Friday, April 5, 2013

MDCC - Strong Consistency with Performance

A few weeks back me and a couple of my colleagues finished developing a complete implementation of the MDCC (Multi-Data Center Consistency) protocol. MDCC is a fast commit protocol proposed by UC Berkeley for large-scale geo-replicated databases. The main advantage of MDCC is that is supports strong consistency for data while providing transaction performance similar to eventually consistent systems. 
With traditional distributed commit protocols, supporting strong consistency usually requires executing complex distributed consensus algorithms (e.g. Paxos). Such algorithms generally require multiple rounds of communication. Therefore when deployed in a multi-data center setting where the inter-data center latency is close to 100ms, the performance of the transactions being executed degrades to almost unacceptable levels. For this reason most replicated database systems and cloud data stores has opted to support a weaker notion of consistency. This greatly speeds up the transactions but you always run the risk of data becoming inconsistent or even lost.
MDCC employs a special variant of Paxos called Fast Paxos. Fast Paxos takes a rather optimistic approach by which it is able to commit most transactions within a single network roundtrip. This way a data object update can be replicated to any number of data centers within a single request-response window. The protocol is also effectively masterless which means if the application is executing in a data center in Europe, it does not have to contact a special master server which could potentially reside in a data center in USA. The only time this protocol doesn't finish within a single request-response window is when two or more transactions attempt to update the same data object (transaction conflict). In that case a per-object master is elected and the Classic Paxos protocol is invoked to resolve the conflict. If the possibility of a conflict is small, MDCC will commit most transactions within a single network roundtrip thus greatly improving the transaction throughput and latency. 
Unlike most replicated database systems, MDCC doesn't require explicit sharding of data into multiple segments. But it can be supported on MDCC if needed. Also unlike most cloud data stores, MDCC has excellent support for atomic multi-row (multi-object) transactions. That is multiple data objects can be updated atomically within a single read-write transaction. All these interesting properties make MDCC an excellent choice for implementing powerful database engines for modern day distributed and cloud computing environments.
Our implementation of MDCC is based on Java. We use Apache Thrift as the communication framework between different components. ZooKeeper is used for leader election purposes (we need to elect a per-object leader whenever there is a conflict). HBase server is used as the storage engine. All the application data and metadata are stored in HBase. In order to reduce the number of storage accesses we also have a layer of in-memory caching. All the critical information and updates are written through to the underlying HBase server to maintain strong consistency. The cache still helps to avoid a large fraction of storage references. Our experiments show that most read operations are able to complete without ever going to HBase layer. 
We provide a simple and intuitive API in our MDCC implementation so that users can write their own applications using our MDCC engine. A simple transaction implementing using this API would look like this.
        TransactionFactory factory = new TransactionFactory();
        Transaction txn = factory.create();
        try {
            byte[] foo ="foo");
            txn.write("bar", "bar".getBytes());
        } catch (TransactionException e){
        } finally {
We also did some basic performance tests on our MDCC implementation using the YCSB benchmark. We used 5 EC2 micro instances distributed across 3 data centers (regions) and deployed a simple 2-shard MDCC cluster. Each shard consisted of 5 MDCC storage nodes (amounting to a total of 10 MDCC storage nodes). We ran several different types of workloads on this cluster and in general succeeded in achieving < 1ms latency for read operations and < 100ms latency for write operations. Our implementation performs best with mostly-read workloads, but even with a fairly large number of conflicts, the system delivers reasonable performance. 
Our system ensures correct and consistent transaction semantics. We have excellent support for atomic multi-row transactions, concurrent transactions and even some rudimentary support for crash recovery. If you are interested to give this implementation a try, grab the source code from Use Maven3 to build the distribution, extract and run.

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