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The New Normal: The Art of War, Maneuverability, and Microservices

The word "antifragile" may be recent, but some of the concepts are ancient. In "Art of War", the renowned general, strategist and tactician Sun Tzu's states, “…water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows...” In an antifragile organization, we want to explore opportunities so resources flow like water into the things that are working, and abandon those that are not. 

Just as water retains no constant shape, there are no constants in an antifragile organization and IT infrastructure. To flow like water, you must be able to shift people and teams easily, create teams and systems easily, be able to tear down systems and remove people from working on projects that aren’t working. This requires an architecture that allows you to act locally but think globally. Some organizations are pursuing microservices to this end. Complex applications are composed of small, independent processes that focus on doing a single responsibility. With microservices, developers decouple software into smaller single-function units that can be replaced individually.

The New Normal: Protected Asset or Disposable Inventory?

The accounting department classifies software development work as a capital expense. That means, at least according to accounting, new software represents new capital investment that should increase productivity. This highlights a big divergence in the way accounting views software versus the way we should look at it.

We used to have a saying, “KLOCs kill.” The more lines of code, the more risk you have. As your system gets bigger it gets more complicated and difficult to work with. Code has a carry cost... you have to keep maintaining it. It has obsolescence risk. Undeployed code is exactly like unfinished automobiles: nobody pays you for it. Maintaining it is a liability not an asset. Excess code is a boat anchor that will weigh you down until you drown.

The New Normal: Minimize Risk by Maximizing Change

I once worked for a startup called "Totality." Our business was outsourced web operations for companies that either didn’t want to invest or lacked the skills to build and staff their own24x7 operations center. We handled all the production management, change management, incident management—essentially the entire ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) suite of processes.

During my time at Totality, we observed that nearly 50% of all our software outages happened within 24 hours of a software release. Since we were on the hook for uptime, but not new features, our response was obvious: Stop touching things!

Walmart Runs Clojure at Scale

Say the words "Black Friday" to a group of people and you'll get back a range of emotions. In 2014 this day of historically epic consumer enthusiasm on the Friday after Thanksgiving generated over $50 billion in sales from over 133 million U.S. shoppers. Although originally named for post-Thanksgiving traffic woes in Philadelphia in the 1960's, Black Friday has long been viewed by retailers (some of whom struggle "in the red" through much of the year) as a chance to get their financial numbers "in the black." But this massive surge in transactions is both an opportunity and a crisis for global retailers. Crowds of shoppers seeking pre-holiday deals can generate huge revenue boosts - along with massive spikes in web traffic and server loads. Last year several major retailers suffered system outages costing them $300,000 an hour, and substantially more during peak shopping times. While CFOs (and shoppers) may look to Black Friday with excited anticipation, many CTOs and IT Departments view their November calendars with increasing anxiety.

In preparation for the 2014 holiday season, project architect Anthony Marcar's team at WalmartLabs rolled out a new system designed from the ground up to handle the projected shopping frenzy. The result? After the staggering wave ebbed, his tweet following the surge said it all: 

Our Clojure system just handled its first Walmart black Friday and came out without a scratch.
— Anthony Marcar, Senior Architect - WalmartLabs

How did Walmart's eReceipts team of 8 developers build a system to process and integrate every purchase at Walmart's 5000+ stores, including online and mobile data? Simple - they used Clojure "all the way down" to build a powerful data system enabling the popular Savings Catcher, Vudu Instawatch, Black Friday's 1-Hour Guarantee, and other programs to improve the customer experience and streamline operations. 

Clojure uses anywhere from 5 to 10 times less code than other programming languages, speeding development time, reducing the instances of bugs, and lowering maintenance costs.

Take a behind-the-scenes look at how and why Walmart uses Clojure to reliably power one of the most demanding retail environments in the world as Anthony presents Clojure at Scale.