Book Review: Web Operations: Keeping the Data on Time

For my kickoff of systems engineering book reviews I have chosen this book. While not being technical in the strict sense of the term (if you are looking for code snippets or ready-to-use architecture ideas, look elsewhere), this collection of 17 essays provides a birds-eye view of the relatively new principle of Web Operations. As you will see from the short TOC below, no stone is left unturned and broad coverage is given to a range of subject ranging from NoSQL databases to community management (and all the points in between). This is what you will be getting:

  1. Web Operations: The career
  2. How Picnik Uses Cloud Computing: Lessons Learned
  3. Infrastructure and Application Metrics
  4. Continuous Deployment
  5. Infrastructure As Code
  6. Monitoring
  7. How Complex Systems Fail
  8. Community Management and Web Operations
  9. Dealing with Unexpected Traffic Spikes
  10. Dev and Ops Collaboration and Cooperation
  11. How Your Visitors Feel: User-Facing Metrics
  12. Relational Database Strategy and Tactics for the Web
  13. How to Make Failure Beautiful: The Art and Science of Postmortems
  14. Storage
  15. Nonrelational Databases
  16. Agine Infrastructure
  17. Thing That Go Bump in the Night (and How to Sleep Through Them)

Where can someone starts? Giving a chapter-by-chapter play is not the preferred way – chapters are short and to the point and use a variety of formats – one of them is a long interview for example, so I am going to talk about the overall feel of the book.

The roll-call of the book is impressive. I am sure that if you worked in the field for a little while, names like Theo Schlossnagle, Baron Schwartz, Adam Jacob, Paul Hammond et al, speak for themselves. Every chapter serves as a gentle introduction to the relevant subject matter – this is to be expected as the topics are quite deep and each one carries a huge assorted bibliography. What I particularly like about this book is not only the gentle introduction, it is also written in a way that makes in approachable to technical managers, team leaders and CTOs – chapters such as the one on postmortems and the ones on metrics are prime examples of this. What is awesome is that the book helps you identify problem areas with your current business (for example the lack of using configuration management such as Puppet or Chef) and provide you with actionable information. Extra points for openly acknowledging failure, there are more than two chapters related to it (as the saying goes, if you operate at internet scale, something is always on fire, someplace), including a chapter on how to conduct efficient postmortems. Even non-technical areas such as community management are covered, illustrating that not everything is technology oriented only in the area of running an internet business today.

Your experience with this book will greatly vary. If you are new to the topics at hand, then you might benefit by reading each and every chapter of the book and then revisit it from time to time – as your experience grows, so the number of useful ideas you can get out of this book will increase too. If you are an experiences professional, while this book might not be an epiphany, there is still useful content to apply and perhaps a few additional viewpoints might present themselves.

Overall? An excellent book for everyone involved in running an internet business with a lot of value and a long shelf life.

A final nice point is that proceedings from this book go to a charity, that is a nice touch.