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USITS '03 Paper    [USITS '03 Tech Program Index]

Pp. 71-85 of the Proceedings

Conflict-Aware Scheduling for Dynamic Content Applications

Cristiana Amza$^{\dagger}$, Alan L. Cox$^{\dagger}$, Willy Zwaenepoel$^{\ddagger}$

${}^\dagger$Department of Computer Science, Rice University, Houston, TX, USA

${}^\ddagger$School of Computer and Communication Sciences, EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland


We present a new lazy replication technique, suitable for scaling the back-end database of a dynamic content site using a cluster of commodity computers. Our technique, called conflict-aware scheduling, provides both throughput scaling and 1-copy serializability. It has generally been believed that this combination is hard to achieve through replication because of the growth of the number of conflicts. We take advantage of the presence in a database cluster of a scheduler through which all incoming requests pass. We require that transactions specify the tables that they access at the beginning of the transaction. Using that information, a conflict-aware scheduler relies on a sequence-numbering scheme to implement 1-copy serializability, and directs incoming queries in such a way that the number of conflicts is reduced.

We evaluate conflict-aware scheduling using the TPC-W e-commerce benchmark. For small clusters of up to eight database replicas, our evaluation is performed through measurements of a web site implementing the TPC-W specification. We use simulation to extend our measurement results to larger clusters, faster database engines, and lower conflict rates.

Our results show that conflict-awareness brings considerable benefits compared to both eager and conflict-oblivious lazy replication for a large range of cluster sizes, database speeds, and conflict rates. Conflict-aware scheduling provides near-linear throughput scaling up to a large number of database replicas for the browsing and shopping workloads of TPC-W. For the write-heavy ordering workload, throughput scales, but only to a smaller number of replicas.

1 Introduction

This paper studies replication in database clusters [12,17,24] serving as back-ends in dynamic content sites.

Dynamic content sites commonly use a three-tier architecture, consisting of a front-end web server, an application server implementing the business logic of the site, and a back-end database (see Figure 1). The (dynamic) content of the site is stored in the database.

Figure 1: Common Architecture for Dynamic Content Sites

We focus in this paper on the case where the database back-end is the bottleneck. Practical examples of such situations may be found in e-commerce sites [1] or bulletin boards [19]. Bottlenecks in the web server tier are easily addressed by replicating the web server. Since it serves only static content, replication in this tier does not introduce any consistency issues. Addressing bottlenecks in the application server is a subject of further study.

Rather than following the common approach of using a very expensive high-end database machine as the back-end [6,11], we investigate an alternative approach using a cluster of low-cost commodity machines. As Figure 2 shows, a scheduler is interposed between the application server(s) and the database cluster. The scheduler virtualizes the database cluster and makes it look to the application server as a single database. Therefore, no changes are required in the application server. Similarly, the methods presented in this paper do not require any changes to the database engine.

Figure 2: Basic Cluster Architecture

Based on observing the workload imposed on the database by dynamic content sites [1], and in particular by TPC-W [22], we argue that the nature of e-commerce workloads is such that lazy read-one, write-all replication [23] is the preferred way to distribute the data across the cluster. Furthermore, we argue that strong consistency (in technical terms, 1-copy serializability [4]) is desirable between the database replicas. From the combination of these two requirements - lazy replication and 1-copy serializability - stems the challenge addressed by this paper.

Lazy replication algorithms asynchronously propagate replica updates to other nodes, possibly even after the updating transaction commits. They do not provide 1-copy serializability, since, for instance, writes may be propagated in different orders to different replicas. Past approaches have used reconciliation to achieve eventual replica consistency. Predictions of the number of reconciliations with a large number of replicas have, however, been discouraging [8]. More recent work [12] suggests that for small clusters, both 1-copy-serializability and acceptable performance can be achieved by aborting conflicting transactions.

Our goal is also to use lazy replication and achieve 1-copy serializability, but instead of resolving conflicts by aborting conflicting transactions, we augment the scheduler (see Figure 2) with a sequence numbering scheme to guarantee 1-copy serializability.

To improve performance we also augment the scheduler to be conflict-aware. Intuitively, a scheduler is conflict-aware if it directs incoming requests in such a way that the time waiting for conflicts is reduced. For instance, a write on a data item may have been sent to all replicas, but it may have completed only at a subset of them. A conflict-aware scheduler keeps track of the completion status of each of the writes. Using this knowledge, it sends a conflicting read that needs to happen after this write to a replica where it knows the write has already completed.

A concern with a conflict-aware scheduler is the extra state and the extra computation in the scheduler, raising the possibility of it becoming the bottleneck or making it an issue in terms of availability and fault tolerance of the overall cluster. We present a lightweight implementation of a conflict-aware scheduler, that allows a single scheduler to support a large number of databases. We also demonstrate how to replicate the scheduler for availability and increased scalability.

Our implementation uses common software platforms such as the Apache Web server [3], the PHP scripting language [16], and the MySQL relational database [14]. As we are most interested in e-commerce sites, we use the TPC-W benchmark in our evaluation [22]. This benchmark specifies three workloads (browsing, shopping and ordering) with different percentages of writes in the workload. Our evaluation uses measurement of the implementation for small clusters (up to 8 database machines). We further use simulation to assess the performance effects of larger clusters, more powerful database machines, and varying conflict rates. Finally, in order to provide a better understanding of the performance improvements achieved by a conflict-aware scheduler, we have implemented a number of alternative schedulers that include only some of the features of the strategy implemented in conflict-aware scheduling.

