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Book: The starfish and the spider

Starfish are really cool, and so is this book. Starfish are a distributed system. This book uses them as an analogy for the topic of distributed systems. Being distributed means there is no central command part. Any leg or portion of a leg can be severed and not only will it survive, but both parts will grow into full starfish. Moving can be a challenge, where one part has to lead by example and convince the rest to follow.

This is related to many business scenarios and analyses what sort of mistakes were made. You can’t beat a distributed organization by attacking it directly, since if any part survives then it will end up stronger. You have to go after its principles.

One example it uses, the recording industry (RIAA) sued many of its customers and fans for piracy. The result? Well, the pirates were doing it out of convenience and were not a hierarchical organization. It just meant that they became more distributed, by first going from a central server to distributed servers build by a few individuals, to a totally distributed model where there is no central software developers, no central servers – all data is replicated around many nodes from anyone who wishes to be part of the network. What would have happened if instead the recording industry made it simple and cheap for people to buy music?

A good thing about being distributed is that innovation can come from anywhere. Once an advantage is found, others nearby can adopt it and spreads its use. In a strict hierarchy, unless those at the top are convinced, then it doesn’t get implemented.

Are there disadvantages? Definitely. It means it is hard to quickly and decisively execute on a vision. Many companies try to find the “sweet spot” that allows them to leverage the advantages of their environment while keeping the disadvantage of each approach at bay. This spot varies depending on the environment and time.

If you read one book this quarter, make sure it is this one!


My rating: 9/10


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