Download PDF version of this article PDF

Quality Really Is Job #1

Charlene O’Hanlon, ACM Queue

I hate my car. I really do. Not because it’s a minivan—that was a lapse in judgment on my part that I can (and do) smack myself for, but that’s not the car’s fault. I hate my minivan because it is poorly made.

I won’t disclose the manufacturer of the minivan, but I will say it is a Japanese automaker that once had a great reputation as a builder of high-quality, safe automobiles but has since been purchased by one of the big three U.S. automakers. Unfortunately, that U.S. automaker doesn’t have the greatest of reputations in the quality department (although in its defense it does make a pretty decent pickup truck). Had I known when I bought the minivan that the Japanese company was part of the larger U.S. auto group, I never would have made the purchase.

Since I took possession of the minivan (or the Minivan of Love, as I call it, partly because I’m embarrassed now to be seen driving it and try to minimize that by coming up with catchy names for it), it has had four safety recalls that I know of—two for fairly major issues—and has been trashed by most if not all of the major consumer groups for low scores in vehicle crash tests. In short, the minivan I bought for safety (not looks, mind you) isn’t any safer than my first car, a 1965 Ford Falcon that had a metal dashboard and no air conditioning (especially bad if you live in Arizona, which I did).

And don’t even get me started about the minivan’s performance. On a good day it chugs along with just an occasional whine that sounds like a screech owl is caught in the axle. On any other day, the transmission has been known to lurch from first gear to second like a businessman trying to board the commuter train after a three-martini lunch.

And did I mention the Minivan of Love is only four years old, but a youngster in automobile years, with little more than 50,000 miles on it?

So why am I relaying my motor vehicle woes to you? The point is, performance and quality go hand in hand, which is exactly the sentiment Philip Beevers of royalblue puts forth in his article, “A High-Performance Team.” Building from the right design will ensure high performance and high quality. The idea is to think of performance not as an afterthought but from the outset. Performance, he says, should be a necessary ingredient in the recipe for any product at any level in the network or software stack.

Beevers’ article is just one in the stable of ideas regarding system performance in this issue. Bart Smaalders, in his article, “Performance Anti-Patterns,” discusses the reasons for performance breakdown and how companies can take a few simple steps to reduce or avoid performance breakdown altogether.

Bryan Cantrill of Sun Microsystems—this issue’s guest expert—writes about the problem of software observability (or, as I like to call it, not seeing the forest for the trees) in “Hidden in Plain Sight.” Often the root of a system’s problems is a simple mislabel, misconfiguration, or oversight, difficult to diagnose at first blush but easy enough to see in retrospect.

Finally, Mark Purdy, in his article, “Modern Performance Monitoring,” discusses the importance of monitoring to determine the causes of latency and other network issues. It’s a simple enough concept, yet it’s widely disregarded in real-world applications.

As always, this issue is chock-full of good stuff for the performance freak in all of us. A well-performing network can mean the difference of millions of dollars in company revenue. How much are you willing to throw away to a poorly or slow-performing network?

Me? I just want my minivan to get me from point A to point B without anything major going wrong. I’m guessing now that’s why the dealer was pushing the extended warranty. I’m glad I took it.

P.S. Like Jarod Jenson’s interview in this month’s issue? Go online and listen to his subsequent Queuecast interview. Log on to and click on the Queuecasts link on the home page.

CHARLENE O’HANLON, editor and publisher of ACM Queue, is thinking about trading in the Minivan of Love for a Mini Cooper, partly because it would be easier to park at the train station. (Did someone say, “Create your own space”?)


Originally published in Queue vol. 4, no. 1
see this item in the ACM Digital Library


© ACM, Inc. All Rights Reserved.