Distribution instead of Buddy Replication

People have often commented on Buddy Replication (from JBoss Cache) not being available in Infinispan, and have asked how Infinispan’s far superior distribution mode works. I’ve decided to write this article to discuss the main differences from a high level. For deeper technical details, please visit the Infinispan wiki.

Scalability versus high availability These two concepts are often at odds with one another, even though they are commonly lumped together. What is usually good for scalability isn’t always good for high availability, and vice versa. When it comes to clustering servers, high availability often means simply maintaining more copies, so that if nodes fail - and with commodity hardware, this is expected - state is not lost. An extreme case of this is replicated mode, available in both JBoss Cache and Infinispan, where each node is a clone of its neighbour. This provides very high availability, but unfortunately, this does not scale well. Assume you have 2GB per node. Discounting overhead, with replicated mode, you can only address 2GB of space, regardless of how large the cluster is. Even if you had 100 nodes - seemingly 200GB of space! - you’d still only be able to address 2GB since each node maintains a redundant copy. Further, since every node needs a copy, a lot of network traffic is generated as the cluster size grows.

Enter Buddy Replication Buddy Replication (BR) was originally devised as a solution to this scalability problem. BR does not replicate state to every other node in the cluster. Instead, it chooses a fixed number of 'backup' nodes and only replicates to these backups. The number of backups is configurable, but in general it means that the number of backups is fixed. BR improved scalability significantly and showed near-linear scalability with increasing cluster size. This means that as more nodes are added to a cluster, the space available grows linearly as does the available computing power if measured in transactions per second.

But Buddy Replication doesn’t help everybody! BR was specifically designed around the HTTP session caching use-case for the JBoss Application Server, and heavily optimised accordingly. As a result, session affinity is mandated, and applications that do not use session affinity can be prone to a lot of data gravitation and 'thrashing' - data is moved back and forth across a cluster as different nodes attempt to claim 'ownership' of state. Of course this is not a problem with JBoss AS and HTTP session caching - session affinity is recommended, available on most load balancer hardware and/or software, is taken for granted, and is a well-understood and employed paradigm for web-based applications.

So we had to get better Just solving the HTTP session caching use-case wasn’t enough. A well-performing data grid needs to to better, and crucially, session affinity cannot be taken for granted. And this was the primary reason for not porting BR to Infinispan. As such, Infinispan does not and will not support BR as it is too restrictive.

Distribution Distribution is a new cache mode in Infinispan. It is also the default clustered mode - as opposed to replication, which isn’t scalable. Distribution makes use of familiar concepts in data grids, such as consistent hashing, call proxying and local caching of remote lookups. What this leads to is a design that does scale well - fixed number of replicas for each cache entry, just like BR - but no requirement for session affinity.

What about co-locating state? Co-location of state - moving entries about as a single block - was automatic and implicit with BR. Since each node always picked a backup node for all its state, one could visualize all of the state on a given node as a single block. Thus, colocation was trivial and automatic: whatever you put in Node1 will always be together, even if Node1 eventually dies and the state is accessed on Node2. However, this meant that state cannot be evenly balanced across a cluster since the data blocks are very coarse grained. With distribution, colocation is not implicit. In part due to the use of consistent hashing to determine where each cached entry resides, and also in part due to the finer-grained cache structure of Infinispan - key/value pairs instead of a tree-structure - this leads to individual entries as the granularity of state blocks. This means nodes can be far better balanced across a cluster. However, it does mean that certain optimizations which rely on co-location - such as keeping related entries close together - is a little more tricky.

One approach to co-locate state would be to use containers as values. For example, put all entries that should be colocated together into a HashMap. Then store the HashMap in the cache. But that is coarse-grained and ugly as an approach, and will mean that the entire HashMap would need to be locked and serialized as a single atomic unit, which can be expensive if this map is large.

Another approach is to use Infinispan’s AtomicMap API. This powerful API lets you group entries together, so they will always be colocated, locked together, but replication will be much finer-grained, allowing only deltas to the map to be replicated. So that makes replication fast and performant, but it still means everything is locked as a single atomic unit. While this is necessary for certain applications, it isn’t always be desirable.

One more solution is to implement your own ConsistentHash algorithm - perhaps extending DefaultConsistentHash. This implementation would have knowledge of your object model, and hashes related instances such that they are located together in the hash space. By far the most complex mechanism, but if performance and co-location really is a hard requirement then you cannot get better than this approach.

In summary:

Buddy Replication

  • Near-linear scalability

  • Session affinity mandatory

  • Co-location automatic

  • Applicable to a specific set of use cases due to the session affinity requirement

Distribution

  • Near-linear scalability

  • No session affinity needed

  • Co-location requires special treatment, ranging in complexity based on performance and locking requirements. By default, no co-location is provided

  • Applicable to a far wider range of use cases, and hence the default highly scalable clustered mode in Infinispan

Hopefully this article has sufficiently interested you in distribution, and has whetted your appetite for more. I would recommend the Infinispan wiki which has a wealth of information including interactive tutorials and GUI demos, design documents and API documentation. And of course you can’t beat downloading Infinispan and trying it out, or grabbing the source code and looking through the implementation details.

Cheers Manik

Posted by Manik Surtani on 2009-08-21
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