What is scalability?
Scalability is a system’s capability to adapt to new demands easily and adjust to fluctuations in activity. It typically refers to an increase in activity, although it can be referred to scaling down in certain circumstances. Scalability can apply to any system or field, including software, business, financial markets or manufacturing. In financial markets, for example, a firm is considered scalable if it can continue working successfully after increased market demand.
When starting a business, scalability can be an important consideration in understanding how your business might look months, or years down the line.
What is a scalable business?
The definition varies but a scalable business is also often referred to as a high-growth enterprise. How is this defined? There are several ways - including using both its turnover, and its company size (in terms of employees) but both the OECD and EU define it as such:
- The enterprise has at least 10 employees at the start of the recording process, and grows its headcount size by at least 10% per year for 3 years.
- The enterprise records at least 20% turnover/business growth per year, for 3 years.
Businesses meeting these criteria are often referred to as scalable businesses.
Scalability and information technology
Scalability is essential for the longevity of any business, but is particularly important in information technology (IT). Scalability in IT is the measure of a system’s ability to continue functioning properly after undergoing a software or hardware expansion. In today’s competitive software market, tech companies must be able to handle quick expansive growth to remain relevant. A system is considered scalable when it doesn’t need to be redesigned after an increase in workload to continue functioning.
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Examples of scalability
There are many examples of scalability within the field of IT. These include:
The performance of a computer system after increasing the amount of storage it holds
The performance of a hardware system after after an increase in the number of users
How well a database handles multiple queries at the same time
The ability of business software to handle an increase in sales data
Computer systems with growing numbers of users or an increase in activity should be evaluated for scalability to determine how well they’re running.
What happens when a system is not scalable?
When a system is not scalable, users will face problems with functionality. This may include slow loading times because the server takes too long to respond to requests, decreased availability or even lost data. This can have serious consequences for anyone involved. For instance, workplace productivity may suffer if a network can’t handle multiple requests at once. Likewise, businesses that produce customer-facing software may experience technical difficulties, resulting in a potential loss of customers.
When a problem does arise, it’s no surprise that the more complex a system, the more difficult it is to determine the cause of the problem. This is why it’s important for scalability to be considered from the outset, even before a system grows. Because when the time comes to expand, it’s vital to maintain proper functioning of the system. This is something all business owners should bear in mind.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How can you measure scalability?
The answer to this will always vary, depending on the context within which you're hoping to scale and measure it. Common metrics include throughput, response time and resource utilization.
How can scalability be improved?
While there is no on size fits all answer, common techniques include load balancing, caching and horizontal scaling.
What are some common scalability challenges?
The main ones include bottlenecks, competition for resources and issues with being able to identify the precise source of cause of a performance issue, or blocker in the system.
Why is cloud computing important for scalability?
Cloud computing allows for greater flexibility in responding to demands for more or less resources from a system, like a server. It eliminates the need for physical infrastructure which can be resource consuming and less flexible.