Digg’s main competitor (Reddit) runs Cassandra but their VP of Engineering was fired for the decision to switch.

Apparently, Digg performed a big migration from MySQL to Cassandra and a big migration to their new Digg v4 architecture and now their VP of Engineering has been shown the door:

Ever since Digg launched its new site design, it’s been plagued with all kinds of trouble, not least of which is that it keeps going down. The problems with the new architecture are so bad that VP of Engineering John Quinn is now gone, we’ve confirmed with sources close to Digg.

In a Diggnation video today, CEO Kevin Rose explained some of the technical issues the site is dealing with and why it can’t simply roll back to the previous architecture. The new version of Digg, v4, is based on a distributed database called Cassandra, which replaced the MySQL database the site ran on before. Cassandra is very advanced—it is supposed to be faster and scale better—but perhaps it is still too experimental. Or maybe it’s just the way Digg implemented it (Twitter uses Cassandra, although not for its main data store, as does Facebook in places, but it obviously is not as battle-tested as it needs to be). Every engineer at Digg is currently just trying to keep the site up and running.

Some of this is political. Perhaps Mr. Quinn was excused for other reasons above and beyond this switch.

Perhaps he should have had buy in from other members of the team. Had Rose personally signed off on this migration it would have been tough to fire their VP of Engineering.

The technical aspects on this type of migration are VERY difficult. Not just because you’re moving from one DB to another but a lot of the polish, fit, and finish of your existing system tend to be taken for granted over time.

Newer databases don’t have this type of polish and you end up having to duplicate a lot of infrastructure that’s already present on the previous generation.

MySQL is definitely no panacea. You’re going to have pain either way. At least with some of the modern DBs you’re partially headed in the right direction.

One trend I’ve seen is for people to use the LAMP stack to serve websites but then to use Hadoop + Hive as part of their ETL setup so they can run reports and transform production data.

There is no solid bigtable implementation just yet. I wish there was but it doesn’t seem like we have one just yet.

Cassandra isn’t that bad of course. Reddit, Digg’s main competitor – is running Cassandra.

Seems like a strange thing to fire someone over. If you’re main competitor is running the same database the decision to switch certainly couldn’t have been too bad.


  1. Kevin — I think you hit the nail on the head with your last paragraph — “Seems like a strange thing to fire someone over. If you’re main competitor is running the same database the decision to switch certainly couldn’t have been too bad.”

    Very likely, he was fired because he did not make sure the new system was tested well enough, and did not have a viable rollback plan. These are serious problems for a VP of Engineering to make, no matter what technology is used!

  2. “There is no solid bigtable implementation just yet.”
    The reason for this is that bigtable is not perfect and projects like Cassandra are actually trying to make something more advanced than bigtable. I don’t think it’s worth implementing pure Bigtable database, the hard part is to make it better. I think Cassandra is certainly trying very hard to do that – keep the best of Bigtable and add extra capabilities to it. I agree that Cassandra lacks many features that are present in traditional database, namely you have to manually create indexes as separate tables. It’s designed to scale to huge, unlimited data size. The main benefit of Cassandra is that any time you are running out of space you just add another server, easy as that! Totally elastic.

  3. Adam Jacob Muller

    The title of this post really sounds like someone from reddit was fired, not digg.






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