Google i/o registration opened this morning. It featured a brand new, internally developed, registration system designed to cope with the massive overload from last year.
It failed horribly. No, the servers didn't error out. Instead the user was repeatedly subjected to "We are checking for available tickets. Please wait and this page will update automatically" followed some five minutes later by "Sorry! There are no available tickets at this time. You can try again from the register page"
While they may have fixed the server and browser timeouts, Google completely failed to solve the real problem: the registration process left almost everyone feeling let down and definitely unimpressed with Google. Last year they could blame it on an external vendor. This year they have nobody to blame but themselves.
There are times when the right solution isn't hairball engineering or massive capacity. The right solution here would have been a lottery because that, for all intents and purposes, was what it was.
Let those who want to go sign up for a lottery. The signup process can take place over an hour, a day, even weeks. The signup process wouldn't need to memcache like systems to manage inventory or worry about complex transactions. It could just add people to the pile. A MySQL database running on a laptop could handle the load. Then, when the registration period is over, randomly select people and process their credit card until the event is sold out. Take your time, there's no rush.
The result would have been something everyone understood and few could dislike. Nobody feels bad about losing the real lottery.