Hammerspace

Today I open sourced hammerspace, a project that I’ve been working on for the last few months. The accompanying blog post explains the context and motivation. For me, there are three important takeaways.

First, make sure you know what your application is doing. We knew that application startup was slow, and that loading translations over the network was probably expensive, and that all of those translations probably took up a decent chunk of memory. But we never actually measured these things, so we never understood how slow or expensive or large these things were. And we didn’t anticipate how all of these things conspired together to cause such severe performance degradation.

Second, not all “memory” is equal. A lot of the comments on Hacker News suggested shared memory, or mmap’d files, or memcache or redis. Prior to hammerspace we were using the heap, and after hammerspace we are using the filesystem cache. These are all effectively “in memory” solutions, but they vary wildly in ease of implementation and speed of access from within ruby. Don’t just assume that because you’re keeping data “in memory” that it will automatically be fast.

Third, your time is not always best spent writing code. My co-worker and I joke that we don’t write more than 10 lines of code a week, and there’s some truth to it — at time of release, hammerspace is only 736 lines of production code, or 528 lines if you exclude whitespace and comments. And yet the impact was huge — 66% reduction in in-request garbage collection time, and a 17% reduction in application server response time overall. The real time and effort was spent hunting down the cause of the problem, evaluating potential solutions scientifically, deploying increasingly invasive experiments to production, collecting and analyzing data, iteratively refining the design, generalizing the solution, writing an extensive test suite, documenting everything, evangelizing the solution internally, and preparing the project for public release.

This has been the nature of my work recently. Every so often I still have to just crank out a bunch of code, but increasingly I’ve been spending more time on the things around the code. It’s gratifying to have something you can maintain, be proud of, and deploy with confidence. I’m very much looking forward to my next project.