Building Blocks

Building Software Better

Being Ephemeral

Posted by Mark on August 28, 2008

There are lots of topics in programming languages, IT infrastructure, and system design that turn out to be all about persistence vs. being ephemeral. I don’t believe people realize it, but “being ephemeral” is the core question and the standard answer should be? 42. Which given it is >0 is ‘Yes’. So “Be Ephemeral” unless you can’t possibly be ephemeral.

When can’t you be ephemeral?… turns out it is in a very small number of cases. Ruby is more ephemeral than the standard Smalltalk ‘image’ approach, so it wins. Xen/VMWare is more ephemeral than a physical machine, so it wins. _Scripted_ vm image building is more ephemeral than image snapshots, so its win. Credit-card receipts in a retail store… well those have to be remembered (persistent) or you could lose money or customers or both. So make that persistent 🙂

Performance is always a consideration: ‘rebuilding’ an image could be time-expensive, but the old adage [annotated] of:
* Make it work (ephemerally if possible)
* Make it right
* Make it fast (pull the ephemerally _iff necessary_)
is the right approach. You may be amazed at how ephemeral things can be. NowUR built virtual desktop in less than 30 seconds — by being ephemeral. An with Amazon EC2, for many things I can just plug in a script and have lots of ‘yummy’ things happen in the same amount of time.

Why is “Being Ephemeral” right? Well, there is one simple reason:
* Inventory of outdated parts is very expensive (Theory Of Constraints, Lean Methods, etc.)

And if you can make it through the old adage without needing any Inventory, you have a better (less expensive, more agile, higher velocity) solution than someone that cheats by using Inventory.

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