Look at your infrastructure and the way you handle your operations and ask yourself:

“Are we more like the Borg or the Federation?”

If you are not sure, one way you can tell is to look at the pieces of your infrastructure and see if they have personality. If a server has personality, then it is more like the Enterprise. There may be sister ships, like the USS Yamato, but it has its own personality because Geordi has made improvements and its crew has made it unique. Disgusting.

Why disgusting? Personality is the antithesis of scalability. With a large number of servers, each with their own personality, you will need more administrators, and a chaotic management structure. The Borg are the good guys. This is because of some of the distinct advantages of being more like the Borg:

  • In the Borg collective, individual drones and ships can be destroyed without much thought. They are easily replaced.
  • There are different types of Borg vessels, cubes, spheres, tactical cubes, but within these types, there is no personality.
  • Improvements that are assimilated become part of their whole collective making them highly adaptable

In IT operations, your servers should be drones that are easily replaced. You may have different classes of servers, but if they are all the same within each class they are easier to manage. For example, if you have a different brands of hard drives and RAID cards in each server, you will have spend time figuring out the settings, tweaks and compatibility issues for each of these different types. You will also have to track updates for each of these two different things and figure out methods of deployment for each of these types if a vendor doesn’t provide tools to manage these. With configuration and centralized management you can update and adapt improvements to all your servers rapidly. Deploying a change to all servers is just a script or a policy, not a manual process for each server. If you hand code each configuration file and manually deploy software they will start to become different over time when mistakes are made — this is one of the main ways servers develop personality.

At Stack Exchange, we have done a good job at achieving this with our web tier. We do have 1 staging web server, but for our other 9 web servers, the seventh is just seven of nine. George has made a deployment process which includes everything we need, making any web server disposible, and a new one ready for assimilation. Should one of them be destroyed, the others will automatically take over without concern. However, in some areas we are still more like the Federation. We have 4 database servers, and we have noticed areas where our db01/db02 pair is unlike our db03/db04 pair. If one of our primary servers fail, we will mourn the loss as we carry out a manual fail over process. If we were more like the Borg in this area, we could initiate self destruct on one of these servers without a care as the Borg queen would do.

The Borg are the role model, not the Federation. Next time you look at a server that has personality, your first thought should be: “You will be assimilated.”

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  1. Hyppy says:

    I can’t agree more. There will always be Federation ships circling the fleet for miscellaneous infrastructure roles, but the core of any decent environment should just be a series cubes and spheres (shooting torpedoes down the series of tubes).

  2. Shawn Quillman says:

    Well said.  The business should have as big a HAL as you can possibly make.

  3. Nick says:

    Great post!  Also, taking the borg model, you get the ability to interfere with the internal development of alien civilizations, otherwise expressively prohibited as part of the Prime Directive of the Federation.  

  4. Shrawan Patel says:

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  5. Sam Nead says:

    I was under the impression that (at certain levels) monocultures are fragile and should be avoided.

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