SpaceX vs. NASA: Scalability

SpaceX is fast, cheap, and scalable. NASA is slow, expensive, and bespoke.

Bent Flyvbjerg
Geek Culture

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By Atif Ansar and Bent Flyvbjerg

Source: Wikipedia

What Is Scalability?

We define scalability as the ability to handle an increased volume and variety of workload without crashing or needing a disproportionate number of additional resources. The concept is borrowed from computer science and is distinct from conventional notions of economies of scale in economics (see Ansar et al., 2016 for a discussion).†

To be truly scalable a system must be capable in handling both a surge of demand as it comes in and as the surge goes out. Google is an example of a highly scalable system. Millions of people searching for results on an election night does not crash Google. Similarly, once people lose interest in election results, Google is not left stranded with investments in assets it cannot repurpose. It redeploys its algorithms, datacentres, and connectivity infrastructure to seamlessly address other searches. Scalable systems are fast, replicable, and adaptable in dealing with an increased volume and variety of workload (Ansar et al., 2016; Flyvbjerg, 2021).

SpaceX is fast, NASA is slow. In highlighting the slow-moving pace of NASA’s big one-offs, the intention here is not to undermine…

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Bent Flyvbjerg
Geek Culture

Professor Emeritus, University of Oxford; Professor, IT University of Copenhagen. Writes about project management. https://www.linkedin.com/in/flyvbjerg/