up'): This involves increasing the capacity of a single server by adding more resources, such as CPU, RAM, or storage. It's akin to upgrading your computer's hardware to make it faster. Horizontal scaling (or 'scaling out'): This involves adding more servers to distribute the load. Instead of one powerful server, you'd have multiple servers working together. With platforms like Directual, horizontal scaling becomes easy as it takes care of distribution and load balancing, allowing your apps to function seamlessly even under heavy traffic.

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