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Elastic Scaling

Speed Matters 

The performance characteristics of a system should enhance its usability, not get in the way of it. Systems that slow down when large processes are run and/or take multiple hours to complete reduce the usability of the system and it even changes how you use the system. Large processes are often run after hours to avoid system slowdowns during the day when staff are trying to get work done. Running a large process many times to do “what if” scenarios is off the table, especially in your production system. It can lead to a degraded posture in an organization where “we don’t do, what ifs, it’s too hard” behaviour is normalized, and system limitations start to define business operations.  

Processing Characteristics of Property Tax and Utility Billing Systems 

When I entered the software industry, running processes and large reports overnight was commonplace. Some may even remember the crazy days where a high-volume process was ‘kicked off” on the way out of the office, all set to grind through the data overnight! Running these processes during the day would slow down system responsiveness considerably, so it just wasn’t an option. The time for large computational processes to complete was often measured in hours. Making matters worse, if the process didn’t produce the correct results, or it fell over, requiring the whole thing to be re-run, it was a major event and certainly a headache for everyone involved. Every process pre-requisite, configuration setting, and launch parameter needed to be thoroughly checked prior to running a large process to avoid issues. You can imagine how stressful this was when trying to get your bills out the door or worse, your payroll done! 

Now, computers have gotten faster over the years, but system requirements and data have also increased as we have asked our software to do more. Even to this day, the load from running large processes can cause system responsiveness to slow down. The processing requirements in a municipal setting, especially for property tax and utility billing on a day-to-day basis, are significantly less than when a large process (think: mass bill calculations) is run. Put another way, the processing needs of property tax and utility billing systems are “spikey” and highly subjective to the life cycle of municipal revenue systems. This means the IT infrastructure provisioned for property tax and utility billing systems is primarily based on these large processes that are often run once a month or less, resulting in significant unused system capacity most of the time. 

Introducing Elastic Scaling  

Elastic scaling is a cloud computing feature that allows systems to automatically adjust their resources, such as CPU, memory, and storage, in real-time based on changing workloads. This dynamic capability ensures applications maintain optimal performance by scaling out during high demand and scaling in when demand decreases, leading to cost efficiency by avoiding over-provisioning. Commonly used in platforms like Azure, elastic scaling enhances flexibility and responsiveness, making it essential for modern, scalable applications. 

MUNIvers: Designed with Elastic Scaling from the Beginning 

MUNIvers data-intensive processes have been designed from the beginning to be elastically scalable. Large processes are run in chunks that can be processed in parallel-leveraging modern elastically-scaling cloud infrastructure. The result is that even for larger customers that are calculating several hundred thousand bills, the time to calculate and generate PDFs for property tax and utility bills is measured in minutes – not hours! We have engineered MUNIvers to be dynamically scalable using the elastic compute power of the Microsoft Azure and Salesforce solutions, without any requirement by users to change behavior or consider this aspect of their day-to-day business processes.  

“Cloud” and “SaaS” doesn’t Guarantee Elastically Scalability 

Legacy systems are not designed to take advantage of modern cloud computing and a system that is operating “SaaS” or “in the cloud” does not automatically mean it elastically scales. Many systems on the market have been re-skinned with a more modern web interface but remain largely unchanged with a back end that was created before elastic scaling became so readily available. Many even have a back end with a client/server heritage. Our decades of experience working with municipalities has shown us that most legacy platforms sold to municipal organizations providing Property Tax and Utility billing functionality are entirely inelastic and not truly cloud-delivered.  

Wrap Up 

The performance of a system should enhance usability rather than hinder it. Unfortunately, some systems slow down during large processes, impacting usability and altering user behaviour. Running these processes after hours to avoid slowdowns during work hours is common practice. However, the advent of elastic scaling has revolutionized large process execution. MUNIvers leverages elastically scalable cloud infrastructure to process property tax and utility billing efficiently, even for customers with hundreds of thousands of bills. Legacy property tax and utility billing systems often lack this scalability, emphasizing the need for modernization. 

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