The best and worst thing about working in the technology industry is that you constantly build custom solutions to problems, sometimes quite expensively, and then years later see the same problems get solved through affordable (or free) off-the-shelf products.
Recently I’ve been thinking about solutions that we could have really used during my stint at FOXSports.com, but didn’t exist at the time (2001-2003).
Amazon Web Services (EC2 and S3): It was exciting to support interactive polls during major FOX broadcasts like Super Bowl and World Series, but a huge challenge for the technology organization, particularly in the areas of capacity planning and scaling. We literally had our hosting provider bring in additional servers for these events, and then decommission them after the events ended. If we had EC2 we might have been able to scale more flexibly during these events. Also, we had loads of static content stored in our Oracle database, and served up by our web servers. S3 would have allowed us to serve this content more effectively while reducing our reliance on a homegrown caching system.
Cloud integration (a la Boomi, CastIron Systems): As a sports website, we had a whole bunch of data and content feeds that we’d get from third parties. Each feed was a custom integration using different protocols, authentication methods, and required specialized operations support. If we had solutions like Boomi or CastIron available to us, we could have saved ourselves and our partners a whole lot of development time, and the end result would have been a more operationally supportable set of systems, with more flexibility to onboard new business partners quickly.
Application caching layer (e.g. memcached): We built our own caching platform within our app so that we wouldn’t hit our Oracle database so often with reads. The cache logic was built in our app and the storage for the cache was an NFS shared volume sitting on a Netapp NAS device. If we built the site today, we could have leveraged memached (or one of its commercial derivatives) and saved a bunch of dev, testing and debugging time.
Google Analytics: We spent a ton of money on web analytics solutions back in the day. Google Analytics would have given us much of the same functionality, for free. Enough said :)
All of these solutions would have addressed big pain points for our tech team, and consequently for our business as a whole.
Would love to hear any of your war stories related to this topic in the comments.