Book Review: Web Operations

I had to fly to Brisbane last week and decided to use the flights to read Web Operations, by John Allspaw and Jesse Robins.

This is one more of the "Theory in Practice" books from O’Reilly. Like most books from this series I had access to, this one is a collection of articles by different authors. I don’t love this format; it feels like a compilation of quasi-related long blog posts. More like an anthology then a cohesive piece.

The book has 17 articles on various topics related to keeping a heavy-traffic website up. If you are used to reading High Scalability and related sites there is nothing really new or mind-blowing here. People that are new to operations and support activities will probably find interesting content, though.

Not all articles are good. Some get lost in irrelevant details about current technology and some are way too abstract to be useful. If you don’t have much time to read the full text, these are the articles I’ve found particularly valuable:

  • Infrastructure and Application Metrics
  • Continuous Deployment
  • Monitoring
  • How Complex Systems Fail
  • Things That Go Bump in the Night (and How to Sleep Through Them)

This is the kind of book I wish was available in 2002, when I was asked to architect the infrastructure for an insurance company that was going online. It was a big shock for me to move from the works on my machine mentality to understanding what a production environment should be like.

I think it can be interesting as the second book for someone new to operations, following the excellent Release It by Michael Nygard.