Our results show that:

  1. The browsing and shopping workloads scale very well, with close to linear increases in throughput up to 60 and 40 databases respectively. The ordering workload scales only to 16 databases.
  2. The benefits of conflict awareness in the scheduler are substantial. Compared to a lazy protocol without this optimization, the improvements are up to a factor of 2 on our largest experimental platform, and up to a factor of 3 in the simulations. Compared to an eager protocol, the improvements are even higher (up to a factor of 3.5 in the experiments, and up to a factor of 4.4 in the simulations).
  3. Simulations of more powerful database machines and varying conflict rates validate the performance advantages of conflict-aware scheduling on a range of software/hardware environments.
  4. One scheduler is enough to support scaling for up to 60 MySQL engines for all workloads, assuming equivalent nodes are used for the scheduler and MySQL engine. Three schedulers are necessary if the databases become four times faster.
  5. The cost of maintaining the extra state in the scheduler is minimal in terms of scaling, availability and fault tolerance.
  6. Even with conflict avoidance, the eventual scaling limitations stem from conflicts.

The outline of the rest of the paper is as follows. Section 2 provides the necessary background on the characteristics of dynamic content applications. Section 3 introduces our solution. Section 4 describes our prototype implementation. Section 5 describes the fault tolerance aspects of our solution. Section 6 describes other scheduling techniques introduced for comparison with a conflict-aware scheduler. Section 7 presents our benchmark and experimental platform. We investigate scaling experimentally in Section 8, and by simulation in Section 9. Section 10 discusses related work. Section 11 concludes the paper.

2 Background and Motivation

In this section we provide an intuitive motivation for the methods used in this paper. This motivation is based on observing the characteristics of the workloads imposed on the database of a dynamic content site by a number of benchmarks [1], in particular by TPC-W [22].

First, there is a high degree of locality in the database access patterns. At a particular point in time, a relatively small working set captures a large fraction of the accesses. For instance, in an online bookstore, best-sellers are accessed very frequently. Similarly, the stories of the day on a bulletin board, or the active auctions on an auction site receive the most attention. With common application sizes, much of the working set can be captured in memory. As a result, disk I/O is limited. This characteristic favors replication as a method for distributing the data compared to alternative methods such as data partitioning. Replication is suitable to relieve hot spots, while data partitioning is more suitable for relieving high I/O demands [5].

Replication brings with it the need to define a consistency model for the replicated data. For e-commerce sites, 1-copy serializability appears appropriate [4]. With 1-copy serializability conflicting operations of different transactions appear in the same total order at all replicas. Enforcing 1-copy serializability avoids, for instance, a scenario produced by re-ordering of writes on different replicas in which on one replica it appears that one customer bought a particular item, while on a different replica it appears that another customer bought the same item.

Second, the computational cost of read queries is typically much larger than that of update queries. A typical update query consists of updating a single record selected by an equality test on a customer name or a product identifier. In contrast, read queries may involve complex search criteria involving many records, for instance "show me the ten most popular books on a particular topic that have been published after a certain date". This characteristic favors read-one, write-all replication: the expensive components of the workloads (reads) are executed on a single machine, and only the inexpensive components (writes) need to be executed on all machines. The desirability of read-one, write-all over more complex majority-based schemes has also been demonstrated under other workloads [12,24].

Third, while locality of access is beneficial in terms of keeping data in memory, in a transactional setting it has the potential drawback of generating frequent conflicts, with the attendant cost of waiting for conflicts to be resolved. The long-running transactions present in the typical workloads may cause conflicts to persist for a long time. The frequency of conflicts also dramatically increases as a result of replication [8]. Frequent conflicts favor lazy replication methods, that asynchronously propagate updates [17,21,24]. Consider, for instance, a single-write transaction followed by a single-read transaction. If the two conflict, then in a conventional synchronous update protocol, the read needs to wait until the write has completed at all replicas. In contrast, in a lazy update protocol, the read can proceed as soon as the write has executed at its replica. If the two do not conflict, the read can execute in parallel with the write, and the benefits of asynchrony are much diminished.

Finally, frequent conflicts lead to increased potential for deadlock. This suggests the choice of a concurrency control method that avoids deadlock. In particular, we use conservative two-phase locking [4], in which all locks are acquired at the beginning of a transaction. Locks are held until the end of the transaction.

In summary, we argue that lazy read-one, write-all replication in combination with conservative two-phase locking is suitable for distributing data across a cluster of databases in a dynamic content site. In the next section, we show that by augmenting the scheduler with a sequence numbering scheme, lazy replication can be extended to provide 1-copy serializability. We also show how the scheduler can be extended to include conflict awareness, with superior performance as a result.

3 Design

3.1 Programming Model

A single (client) web interaction may include one or more transactions, and a single transaction may include one or more read or write queries. The application writer specifies where in the application code transactions begin and end. In the absence of transaction delimiters, each single query is considered a transaction and is automatically committed (so called "auto-commit" mode).

At the beginning of each transaction consisting of more than one query, the application writer inserts a lock acquire specifying all tables accessed in the transaction and their access types (read or write). This step is currently done by hand, but could be automated. Locks for single-operation transactions do not need to be specified.

3.2 Cluster Design

We consider a cluster architecture for a dynamic content site, in which a scheduler distributes incoming requests to a cluster of database replicas and delivers the responses to the application servers (see Figure 2). The scheduler may itself be replicated for performance or for availability. The presence of the scheduler is transparent to the application server and the database, both of which are unmodified.

If there is more than one scheduler in a particular configuration, the application server is assigned a particular scheduler at the beginning of a client web interaction. This assignment is currently done by round-robin. For each operation in a particular client web interaction, the application server only interacts with this single scheduler, unless the scheduler fails. These interactions are synchronous: for each query, the execution of the business logic for this particular client web interaction in the application server waits until it receives a response from the scheduler.

The application server sends the scheduler lock requests for multiple-operation transactions, reads, writes, commits and aborts.

3.3 Lazy Read-one, Write-all Replication

When the scheduler receives a lock request, a write or a commit from the application server, it sends it to all replicas and returns the response as soon as it receives a response from any of the replicas. Reads are sent only to a single replica, and the response is sent back to the the application server as soon as it is received from that replica.

