You need to know how to scale your web application early — before it collapses under a slew of users.

Online companies often struggle to respond as their user base grows or consumer activity peaks. As a result, they lose opportunities and, ultimately, profits. Sometimes the reason is clunky core technology, but even companies running on a flexible framework like Ruby on Rails know that pain.

Read on to learn why that happens and how to cope with it.

What Happens When You Fail to Scale

Your application will slow down or crash if you fail to scale as the traffic grows.

Make your target audience wait too long, and they will take their money to your competitors. The disaster doesn’t end there: some will take their frustration to a review website, smearing your name.

Why You Might Be Struggling to Scale

So what can make you fail to scale as your user base grows? There are two common reasons:

  1. Your application’s architecture. If it hasn’t been built with growth in mind, you might struggle to implement parallel processes or handle requests faster.
  2. Server bandwidth. If your servers process 500 requests per second, your application will be slow when traffic surges.

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10 Tips to Help You Avoid Scalability Issues

The good news is, your application can actually serve as many users as you can pull in. To do that, use these ten tips:

  1. From day one of developing the application, remember that you are building it to pull in loads of users. As you finalize the prototype into a production-ready application, duplicate your infrastructure’s core elements. This will help you ensure that if one part of the application goes down, the rest will stay up.
  2. Make load tests part of your default pre-deployment process. This will help you know how much time each process takes to complete and see the space for improvement.
  3. Scale automatically. When traffic surges, the autoscaling feature will expand server capacity to process all requests.
  4. Always keep an eye on operations related to third-party APIs, network and input/output. They demand a lot of capacity. Try to cut those operations and use patterns that will allow you to process them non-synchronically.
  5. Use third-party software that will help you expand your application smoothly, such as Docker and Kubernetes.
  6. Choose your databases by looking at how much data they can handle. Some parts of your application may need databases that can be more easily expanded than others.
  7. Monitor your application constantly to know when you are reaching its limits and take timely action. To do that, you can use services like New Relic and Datadog or just check the metrics you think are most informative.
  8. Split your application’s logic into tasks whenever possible and schedule those tasks to be done one by one. For instance, you don’t need to email your entire customer base in one shot.
  9. Keep additional capacity at hand. This will help you scale quickly when necessary.
  10. Give heads up to your developers when you expect your traffic to soar so they can prepare and serve up additional resources. 

10 tips to avoid scalability issuesWhat You Should Know About Ruby on Rails’ Scalability

Ruby is an interpreted language. This means it has a virtual machine that executes code. On average, interpreted languages are slower than compiled languages like C++. But don’t jump to conclusions about scaling Ruby on Rails applications yet.

Starting from version 1.9.2.0, Ruby solved most of the issues that thwarted its scalability. 

However, there is a common misconception that the global interpreter lock (GIL) begets Ruby on Rails scalability issues. GIL is a mechanism that interpreters in languages like Ruby and Python use to synchronize thread execution. It allows for only one thread to be executed at a time, which sounds like “no parallelism possible”.

Why is that a misconception? Expert Ruby developers can use native code to bypass GIL where necessary. As a result, the interpreter will execute multiple threads at a time. But even if you can’t do so, no worries. Your web application will likely spend more time on network and database communication than the interpreter will spend on executing the code.

The upshot is, Ruby applications are easily scalable. There are two reasons why: the language allows for horizontal scaling and is thread-safe. In other words, all you need to do to let your application handle more traffic is launch additional Ruby processes and plug in additional servers.

We have been building Ruby on Rails applications since 2013, and we have never had problems scaling them. If that’s not proof enough for you, look at Shopify, GitHub, Airbnb and other top companies using Ruby on Rails.

In 2020, collective sales in all Shopify-based online shops hit a new record high: $5.1 billion from November 27 to November 30. No RoR scalability issues caused the eCommerce platform to slow down or crash.

Key Takeaways on How to Scale Your Web Application

You lose customers, reputation and money when your web application fails to process requests in peak times. That happens if your application’s architecture is not designed for high loads or you use low-capacity servers.

Ruby on Rails has all you need to scale fast. Rails-based platforms that process billions of requests every day, such as Shopify and Airbnb, prove that. You just need to take the following steps:

  • Build your application with scalability in mind.
  • Plan for traffic surges.
  • Monitor your application’s performance.
  • Use relevant third-party software.
  • Scale automatically.

Do that, and nothing can stop your growth. And if you are not sure how, Rubyroid Labs can help — just send us a message.

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