When you think of taking a vacation cruise, you probably think of all the food you’ll eat, shuffle board you’ll play, and booze you’ll drink. But what do the folks running the ship think about? My bet is they think about some of the same things I think about everyday: keeping the ship operating smoothly, charting a halcyon course, and making sure that process never enters the minds of its customers. Come with me for a tour of the ship we pilot for the pleasure voyage we like to call pbworks.com.
“Safety first” isn’t just the mantra of cruise liners and middle school crossing guards, we take it seriously here, too. Your data is kept on three different PBwiki machines, then additionally encrypted and backed up off-site. How much data are we talking about? Your average desktop computer can hold about 200GB of data, of which about 6GB is your illegal music collection. We track over 25 times that amount: 5400GB of your data. In the past year we’ve had to triple the number of servers we use to store it all!
Engines are pretty important to cruise ships, but they’re also complicated and can break down. Putting in multiple engines is difficult and expensive, but it’s worth it: if one breaks down, you’ve got a spare. PBwiki is the same way with computers. Over the last year, we’ve worked to add “hot standby” servers that automatically take over if another computer experiences a failure. Ever wish you could just switch computers when Word or Windows crashes and pick up where you left off? With PBwiki you can!
Captains don’t drive a ship blindfolded, and neither do we. Earlier this year we fully instrumented our machines and services with a program called “ganglia.” It takes measurements and displays them on our dashboard so we can detect problems and calculate trends. The graph at left shows the effects of adding RAM to a beleaguered backup database: CPU usage drops and we are even more prepared in the unlikely event of a problem.
Although calling it a “captain’s log” would evoke too many Star Trek jokes, our Operations team logs all changes to the service, so we have a point of reference when tracking down performance issues, or to make sure certain checks were made. We keep it on PBwiki itself and simply call it the “log.”
Of course, this metaphor only goes so far: I haven’t yet secured the right to use deadly force to suppress piracy and mutiny. Apparently that would be against the “laws” and we haven’t relocated to my ideal office in international waters. Join me next time when we go into more technical details about PBwiki’s commitment to operational excellence!