3.4 1-Copy Serializability

The scheduler maintains 1-copy serializability by assigning a unique sequence number to each transaction. This assignment is done at the beginning of the transaction. For a multiple-operation transaction the sequence number is assigned when that transaction's lock request arrives at the scheduler. For a single-operation transaction, sequence number assignment is done when the transaction arrives at the scheduler. Lock requests are sent to all replicas, executed in order of their assigned sequence numbers, and held until commit, thus forcing all conflicting operations to execute in a total order identical at all replicas, and thus enforcing 1-copy serializability.

Transactions consisting of a single read query are treated differently. A single-read transaction holds locks only on the single replica where it executes. This optimization results in a very substantial performance improvement without violating 1-copy serializability.

3.5 Conflict-Aware Scheduling

Due to the asynchrony of replication, at any given point, some replicas may have fallen behind with the application of writes. Furthermore, some replicas may have not been able to acquire the locks for a particular transaction, due to conflicts. For reads, other than reads in single-read transactions, the scheduler first determines the set of replicas where the locks for its enclosing transaction have been acquired and where all previous writes in the transaction have completed. It then selects the least loaded replica from this set as the replica to receive the read query. The scheduler tries to find conflict-free replicas for single-read transactions as well, but may not be able to find one.

Conflict-aware scheduling requires that the scheduler maintains the completion status of lock requests and writes, for all database replicas.

4 Implementation

4.1 Overview

The implementation consists of three types of processes: scheduler processes (one per scheduler machine), a sequencer process (one for the entire cluster), and database proxy processes (one for each database replica). The sequencer assigns a unique sequence number to each transaction and thereby implicitly to each of its locks. A database proxy regulates access to its database server by letting an operation proceed only if the database has already processed all conflicting operations that precede it in sequence number order and all operations that precede it in the same transaction. The schedulers form the core of the implementation. They receive the various operations from the application servers, forward them to one or more of the database proxies, and relay the responses back to the application servers. The schedulers also interact with the sequencer to obtain a sequence number for each transaction.

In the following, we describe the state maintained at the scheduler and at the database proxy to support failure-free execution, and the protocol steps executed on receipt of each type of operation and its response. Additional state maintained for fault-tolerance purposes is described in Section 5.

4.2 The Scheduler's State

The scheduler maintains for each active transaction its sequence number and the locks requested by that transaction. In addition, it maintains a record for each operation that is outstanding with one or more database proxies. A record is created when an operation is received from the application server, and updated when it is sent to the database engines, or when a reply is received from one of them. The record for a read operation is deleted as soon as the response is received and delivered to the application server. For every replicated operation (i.e., lock request, write, commit or abort), the corresponding record is deleted only when all databases have returned a response.

The scheduler records the current load of each database (see section 4.10). This value is updated with new information included in each reply from a database proxy.

4.3 The Database Proxy's State

The database proxy maintains a reader-writer lock [23] queue for each table. These lock queues are maintained in order of sequence numbers. Furthermore, the database proxy maintains transaction queues, one per transaction, and an out-of-order queue for all operations that arrive out of sequence number order.

For each transaction queue, a head-of-queue record maintains the current number of locks granted to that transaction. Each transaction queue record maintains the operation to be executed. Transaction queue records are maintained in order of arrival.

4.4 Lock Request

For each lock request, the scheduler obtains a sequence number from the sequencer and stores this information together with the locks requested for the length of the transaction. The scheduler then tags the lock request with its sequence number and sends it to all database proxies. Each database proxy executes the lock request locally and returns an answer to the scheduler when the lock request is granted. The lock request is not forwarded to the database engine.

A lock request that arrives at the database proxy in sequence number order is split into separate requests for each of the locks requested. When all locks for a particular transaction have been granted, the proxy responds to the scheduler. The scheduler updates its record for that transaction, and responds to the application server, if this is the first response to the lock request for that transaction. A lock request that arrives out-of-order (i.e., does not have a sequence number that is one more than the last processed lock request) is put in the out-of-order queue. Upon further lock request arrivals, the proxy checks whether any request from the out-of-order queue can now be processed. If so, that request is removed from the out-of-order queue and processed as described above.

4.5 Reads and Writes

As the application executes the transaction, it sends read and write operations to the scheduler. The scheduler tags each operation with the sequence number that was assigned to the transaction. It then sends write operations to all database proxies, while reads are sent to only one database proxy.

The scheduler sends each read query to one of the replicas where the lock request and the previous writes of the enclosing transaction have completed. If more than one such replica exists, the scheduler picks the replica with the lowest load.

The database proxy forwards a read or write operation to its database only when all previous operations in the same transaction (including lock requests) have been executed. If an operation is not ready to execute, it is queued in the corresponding transaction queue.

4.6 Completion of Reads and Writes

On the completion of a read or a write at the database, the database proxy receives the response and forwards it to the scheduler. The proxy then submits the next operation waiting in the transaction queue, if any.

The scheduler returns the response to the application server if this is the first response it received for a write query or if it is the response to a read query. Upon receiving a response for a write from a database proxy, the scheduler updates its corresponding record to reflect the reply.

4.7 Commit/Abort

The scheduler tags the commit/abort received from the application server with the sequence number and locks requested at the start of the corresponding transaction, and forwards the commit/abort to all replicas.

If other operations from this transaction are pending in the transaction queue, the commit/abort is inserted at the tail of the queue. Otherwise, it is submitted to the database. Upon completion of the operation at the database, the database proxy releases each lock held by the transaction, and checks whether any lock requests in the queues can be granted as a result. Finally, it forwards the response to the scheduler.

Upon receiving a response from a database proxy, the scheduler updates the corresponding record to reflect the reply. If this is the first reply, the scheduler forwards the response to the application server.

4.8 Single-Read Transactions

The read is forwarded to a database proxy, where it executes after previous conflicting transactions have finished. In particular, requests for individual locks are queued in the corresponding lock queues, as with any other transaction, and the transaction is executed when all of its locks are available.

