Saturday, November 22, 2014

React conference in San Francisco 2014

Last week I attended the React conference in San Francisco. The conference is a two day event where speakers share their experiences on building reactive systems: ones that are resilient, elastic, responsive, and message driven. The reactive manifesto web page  has more detailed information about reactive systems, and why they are useful.

This year the conference was at Cobb's Comedy Club, a cozy venue for the roughly 300 people that attended the conference. Because of the tight space, power plugs were non existent, but the organizers were extremely thoughtful and provided every attendee with a rechargeable battery with iPhone and Android connectors.

The sessions in the conference were great, but a couple stood out. The first was Netflix's presentation "Resilient by Design", where the speaker talked about how Netflix designs and deploys their services: from using microservices that do one thing and do it very well with well defined interfaces, to cloud services everywhere, and thinking about failures and how to degrade gracefully when they happen. The speaker gave an example of the Netflix homepage, where every component from the movie recommendations, to the most popular movies, to the video bookmarking functionality is a service, and that when one of them fails, there is always a meaningful fallback that still allows the user to have a decent experience.

The second was the talk by Gil Tene from Azule systems about "Understanding Latency." The speaker gave great examples of how myopic statistics are deceiving, and how timing measurements in general suffer from mistakes of omission, especially when one request stalls and takes a long time to finish.

The third was the talk by Leslie Lamport about how to specify systems formally through TLA+. The talk was both entertaining and informational at the same time. Lamport admitted that engineers and their managers are allergic to formal specifications, and that they don't see value in them. He then gave a taste of what formal systems are, what they can help with, and  proceeded with counter examples to debunk the myth that formal specs are not useful. Some of the counter examples were discovering design problems that would have been very costly to fix in  Chord, dynamoDB and other Amazon web services, cache coherence in the alpha chip, and the XBox 360 memory model.

Hopefully the conference talks will be online on youtube for others to enjoy the talks as much as the conference attendees did.

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