eBay’s New Grid

    October 26, 2004

For those of us who consider ourselves to be computer geeks, the latest changes at eBay are very interesting to note. eBay users (both sellers and buyers) are commenting that the site seems to be working faster, no longer has a scheduled “maintenance period,” and is indexing newly listed auctions more quickly.

You can thank Mark Abbott, eBay’s senior vice president of technology, for all that.

eBay changed its systems from a centralized database that served several Web servers data (view this as a wagon wheel: with the database being the hub and the spokes being the individual Web server clusters serving the world). This has very obvious drawbacks, the biggest of which was made apparent during some of the ‘Nets bigger disasters, such as the SOBIG Worm and the massive power outage on the northeast coast of the U.S.

So eBay began making changes. They changed how the entire infrastructure of their website and database is built, putting everything in a much more stable environment.

eBay switched from the hub-and-spoke network I’ve illustrated to a “grid” system in which they now have four major data centers, all sharing information with one another. The way it works is very unique and thoughtful.

The main hubs are in Santa Clara County, California (two), Sacramento, California, and in Denver, Colorado. In the usual grid setup, you have at least two centers each with the capacity to handle 100% of your operations.

In this setup, eBay has four centers, each with the capacity to handle 50% (half) of their operations. All four of the hubs share data in real-time with one another, so they’re all kept appraised of what their “other half” is doing. So when you query the eBay site, you have an equal chance of hitting any of the four centers.

What does all this mean? Well, aside from the unique setup, it also means a lot of new speed and reliability.

eBay users have no doubt noticed that the weekly scheduled maintenance eBay used to do is no longer. Users have also no doubt noticed the new speed of delivery and updating the new system gives, despite eBay’s page views having gone from 54 million in 1999 to 509 million in 2004 (average)! In addition to this, average updates (listing in search results), which in 1999/2000 took 6-12 hours to happen, now average 90 seconds…

So the improvements are huge.

For those of you who use PayPal as well, expect similar improvements to happen there soon too.

Aaron Turpen is the author of “The eBay PowerSeller’s Book of
Knowledge” and the editor/publisher of two successful newsletters, in
their fourth year of publication, The Aaronz WebWorkz Weekly
Newsletter and Aaronz Auction Newsletter. You can find out more about
these and other great resources from Aaron at his website