To choose a replica for the read, the scheduler first selects the set of replicas where the earlier update transactions in the same client web interaction, if any, have completed. It then determines the subset of this set at which no conflicting locks are held. This set may be empty. It selects a replica with the lowest load in the latter set, if it is not empty, and otherwise from the former set.

4.9 Single-Update Transactions

Single-update transactions are logically equivalent to multiple-operation transactions, but in the implementation they need to be treated a little differently; the necessary locks are not specified by the application logic, hence there is no explicit lock request. When the scheduler receives a single-update transaction, it computes the necessary locks and obtains a sequence number for the transaction. The transaction is then forwarded to all replicas with that additional information. Thus, the lock request is implicit rather than sent in a separate lock request message to the database proxy, but otherwise the database proxy treats a single-update transaction in the same way as any multiple-update transaction.

4.10 Load Balancing

We use the Shortest Execution Length First (SELF) load balancing algorithm. We measure off-line the execution time of each query on an idle machine. At run-time, the scheduler estimates the load on a replica as the sum of the (apriori measured) execution times of all queries outstanding on that back-end. SELF tries to take into account the widely varying execution times for different query types. The scheduler updates the load estimate for each replica with feedback provided by the database proxy in each reply. We have shown elsewhere [2] that SELF outperforms round-robin and shortest-queue-first algorithms for dynamic content applications.

5 Fault Tolerance and Data Availability

5.1 Fault Model

For ease of implementation, we assume a fail-stop fault model. However, our fault tolerance algorithm could be generalized to more complex fault models.

5.2 Fault Tolerance of the Sequencer

At the beginning of each transaction, a scheduler requests a sequence number from the sequencer. Afterwards, the scheduler sends to all other schedulers a replicate_start_transaction message containing the sequence number for this transaction, and waits for an acknowledgment from all of them. All other schedulers create a record with the sequence number and the coordinating scheduler of this transaction. No disk logging is done at this point.

If the sequencer fails, replication of the sequence numbers on all schedulers allows for restarting the sequencer with the last sequence number on another machine. In case all schedulers fail, the sequence numbers are reset everywhere (sequencer, schedulers, database proxies).

5.3 Atomicity and Durability of Writes

To ensure that all writes are eventually executed, regardless of any sequence of failures in the schedulers and the databases, each scheduler keeps a persistent log of all write queries of committed transactions that it handled, tagged with the transaction's sequence number. The log is kept per table in sequence number order, to facilitate recovery (see below). To add data availability, the scheduler replicates this information in the memory of all other schedulers. Each database proxy maintains the sequence number for the last write it committed on each table. The database proxy does not log its state to disk.

In more detail, before a commit query is issued to any database, the scheduler sends a replicate_end_transaction message to the other schedulers. This message contains the write queries that have occurred during the transaction, and the transaction's sequence number. All other schedulers record the writes, augment the corresponding remote transaction record with the commit decision, and respond with an acknowledgment. The originator of the replicate_end_transaction message waits for the acknowledgments, then logs the write queries to disk. After the disk logging has completed, the commit is issued to the database replicas. For read-only transactions, the commit decision is replicated but not logged to disk.

5.3.1 Scheduler Failure

In the case of a single scheduler failure, all transactions of the failed scheduler for which the live schedulers do not have a commit decision are aborted. A transaction for which a commit record exists, but for which a database proxy has not yet received the commit decision is aborted at that particular replica, and then its writes are replayed. The latter case is, however, very rare.

In more detail, a fail-over scheduler contacts all available database proxies. The database proxy waits until all queued operations finish at its database, including any pending commits. The proxy returns to the scheduler the sequence number for the last committed write on each database table, and the highest sequence number of any lock request received by the database proxy. The fail-over scheduler determines all the failed scheduler's transactions for which a commit record exists and for which a replica has not committed the transaction. The reason that a replica has not committed a transaction may be either that it did not receive the transaction's lock request or that it did not receive the commit request. The first case is detected by the sequence number of the transaction being larger than the highest lock sequence number received by the proxy. In this case, all the transaction's writes and its commit are replayed to the proxy. In the second case, the fail-over scheduler first aborts the transaction and then sends the writes and the commit. The database proxy also advances its value of the highest lock sequence number received and its value of the last sequence number of a committed write on a particular table, as appropriate.

For all other transactions handled by the failed scheduler, the fail-over scheduler sends an abort to all database proxies. The database proxies rollback the specified transactions, and also fill the gap in lock sequence numbers in case the lock with the sequence number specified in the abort was never received. The purpose of this, is to let active transactions of live schedulers with higher sequence numbered locks proceed.

Each scheduler needs to keep logs for committed writes and records of assigned lock sequence numbers until all replicas commit the corresponding transactions. Afterwards, these records can be garbage-collected.

When a scheduler recovers, it contacts another scheduler and replicates its state. In the rare case where all schedulers fail, the state is reconstructed from the disk logs of all schedulers. All active transactions are aborted on all database replicas, the missing writes are applied on all databases, and all sequence numbers are reset everywhere.

5.3.2 Network Failure

To address temporary network connection failures, each database proxy can send a ``selective retransmission'' request for transactions it has missed. Specifically, the database proxy uses a timeout mechanism to detect gaps in lock sequence that have not been filled in a given period of time. It then contacts an available scheduler and provides its current state. The scheduler rolls forward the database proxy including updating its highest lock sequence number.

5.3.3 Database Failure

When a database recovers from failure, its database proxy contacts all available schedulers and selects one scheduler to coordinate its recovery. The coordinating scheduler instructs the recovering database to install a current database snapshot from another replica, with its current state. Each scheduler re-establishes its connections to the database proxy and adds the replica to its set of available machines. The scheduler starts sending to the newly incorporated replica at the beginning of the next transaction. Afterwards, the database proxy becomes up-to-date by means of the selective retransmission requests as described in the case of network failure.

