TvE 2100

At 2100 feet above Santa Barbara

Course on Scalable Internet Services (in Ruby on Rails)

Phew, I just finished teaching a graduate course on building scalable internet services at UCSB (Univ. of California At Santa Barbara). This was a very hands-on, learn-by-doing course with a significant project in Ruby on Rails! The goal was for the students to learn about all the technologies that go into a scalable internet service, specifically into dynamic web sites. The lectures provided background information to support the project and they explained technologies beyond the scope of the project.

Hummingbirds
Anna’s Hummingbirds, Joshua Tree, CA, Mar 2005, ©2005 Thorsten von Eicken

The project consisted of building a transactional dynamic web site in Ruby on Rails and running on Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Each site had to hold >100’000 database records that could be searched and explored, have user accounts, and include some form of transaction, such as a shopping cart check-out.

Each project then had to be deployed on multiple servers on EC2 and the groups had to use httperf to demonstrate that they could scale the performance of their site by running a front-end load balancer server, a database server, a memcached server, and up to 10 application servers. All this had to fit into a 10-week quarter, with none of the students knowing either Ruby or Rails at the outset!

Note that the emphasis of the course was on the scalability aspect of the sites and not on the web design or feature-set. Thus it was more important to understand the performance characteristics and optimize the core of the site than to have the most eye-candy. (Although eye-candy is always appreciated, of course…)

Please check out the course wiki for more information, including all course materials!