Franck Cuny @franckcuny

Software and Operation engineer.

Perl, Redis and AnyEvent at Craiglist

Last night I went to the meetup, hosted by Craiglist (thanks for the food!), where Jeremy Zawodny talked about Redis and his module AnyEvent::Redis::Federated. We were about 30 mongers.

I was eating at the same table as Craiglist CTO's, and he went through some details of their infrastructure. I was surprised by the quantity of place where they use Perl, and the amount of traffic they deal with.


Jeremey started his talk by explaining what is their current problem: they have hundred of hosts in multiple data center, and they collect continuously dozen of metrics. They looked at MySQL to store them, but it was too slow to support the writes. Another thing important for them is that mostly only the most recent data matters. They want to know what's going on now, they don't really care about the past.

So their goal is simple: they need something fast, really fast, and simple. That's where Redis enter the game.

They want data replication, but Redis don't have this feature: there's only a master/slave replication mechanism (so, one way), and they need a solution with multi master, where a node becoming master does not drop data. They address this issue with a "syncer", that I'll describe later.

Because Redis is single thread, and servers have multiple cores, they start 8 process on each node to take advantages of them.

To me, the main benefit of Redis over Memcached is that you can use it as a data structure server. If you only need something to store key value, I'll prefer to stick to memcached: the community around is bigger, there's a lot of well know patterns, and a lot of big companies are contributing to it (lately, Twitter and FaceBook).

The structure they use the most are the sorted set. The format to store a metric is:

  • key: $time_period:$host:$metric (where the $timeperiod is usually a day)
  • score: $timestamp
  • value: $timestamp:$value

In addition of storing those metrics in the nodes, they also keep a journal of what has changed. The journal looks like this:

  • score: $timestamp of the last time something has changed
  • value: $key that changed

The journal is only one big structure, and it's used by their syncer (more about that in a moment). The benefit of having ZSET is that they can delete old data easily by using the key (they don't have enough memory to store more than a couple of days, so they need to be able to delete by day kickly).

The journal is use for replication. Each process has a syncer that track all his peers, pull the data from those nodes and merge them with the local data. Earlier Jeremy mentioned that they have 8 instances on each node, so a the syncer from process 1 on node a will only check for the process 1 on node b.

He also mentioned a memory optimization done by Redis (you can read more about that here).


Now, it's time to see the Perl code. AnyEventE::Redis::Federated is a layer on top of AnyEvent::Redis that implements a consistent hashing. I guess now every body has gave up hope to see someday redis cluster (and I'm more and more convinced that hit should never be implemented, and let the client implement their own solution for hashing / replication).

Some of the nice feature of the modules:

  • call chaining
  • you can get singleton object for the connection
  • you can also use it in blocking mode
  • query all node (where you send the same command to all the node, can be useful to do sanity check on the data)
  • the client will write to one node, and let the syncer do the job

He then showed us some code (with a very gross example: new AnyEvent::Redis::Federated, I know at least one person who would have probably said something :).


The idea seems fine, but, as one person noted during the Q&A, how will this scale when you have more than 2 or 4 nodes in your cluster ? Since each process' syncer need to talk to all the other nodes, it will probably be very expensive for this process to gather information from all the nodes and write them. Also, by adding more nodes, you're storing less information into each process, since you replicate everything. Maybe a good solution is to keep many small cluster of 2 to 4 nodes, and let each of them deal with some specific metrics.

The module is not yet used in production, but they've tested it heavily, in a lot of conditions (but I would note that there's no unit test :). They intent to use it soon with some home made dashboard to display the metrics.