In addition, each database proxy does periodic checkpoints of its database together with the current state (in terms of the last sequence numbers of its database tables). To make a checkpoint, the database proxy stops all write operations going out to the database engine, and when all pending write operations have finished, it takes a snapshot of the database and writes the new state. If any tables have not changed since the last checkpoint, they do not need to be included in the new checkpoint. Checkpointing is only necessary to support recovery in the unlikely case where all database replicas fail. In this case, each database proxy reinstalls the database from its own checkpoint containing the database snapshot of the last known clean state. Subsequently, recovery proceeds as in the single database failure case above.

6 Algorithms Used for Comparison

In this section, we introduce a number of other scheduling algorithms for comparison with conflict-aware scheduling. By gradually introducing some of the features of conflict-aware scheduling, we are able to demonstrate what aspects of conflict-aware scheduling contribute to its overall performance. Our first algorithm is an eager replication scheme that allows us to show the benefits of asynchrony. We then look at a number of scheduling algorithms for lazy replication. Our second algorithm is a conventional scheduler that chooses a fixed replica based on load at the beginning of the transaction and executes all operations on that replica. Our third algorithm is another fixed-replica approach, but it introduces one feature of conflict-aware scheduling: it chooses as the fixed replica the one that responds first to the transaction's lock request rather than the least loaded one. We then move away from fixed-replica algorithms, allowing different replicas to execute reads of the same transaction, as in conflict-aware scheduling. Our fourth and final scheduler chooses the replica with the lowest load at the time of the read, allowing us to assess the difference between this approach and conflict-aware scheduling, where a read is directed to a replica without conflicts.

We refer to these scheduler algorithms as Eager, FR-L (Fixed Replica based on Load), FR-C (Fixed Replica based on Conflict), and VR-L (Variable Replica based on Load). Using this terminology, the conflict-aware scheduler would be labeled VR-C (Variable Replica based on Conflict), but we continue to refer to it as the conflict-aware scheduler.

In all algorithms, we use the same concurrency control mechanism, i.e., conservative two-phase locking, the same sequence numbering method to maintain 1-copy serializability, and the same load balancing algorithm (see Section 4.10).

6.1 Eager Replication (Eager)

Eager follows the algorithm described by Weikum et al. [23], which uses synchronous execution of lock requests, writes and commits on all replicas. In other words, the scheduler waits for completion of every lock, write or commit operation on all replicas, before sending a response back to the application server. The scheduler directs a read to the replica with the lowest load.

6.2 Fixed Replica Based on Load (FR-L)

FR-L is a conventional scheduling algorithm, in which the scheduler is essentially a load balancer. At the beginning of the transaction, the scheduler selects the replica with the lowest load. It just passes through operations tagged with their appropriate sequence numbers. Lock requests, writes and commits are sent to all replicas, and the reply is sent back to the application server when the chosen replica replies to the scheduler. Reads are sent to the chosen replica. The FR-L scheduler needs to record only the chosen replica for the duration of each transaction.

6.3 Fixed Replica Based on Conflict (FR-C)

FR-C is identical to FR-L, except that the scheduler chooses the replica that first responds to the lock request as the fixed replica for this transaction. As in FR-L, all reads are sent to this replica, and a response is returned to the application server when this replica responds to a lock request, a write or a commit. The FR-C scheduler's state is also limited to the chosen replica for each transaction.

6.4 Variable Replica Based on Load (VR-L)

In the VR-L scheduler, the response to the application server on a lock request, write, or commit is sent as soon as the first response is received from any replica. A read is sent to the replica with the lowest load at the time the read arrives at the scheduler. This may result in the read being sent to a replica where it needs to wait for the completion of conflicting operations in other transactions or previous operations in its own transaction.

The VR-L scheduler needs to remember for the duration of each replicated query whether it has already forwarded the response and whether all machines have responded, but, unlike a conflict-aware scheduler, it need not remember which replicas have responded. In other words, the size of the state maintained is O(1) not O(N) in the number of replicas.

7 Experimental Platform

7.1 TPC-W Benchmark

The TPC-W benchmark from the Transaction Processing Council (TPC) [22] is a transactional web benchmark for e-commerce systems. The benchmark simulates a bookstore.

The database contains eight tables: customer, address, orders, order_line, credit_info, item, author, and country. The most frequently used are order_line, orders and credit_info, which contain information about the orders placed, and item and author, which contain information about the books. The database size is determined by the number of items in the inventory and the size of the customer population. We use 100,000 items and 2.8 million customers which results in a database of about 4 GB. The inventory images, totaling 1.8 GB, reside on the web server.

We implemented the fourteen different interactions specified in the TPC-W benchmark specification. Six of the interactions are read-only, while eight cause the database to be updated. The read-only interactions include access to the home page, listing of new products and best-sellers, requests for product detail, and two interactions involving searches. Update transactions include user registration, updates of the shopping cart, two order-placement transactions, and two for administrative tasks. The frequency of execution of each interaction is specified by the TPC-W benchmark. The complexity of the interactions varies widely, with interactions taking between 20 and 700 milliseconds on an unloaded machine. The complexity of the queries varies widely as well. In particular, the most heavyweight read queries are 50 times more expensive than the average write query.

TPC-W uses three different workload mixes, differing in the ratio of read-only to read-write interactions. The browsing mix contains 95% read-only interactions, the shopping mix 80%, and the ordering mix 50%.

7.2 Client Emulation Software

We implemented a client-browser emulator that allows us to vary the load on the web site by varying the number of emulated clients. A client session is a sequence of interactions for the same client. For each client session, the client emulator opens a persistent HTTP connection to the web server and closes it at the end of the session. Each emulated client waits for a certain think time before initiating the next interaction. The next interaction is determined by a state transition matrix that specifies the probability to go from one interaction to another. The client session time and the think time are generated from a random distribution with a mean value specified in TPC-W.

7.3 Software Environment

We use three popular open-source software packages: the Apache web server [3], the PHP scripting language [16], and the MySQL database server [14]. Since PHP is implemented as an Apache module, the web server and application server co-exist on the same machine(s). We use Apache v.1.3.22 for the web server, configured with the PHP v.4.0.1 module. We use MySQL v.4.0.1 with InnoDB transactional extensions as our database server.

