Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Testable System Architecture

At work we were having a discussion about how we wanted to do SSL termination for a particular web service. We had narrowed the possibilities down to doing hardware SSL termination in our load balancer or doing software SSL termination in an Apache layer sitting in front of our web apps.

During the course of the conversation, we talked about factors like performance (would there be a noticeable effect on latency), capacity (were we already CPU bound on the servers that would run the Apaches), maintainability (is it easier to update configs on a single load balancer or to script config changes across a cluster with 40+ servers), cost (how much does the SSL card cost), and scalability (will we be able to expand the solution out to higher traffic levels easily).

I think this was a pretty typical example of taking a reasoned approach to system design and trying to cover all the potential points of view. However, it ended up that we left a big one off: testability.

The business rules about which URLs need to be SSL terminated and which ones don't (or shouldn't) need to be encoded somewhere, and we'd already ruled out doing the SSL termination in the application itself for other reasons, so that means they'd be encoded in either a load balancer config or an Apache config. Which one of these is easier to get under automated test on a developer workstation? For an agile shop where quality and time-to-market are of primary importance, this is a question we can't forget to ask when designing our system architecture.

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