Every time a company invests in a new software solution, a key consideration is the IT resources required to support this new application or platform. These resources include servers, storage capacity, and computing power, among other necessities, to run the software smoothly. Planning for what is needed now, future growth needs, and even seasonal impact on business can involve a lot of estimation and guesswork. This ability for software to accommodate a company's technical capacity and growth needs is called scale.
The advent of cloud computing has made scaling more straightforward. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions have risen in popularity because IT requires no physical resources to manage them as the application vendors manage the infrastructure in the cloud. Not only does cloud significantly reduce maintenance efforts and the hidden costs of owning a software solution, but scaling can also happen on demand in weeks or months compared with physical infrastructure.
How cloud scalability works
Scalability in the cloud is the process of handling growing or decreasing demands on the system. Cloud scaling occurs in two common ways: vertical (scaling up or down) and horizontal scaling (scaling in or out).
Vertical scaling is like having a box where you can fill it up to the top. Once the box is filled, you cannot add anything more to it. To grow beyond the capacity of the box's size, you need to replace the box with a bigger box. A software application on the cloud scales vertically in the same way. Whether it's the number of users, memory, or processing power, the storage size of your cloud instance is as much as you can grow or handle.
A cloud instance is a virtual server provided in a public cloud, such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, or a private cloud. To continue to grow, you need to upgrade to a larger cloud instance or add another one, so you have the space to continue to grow. When scaling vertically, the entire application works as a unit in the codebase, so upgrades to a new instance require everything to be moved over. This can mean some downtime for the application, preventing users from accessing it.
Horizontal scaling is often described as a two-lane highway where more lanes or additional roads such as an overpass can be added to meet the demands of increasing vehicle traffic due to a growing population. This approach allows the distribution of the traffic so that it can flow more efficiently. In the cloud, horizontal scaling is about partitioning and distributing the workload across instances or virtual resources so that the workload of the software application can run efficiently across the resources to meet demand. Scaling out enables infinite scale as you're not limited by the instance's size, and the workload can continue to be distributed as you add more instances.
Horizontal scaling works especially well in a cloud-native architecture where data and functionality are already partitioned in containerized microservices. With microservices and containers, you can focus on scaling the services or parts of the application that require more capacity or are experiencing more growth versus having to scale the entire system as you would in vertical scaling.
One of the major reasons for the popularity of cloud-native applications or SaaS solutions is that the challenges of infrastructure scale to meet business scale are simplified or eliminated. Many SaaS applications use a combination of vertical and horizontal scaling to support various customer scenarios.
Benefits of cloud scalability
Whether an application is scalable vertically, horizontally, or both, the cloud provides several benefits over on-prem scaling:
- Fast and easy scaling up or out can typically be requested or provisioned with a few clicks or automatically, with the additional resources made available the same day.
- Operational flexibility handles bursts of growth or unexpected changes in your business at any time without requiring investment and setup of physical servers
- Better performance enables a consistent experience no matter what the workload is on the system
- Cost-efficiency reduces your IT's purchasing overhead and maintenance of additional servers as your business grows
- Predictability provides you with the ability to monitor and measure when and how much you need to scale for better growth and investment planning
Cloud-native automation solutions can fulfill the promise of this technology. From automating workload-intensive processes, addressing seasonal or temporary growth, or connecting systems across your entire organization through automation, a cloud-native RPA solution will help you scale easily, quickly, and efficiently.