The schedulers and database proxies are both implemented with event-driven loops that multiplex requests and responses between the web server and the database replicas. We use FreeBSD's scalable kevent primitive [13] to efficiently handle thousands of connections at a single scheduler.

7.4 Hardware Environment

We use the same hardware for all machines, including those running the client emulation software, the web servers, the schedulers and the database engines. Each machine has an AMD Athlon 800Mhz processor running FreeBSD 4.1.1, 256MB SDRAM, and a 30GB ATA-66 disk drive. All machines are connected through a switched 100Mbps Ethernet LAN.

8 Experimental Results

The experimental results are obtained on a cluster with 1 to 8 database server machines. We use a number of web server machines large enough to make sure that the web server stage is not the bottleneck. The largest number of web server machines used for any experiment was 8. We use 2 schedulers to ensure data availability.

We measure throughput in terms of the number of web interactions per second (WIPS), the standard TPC-W performance metric. For a given number of machines we report the peak throughput. In other words, we vary the number of clients until we find the peak throughput and we report the average throughput number over several runs. We also report average response time at this peak throughput. Next, we break down the average query time into query execution time, and waiting time (for locks and previous writes in the same transaction). Finally, we compare the performance in terms of throughput between the conflict-aware scheduler with and without fault tolerance and data availability.

8.1 Throughput

Figures 3 through 5 show the throughput of the various scheduling algorithms for each of the three workload mixes. In the x-axis we have the number of database machines, and in the y-axis the number of web interactions per second.

Figure 3: Throughput Comparison: The benefits of conflict avoidance and fine-grained scheduling for the browsing mix.
Figure 4: Throughput Comparison: The benefits of conflict avoidance and fine-grained scheduling for the shopping mix.
Figure 5: Throughput Comparison: The benefits of conflict avoidance and fine-grained scheduling for the ordering mix.

First, conflict-aware scheduling outperforms all other algorithms, and increasingly so for workload mixes with a large fraction of writes. Second, all asynchronous schemes outperform the eager scheme, again increasingly so as the fraction of writes increases. In particular, the conflict-aware protocol outperforms the eager protocol by factors of 1.7, 2.4 and 3.5 for browsing, shopping, and ordering, respectively at eight replicas. Third, for the fixed replica algorithms, choosing the replica by conflict (FR-C) rather than by load (FR-L) provides substantial benefits, a factor of 1.4, 1.4, and 1.25 for the largest configuration, for each of the three mixes, respectively. Fourth, variable replica algorithms provide better results than fixed replica algorithms, with the conflict-aware scheduler showing a gain of a factor of 1.5, 1.6 and 2, for browsing, shopping, and ordering, respectively, compared to FR-L, at 8 replicas. Finally, FR-C performs better than VR-L for the browsing and the shopping mix, but becomes worse for the ordering mix. Because of the larger numbers of reads in the browsing and shopping mixes, VR-L incurs a bigger penalty for these mixes by not sending the reads to a conflict-free replica, possibly causing them to have to wait. FR-C, in contrast, tries to send the reads to conflict-free replicas. In the ordering mix, reads are fewer. Therefore, this advantage for FR-C becomes smaller. VR-L's ability to shorten the write and commit operations by using the first response becomes the dominant factor.

8.2 Response Time

Figure 6 presents a comparison of the average web interaction response time for the five scheduler algorithms and the three workload mixes on an 8-database cluster at peak throughput. For each workload mix, the results are normalized to the average response time of the eager scheduler for that workload mix.

Figure 6: Web Interaction Response Time for All Schedulers and All Workloads, Normalized to Response Time of the Eager Scheduler

These results show that the conflict-aware scheduler provides better average response times than all other schedulers. The performance benefits of reducing conflict waiting time are reflected in response time reductions as well, with the same relative ranking for the different protocols as in the throughput comparison.

8.3 Breakdown of Query Time

Figures 78, and 9, show a breakdown of the query response time into query execution time and waiting time. The waiting time is mostly due to conflicts; waiting for previous writes in the same transaction is negligible. For each workload mix, the results are normalized to the average query response time for the eager scheduler for that workload mix.

Figure 7: Query Time Breakdown for All Schedulers for the Browsing Mix, Normalized by the Query Time of the Eager Scheduler.
Figure 8: Query Time Breakdown for All Schedulers for the Shopping Mix, Normalized by the Query Time of the Eager Scheduler.
Figure 9: Query Time Breakdown for All Schedulers for the Ordering Mix, Normalized by the Query Time of the Eager Scheduler.

These results further stress the importance of reducing conflict waiting time. For all protocols, and all workloads, conflict waiting time forms the largest fraction of the query time. Therefore, the scheduler that reduces the conflict waiting time the most performs the best in terms of overall throughput and response time. The differences in query execution time between the different protocols are minor and do not significantly influence the overall throughput and response time. One might, for instance, expect the conflict-aware scheduler to produce worse query execution times than VR-L, because of the latter's potential for better load balancing. VR-L has the opportunity to direct reads to all replicas in order to balance the load, while the conflict-aware scheduler directs reads only to conflict-free replicas. In practice, however, the positive effect of this extra degree of freedom is minimal and completely overwhelmed by the conflict-aware scheduler's reduced conflict waiting times.

8.4 Cost of Fault Tolerance and Availability

Figure 10 shows the throughput of conflict-aware scheduling without fault tolerance (Unreliable), with the overhead of logging to disk (Reliable), and with logging to disk plus replicating the state using two and three schedulers (Reliable-2 and Reliable-3, respectively). All the measurements were done using the experimental platform with 8 databases at the peak throughput. The measurements from sections 8.1 through 8.3 correspond to the Reliable-2 bar.

