Abstract: The fundamental building block of Ning's (ning.com) application architecture is the Content Store—a datastore abstraction containing all of the content data for the millions of social websites running on Ning. Since 2005 and five generations, this session follows the evolution of the content store architecture. We look at the circumstances, requirements, decisions, and implementations at each step.

In 2005, Ning launched a social website application platform, the first modern PaaS (like AppEngine or Azure). At its core was the Ning Content Store, a schema-free hosted datastore accessed via HTTP APIs. By 2010, the content store was handling hundreds of thousands of accesses per second; Ning’s products and business model had radically changed.

This talk traces the evolution of the content store across five generations, examining in detail how it was implemented at the given time, why it was implemented that way, and why it needed to change with each new generation. The content store is the architectural center for all of Ning's applications, and sets the basis for scaling, fault isolation, multi-tenant security, and multi-site availability.

Led by Brian McCallister, a Distinguished Engineer at Ning, the talk dives deep into specific technologies, distribution techniques, implications of particular API design, and the failures, successes, and lessons learned along the way. We'll touch on technology selection, distributed systems, eventual consistency, capacity planning, defensive programming against hostile code in the system, optimization, re-architecting, and when to (and not to) do the Big Rewrite.

This Ning Tech Talk is presented as a chronological case study; we’ll be getting the audience involved. We’ll highlight the need to move quickly, change product direction, support continuous uptime, the trading off of features versus time versus money versus quality (varying greatly between 2005 and 2010). We’ll also impart useful knowledge about architectural decision-making at the core of a business.

Pizza, beer and other refreshments will be served. We'll begin with a quick series of informal "Lightning Talks" -- guests can present active projects or interests they're working on. If you'd like to present, there's a spot to propose your topic when you RSVP. There will also be time to ask Ning's Engineering and Ops teams any burning questions you have! We look forward to seeing you at Ning HQ in downtown Palo Alto!

To learn more about Ning's Engineering ninja skills, check out our Engineering blog, Ning Code (code.ning.com).


Brian McCallister is a Distinguished Engineer at Ning. He's led the design and implementation of one of the original Platform as a Service offerings on the Internet, and its technical and product evolution since Ning launched publicly in 2005. Brian has also served as a VP and Director of the Apache Software Foundation, which develops a wide range of open source software -- its software powers 70% of the web. Additionally, he specializes in consumer Internet systems, the intersection of group social dynamics with technology, and community driven open sourcing.


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