Performance doesn't matter
posted by Jeff
Just because you can calculate the exact date of the Big Bang with your Web application doesn't mean you need to.
Performance doesn't matter. You heard me.
Got your attention? Good! I have to partially retract the above statement.
Performance does matter, but not all of the time. This became obvious to
me as I read an intellectual battle-royal between some developers who blog on
Weblogs @ ASP.NET and even
more folks over on the www.asp.net
forums. The big debate was about the use of stored procedures in SQL Server
versus so-called "ad hoc" queries made from your code.
The merits of both sides of the argument not withstanding, the debate ignored
one of the key premises that have made any kind of development on the Web almost
a given on every site: Code monkeys do what gets the job done the best way they
know how, even if it's not the "best" way to go about it.
That's a pretty strange realization for someone like me, who spent a lot of
weeks last year trying to get
POP Forums to be as fast
as humanly possible. I figured if Google could get their search results in under
three tenths of a second, I could do my part to get my forum pages rendering in
a hundredth of a second or less (and I succeeded in some respects).
This is where too often people who have immersed themselves deep in
enterprise architecture start to lose touch with what's going on in the bulk of
Web development. If you have that big league experience, you follow fairly
standard practices and patterns to design applications that can handle the
stress of hundreds (maybe thousands) of transactions per second. That's a good
thing, because not everyone gets to acquire that experience, let alone share it.
However, if I had to guess, that experience is not the bulk of what goes on
across the Internet. Yes, there are huge banking and insurance applications on
the Internet. However, for every one of those giant applications there are
likely thousands of smaller personal sites that do everything from blogs to
simple news headlines.
That brings us back to the debate I mentioned. Is the small developer that
runs a fan site on stamp collecting wrong because she doesn't use stored
procedures to fetch her news headlines? Absolutely not! (We do hope that she's
parameterizing her queries, but she's certainly not wrong.) If she gets a couple
thousand page views a day, and all she does is show headlines, she doesn't need
some giant n-tier application that can drive a rover on Mars.
Obviously Microsoft itself feels that the gains made in making development
simple are worth the trade-offs in performance. The next version of ASP.NET,
known as Whidbey, shows just how serious they are about it. You'll be able to
put a DataSouce control right in your page, complete with connection strings and
SQL statements, and bind your list controls right to it. You won't need a single
line of code to make it work.
Can you imagine? Putting elements of a data access layer in your presentation
layer? I'm sure that it makes object-oriented die-hards get a twitch in their
neck and a dry mouth. Enterprise architects stand up and dismiss the practice
with a nose to the air and a tight grip on their wireless mouse (that or they
start posting about how your DBA on staff can help you... as if everyone has a
DBA at their disposal). These camps frequently can't see that these
pattern-breaking code monkeys are building applications that suit their needs
quickly and easily, empowered by the simplicity of their platform.
ASP.NET is a fabulous platform for us to build our Web applications on, and
no one questions that its architecture and object-oriented nature is a huge part
of what makes it so powerful. It's the duty of experienced developers and sites
like this one to spread the gospel and share our experience, so that the next
person we hire at our big fancy enterprise job is better suited to our needs.
However, it's not our place to forget that what might appear the "quick and
dirty" way to do things is frequently worth every penny in terms of time spent
solving a problem. Not every application needs to be broken up into discreet
layers because the difference in performance is too insignificant to bother
spending all of that time on it to get there.
Think about it... why is PHP so popular? It's easy to learn, it does most of
the basic things you need and it can pull out data with just a little bit of
code. You see people getting into holy wars about how PHP is inferior to, well,
almost anything else, but those leading such crusades never stop to see that PHP
is making it quick and easy for people to build simple Web applications.
Performance actually does matter, but like everything in software
development, the expected outcome must be weighed against the cost, in terms of
time and money, required to get there.
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