Figure 10: Overhead of Providing Fault tolerance and Various Degrees of Availability for the Conflict-Aware Scheduler for All Workload Mixes

The overhead for fault tolerance and data availability is negligible for the browsing and shopping mixes and around 16% for the ordering mix. This overhead is mainly due to logging, with no extra overhead when replication of writes to remote schedulers is added to logging (as seen by comparing the Reliable and Reliable-2 bars).

A full checkpoint currently takes 5 minutes to perform for our 4 GB database. We did not include this overhead in our above measurements, because well known techniques for minimizing the time for taking file snapshots exist [10].

9 Simulations

We use simulation to extrapolate from our experimental results in three different directions. First, we explore how throughput scales if a larger cluster of database replicas is available. Second, we investigate the effect of faster databases, either by using faster database software or faster machines. Third, we show how the performance differences between the various schedulers evolve as the conflict rate is gradually reduced.

9.1 Simulator Design

We have developed two configurable simulators, one for the web/application server front-ends and the other for the database back-ends. We use these front-end and back-end simulators to drive actual execution of the schedulers and the database proxies. Our motivation for running the actual scheduler code and the actual database proxy code rather than simulating them is to measure their overheads experimentally and determine whether or not they may become a bottleneck for large clusters or faster databases.

The web server simulator models a very fast web server. It accepts client requests, and sends the corresponding queries to the scheduler without executing any application code. The scheduler and the database proxies perform their normal functions, but the database proxy sends each query to the database simulator rather than to the database.

The database simulator models a cluster of database replicas. It maintains a separate queue for each simulated replica. Whenever a query is received from the scheduler for a particular replica, a record is placed on that replica's queue. The simulator estimates a completion time for the query, using the same query execution time estimates as used for load balancing. It polls the queues of all replicas, and sends responses when the simulated time reaches the completion time for each query. The simulator does not model disk I/O. Based on profiling of actual runs, we estimate that the disk access time is mostly overlapped with computation, due to the locality in database accesses and the lazy database commits.

Calibration of the simulated system against measurement of the real 8-node database cluster shows that the simulated throughput numbers are within 12% of the experimental numbers for all three mixes.

9.2 Large Database Clusters

9.2.1 Results

We simulate all five schedulers for all three workload mixes for database cluster sizes up to 60 replicas. As with the experimental results, for a given number of replicas, we increase the number of clients until the system achieves peak throughput, and we report those peak throughput numbers. The results can be found in Figures 11, 12 and 13. In the x-axis we have the number of simulated database replicas, and in the y-axis the throughput in web interactions per second.

Figure 11: Simulated Throughput Results for the Browsing Mix
Figure 12: Simulated Throughput Results for the Shopping Mix
Figure 13: Simulated Throughput Results for the Ordering Mix

The simulation results show that the experimental results obtained on small clusters can be extrapolated to larger clusters. In particular, the conflict-aware scheduler outperforms all other schedulers, and the benefits of conflict awareness grow as the cluster size grows, especially for the shopping and the ordering mix. Furthermore, the relative order of the different schedulers remains the same, and, in particular, all lazy schemes outperform the eager scheduler (by up to a factor of 4.4 for the conflict-aware scheduler). The results for the shopping mix deserve particular attention, because they allow us to observe a flattening of the throughput of FR-C and VR-L as the number of machines grows, a phenomenon that we could not observe in the actual implementation. In contrast, throughput of the conflict-aware protocol continues to increase, albeit at a slower pace. With increasing cluster size, the number of conflicts increases [8]. Hence, choosing the replica based on a single criterion, either conflict (as in FR-C) or fine-grained load balancing (as in VR-L), is inferior to conflict-aware scheduling that combines both.

9.2.2 Bottleneck Analysis

As the cluster scales to larger numbers of machines, the following phenomena could limit throughput increases: growth in the number of conflicts, each replica becoming saturated with writes, or the scheduler becoming a bottleneck. In this section we show that the flattening of the throughput curves for the conflict-aware scheduler in Figures 12 and 13 is due to conflicts among transactions, even though the scheduler seeks to reduce conflict waiting time. A fortiori, for the other schedulers, which invest less effort in reducing conflicts, conflicts are even more of an impediment to good performance at large cluster sizes.

Using the conflict-aware scheduler, Figure 14 shows the breakdown of the average database CPU time into idle time, time processing reads, and time processing writes. The breakdown is provided for each workload, for one replica and for either the largest number of replicas simulated for that workload or for a number of replicas at which the throughput curve has flattened out.

Figure 14: Breakdown of the Average Database CPU Time into Idle time, Time for Reads, and Time for Writes, for the Browsing, Shopping and Ordering Mixes.

For the browsing mix, which still scales at 60 replicas, idle time remains low even at that cluster size. For the shopping mix, which starts seeing some flattening out at 60 machines, idle time has grown to 15%. For the ordering mix, which does not see any improvement in throughput beyond 16 replicas, idle time has grown considerably, to 73%. The fraction of write (non-idle) time grows from under 1% for browsing and shopping and 6% for ordering on one replica, to 8% for the browsing mix (at 60 replicas), 30% in the shopping mix (at 60 replicas), and 16% for the ordering mix (at 16 replicas).

Idle time is entirely due to conflicts. Idle time due to load imbalance is negligible. Most idle time occurs on a particular replica when a transaction holds locks on the database that conflict with all lock requests in the proxy's lock queues, and that transaction is in the process of executing a read on a different replica. Additional idle time occurs while waiting for the next operation from such a transaction. The results in Figure 14 clearly show that idle time, and thus conflicts, is the primary impediment to scaling. Write saturation (a replica being fully occupied with writes) does not occur.

For the sizes of clusters simulated, the scheduler is not a bottleneck. While the scheduler CPU usage grows linearly with increases in cluster size, one scheduler is enough to sustain the maximum configuration for all three mixes. Table 1 shows the CPU, memory, disk and network usage at the scheduler for the shopping mix, in a configuration with one scheduler and 60 replicas. The CPU usage reaches about 58%, while all other resource usage is very low. For all other mixes, the resource usage is lower at their corresponding maximum configuration.

