February 24, 2021

5 Factors to Consider When Building Scalable Applications

Nabeel Keblawi

5 Factors to Consider When Building Scalable Applications

App scalability is one of the most important features to consider when building scalable applications. 

It’s what will make or break your application and it's something that should be planned from the very start. There are a number of things you need to take into account before deciding if your application can scale, including what you expect the future throughput and load might be. 

Before we dive into these key factors and considerations, let’s define what “scalability” means,  what scalable applications are, and why it is important to start designing them with scalability in mind.

What Are Scalable Applications? 

Scalability refers to an application's capacity or ability to grow with demand without degrading performance or disrupting the user experience. When you have a scalable application, you can add more resources when needed, which improves your ability to serve customer requests under heavy load, as well as reduce downtime due to server crashes.

People online want their data right away without delay. Imagine the frustration of having video call interruptions or getting disconnected from a chat because the application couldn’t handle the load? These happen when apps aren’t designed with scalability in mind from the outset.

Why Is App Scalability Important?

In a world of hyper connectivity, it’s crucial for applications to handle increased traffic and loads. App scalability is important because they need to be able to handle a growing number of users at once. Developers need to keep this in mind as they create a plan so that even after growth there are no problems with performance.

Building scalable applications is a great way to future-proof for growth and plan ahead for unexpected surges in usage. HeySummit is a great case example of an application that suddenly experienced a surge in users when everyone went virtual during the Covid-19 pandemic. We’ll cover this case in more detail in a bit.

The important step to take toward building scalable applications is to start thinking about scalability during the earliest stages of development, rather than treating it as an afterthought.

Here are some key factors that affect the ability of your application to scale when usage surges:

  • Performance: At what point does performance begin to degrade?
  • Recoverability: How quickly can the app get back up and running after a failure?
  • Ease of management: How easy is it to maintain and update an application?

A scalable application should have a high bar until which performance doesn’t degrade significantly. It should also be easy to update, maintain, and restore after downtime of any kind.

5 Things to Consider When Building Scalable Applications

The first thing to keep in mind is that app scalability is not a new language or framework. Rather, it is a methodology based on a set of principles. 

The overarching theme is that things always change and businesses must be prepared to adapt to these changes. The Covid pandemic is a perfect case example that shows which businesses were able to adapt and fare better than those who could not. 

Let’s drill down into the more specific factors that go into building scalable applications:

1. Supporting future increases in throughput

Throughput is simply the number of requests per second by number of users, and scalability is a measure of efficiency as throughput increases. 

A scalable application needs to maintain or improve efficiency as throughput increases, so it must be designed specifically to scale to prevent bottlenecks when there is a surge in app users.

2. Maintaining the best possible user experience

How many users can your app support without sacrificing speed, network connectivity, and overall quality of user experience?

3. Choosing the right hardware that helps you scale

While hardware will make up the backbone of your application, what you want to consider is when your user base grows, will you be able to upgrade RAM and your CPU processors? How easy will that be? 

Basically you can scale an app in two directions: vertical or horizontal. Vertical means upgrading to a faster CPU core and adding more RAM. Horizontal means adding more servers and more CPU cores. 

If you’re using cloud to support your application, make sure you would be able to quickly scale up to the next tier of cloud usage and bandwidth, especially before that first major surge. 

4. Best design practices using the right tools and frameworks

Before developing a scalable application, you’ll want to think about using the right frameworks that support asynchronous programming, database optimization, loose coupling, partitioning and caching to maintain app performance as you grow your user base. These frameworks include Node.js, AngularJS, among several others.

You will also want to consider cloud storage if you want scale on demand and pay for usage. If your application uses multiple servers, you’ll want to spread out the load across those servers. Load balancing software can do that. 

Another design practice involves microservices, which takes advantage of decentralized modular design that allows you to update and maintain parts of an application without affecting the entire application. 

Finally, caching for web applications can help reduce costs on data loading and increase reusability, allowing your users to retrieve data more quickly without hitting up your servers on multiple requests.

5. Load testing using realistic simulations 

Before you bring your app into production or release it to your user base, you’ll want to address any potential issues not yet uncovered through the design and development process. 

Load testing uses realistic simulations of user demand to see how your application reacts. If performance issues crop up as throughput increases during this test, that’s a very useful discovery to address without having to risk frustration among your users.

Case Example: HeySummit Scales Virtual Events With CometChat

When HeySummit, a team of five at the time, confronted a surge in users wanting virtual events and conferences, they had a decision to make. They could have developed a scalable virtual event application in-house, or used a ready-made solution to help them field virtual events faster. HeySummit achieved the following results with the help of CometChat’s team:

Growing into the product

After evaluating several vendors, HeySummit chose CometChat because “CometChat has been thinking several steps ahead of where we are in terms of threading, creating channels, voice and video conferencing,” explained Rob Gelb, the CEO of HeySummit. 

Gelb added: “These are helpful because we know we can grow into it and help us scale really fast. We were able to reduce the time to go live with a virtual event and reduce the chances for unknown unknowns that would happen if we had tried building live chat in-house.”

Rather than spending at least four months to develop a new solution in-house, HeySummit (having grown to a team of 35) was able to host an event with at least 27,000 people within two months of having an initial discovery call with CometChat. 

Adding new functionality to a growing app

Where CometChat helps with app scalability are its add-ons and extensions when moving from a minimum viable product to version one to version two, and so on. This enables applications to deliver richer experiences to increasing numbers of monthly active users and concurrent users.

Complete support with UI kits and clear documentation

CometChat also provides the flexibility to create new apps on an ad-hoc basis using UI kits supported by clear API documentation. This flexibility has been said to be critical for the success of virtual events in a time of great disruption caused by the pandemic. 

Along with a responsive team, CometChat even provides a dashboard to help companies like HeySummit deal with any problems that arise before and during a virtual summit.

Final Takeaways

Building scalable applications is a great way to future-proof for growth and plan ahead for unexpected surges in usage.

Scalable applications are able to support future increases in throughput and maintain the best possible user experience even during surges. They are based on the best design practices using the appropriate tools and frameworks.

HeySummit is a good case example of an application that had the foresight to create a more adaptive and flexible framework once the Covid-19 pandemic hit. They were able to “grow” into the product and add new functionality even during surges.

Behind CometChat’s UI kits and APIs are clear and complete documentation along with a responsive customer support team. Get in touch to talk about how CometChat can help scale your business.

About the Author

Nabeel Keblawi, a deaf entrepreneur, runs a Content Marketing and SEO agency that helps B2B SaaS companies grow organically in their industries around the world. His previous work experience involved software development, renewable energy, and cloud computing. In his personal life, Nabeel loves to go hiking with his family, and dust off his skis to hit the slopes given the chance. He is also an avid reader of fictional history.

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