Table 1: Resource Usage at the Scheduler for the Shopping Mix at 60 Replicas
CPU Memory Network Disk
(%) (MB) (MB/sec) (MB/sec)
58% 6.3 3.8 0.021

9.3 Faster Replicas

If the database is significantly faster, either by using more powerful hardware or by using a high-performance database engine, a conflict-aware scheduler continues to provide good throughput scaling. In Figure 15 we show throughput as a function of the number of replicas for databases twice and four times faster than the MySQL database we use in the experiments. This is the highest speed of database for which we could simulate a cluster with 60 replicas.

We simulate faster databases by reducing the estimated length of each query in the simulation. Figure 15 shows that the faster databases produce similar scaling curves with correspondingly higher throughputs. Three schedulers are necessary in the largest configuration with the fastest database.

Figure 15: Simulated Throughput Results with Faster Database Replicas for the Shopping Mix

9.4 Varying Conflict Rates

Table-level conservative two-phase locking, as used in our implementation, causes a high conflict rate. We investigate the benefits of conflict-aware scheduling under conflict rates as low as 1% of that observed in the experimental workload. Figures 16 and 17 compare throughput as a function of cluster size between the conflict-aware scheduler on one hand, and the eager and the conventional lazy FR-L schedulers on the other hand. We vary the conflict rate from 1% to 100% of the conflict rate observed in the experimental workload. In particular, if a table-level conflict occurs, we ignore the conflict with the specified probability.

Figure 16: Simulated Throughput Results for Various Conflict Rates for the Conflict-Aware and the Eager Scheduler for the Shopping Mix
Figure 17: Simulated Throughput Results for Various Conflict Rates for the Conflict-Aware and the FR-L Scheduler for the Shopping Mix

Obviously, the performance differences become smaller as the number of conflicts decreases, but at a 1% conflict rate and at the maximum cluster size, the conflict-aware protocol is still a factor of 1.8 better than Eager, and a factor of 1.3 better than a lazy protocol without any optimizations (FR-L). This result demonstrates that conflict-awareness continues to offer benefits for workloads with lower conflict rates or systems with finer-grain concurrency control.

10 Related Work

Current high-volume web servers such as the official web server used for the Olympic games [6] and real-life e-commerce sites based on IBM's WebSphere Commerce Edition [11], rely on expensive supercomputers to satisfy the volume of requests. Nevertheless, performance of such servers may become a problem during periods of peak load.

Neptune [18] adopts a primary-copy approach to providing consistency in a partitioned service cluster. Their scalability study is limited to web applications with loose consistency requirements, such as bulletin boards and auction sites, for which scaling is easier to achieve. They do not address e-commerce workloads or other web applications with stronger consistency requirements.

Zhang et al. [25] have previously attempted to scale dynamic content sites by using clusters in their HACC project. They extend a technique from clustered static-content servers, locality-aware request distribution [15], to work in dynamic content sites. Their study, however, is limited to read-only workloads. In a more general dynamic content server, replication implies the need for consistency maintenance.

Replication has previously been used mainly for fault tolerance and data availability [7]. Gray et al. [8] shows that classic solutions based on eager replication which provide serializability do not scale well. Lazy replication algorithms with asynchronous update propagation used in wide-area applications [17,21] scale well, but also expose inconsistencies to the user.

More recently, asynchronous replication based on group communication [12,20,24] has been proposed to provide serializability and scaling at the same time. This approach is implemented inside the database layer. Each replica functions independently. A transaction acquires locks locally. Prior to commit, the database sends the other replicas the write-sets. Conflicts are solved by each replica independently. This implies the need to abort transactions when a write-set received from a remote transaction conflicts with a local transaction. This approach differs from ours in that we consider a cluster in which a scheduler can direct operations to certain replicas, while they consider a more conventional distributed database setting in which a transaction normally executes locally. Also, our approach is implemented outside of the database.

TP-monitors, such as Tuxedo [9], are superficially similar in functionality to our scheduler. They differ in that they provide programming support for replicated application servers and for accessing different databases using conventional two-phase commit, not transparent support for replicating a database for throughput scaling.

11 Conclusions

We have described conflict-aware scheduling, a lazy replication technique for a cluster of database replicas serving as a back-end to a dynamic content site. A conflict-aware scheduler enforces 1-copy serializability by assigning transaction sequence numbers, and it reduces conflict waiting time by directing reads to replicas where no conflicts exist. This design matches well the characteristics of the database workloads that we have observed in dynamic content sites, namely high locality, high cost of reads relative to the cost of writes, and high conflict rates. No modifications are necessary in the application server or in the database to take advantage of a conflict-aware scheduler.

We have evaluated conflict-aware scheduling, both by measurement of an implementation and by simulation. We use software platforms in common use: the Apache web server, the PHP scripting language, and the MySQL database. We use the various workload mixes of the TPC-W benchmark to evaluate overall scaling behavior and the contribution of our scheduling algorithms. In an 8-node cluster, the conflict-aware scheduler brings factors of 1.5, 1.6 and 2 in throughput improvement, compared to a conflict-oblivious lazy scheduler, and factors of 1.7, 2.4 and 3.5, compared to an eager scheduler, for the browsing, shopping and ordering mixes, respectively.

Furthermore, our simulations show that conflict-aware schedulers scale well to larger clusters and faster machines, and that they maintain an edge over eager and conflict-oblivious schedulers even if the conflict rate is much lower.


We would like to thank Gustavo Alonso and Andre Schiper for their advice on early drafts of this paper. We also thank our shepherd, Mike Dahlin, for his guidance, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments. The work also benefited from informal discussions with Emmanuel Cecchet and Karthick Rajamani, and from the contributions of the DynaServer team towards a better understanding of dynamic content benchmarks.


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This paper was originally published in the Proceedings of the 4th USENIX Symposium on Internet Technologies and Systems, March 26-28, 2003, Seattle, WA, USA
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