Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cassandra in Google Summer of Code 2010

Cassandra is participating in the Google Summer of Code, which opened for proposal submission today. Cassandra is part of the Apache Software Foundation, which has its own page of guidelines up for students and mentors.

We have a good mix of project ideas involving both core and non-core areas, from straightforward code bashing to some pretty tricky stuff, depending on your appetite. Core tickets aren't necessarily harder than non-core, but they will require reading and understanding more existing code.


  • Create a web ui for cassandra: we have a (fairly minimal) command line interface, but a web gui is more user-friendly. There is the beginnings of such a beast in the Cassandra source tree at contrib/cassandra_browser [pretty ugly Python code] and a gtk-based one at http://github.com/driftx/chiton [also Python, less ugly].
  • First-class commandline interface: if you prefer to kick things old-school, improving the cli itself would also be welcome.
  • Create a Cassandra demo application: we have Twissandra, but we can always use more examples to introduce people to "thinking in Casssandra," which is the hardest part of using it. This one seems to be the most popular with students so far. (So stand out from the crowd, and submit something else too. :)



  • Avro RPC support: currently Cassandra's client layer is the Thrift RPC framework, which sucks for reasons outside our scope here. We're moving to Avro, the new hotness from Doug Cutting (creator of Lucene and Hadoop, you may have heard of those). Basically this means porting org.apache.cassandra.thrift.CassandraServer to org.apache.cassandra.avro.CassandraServer; some examples are already done by Eric Evans.
  • Session-level consistency: In one and two Amazon discusses the concept of "eventual consistency." Cassandra uses eventual consistency in a design similar to Dynamo. Supporting session consistency would be useful and relatively easy to add: we already have the concept of a Memtable to "stage" updates in before flushing to disk; if we applied mutations to a session-level memtable on the coordinator machine (that is, the machine the client is connected to), and then did a final merge from that table against query results before handing them to the client, we'd get it almost for free.
  • Optimize commitlog performance: this is about as low-level as you'll find in Cassandra's code base. fsync, CAS, it's all here. http://wiki.apache.org/cassandra/ArchitectureCommitLog describes the current CommitLog design.

You can comment directly on the JIRA tickets after creating an account (it's open to the public) if you're interested or have other questions. And of course feel free to propose other ideas!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cassandra in action

There's been a lot of new articles about Cassandra deployments in the past month, enough that I thought it would be useful to summarize in a post.

Ryan King explained in an interview with Alex Popescu why Twitter is moving to Cassandra for tweet storage, and why they selected Cassandra over the alternatives. My experience is that the more someone understands large systems and the problems you can run into with them from an operational standpoint, the more likely they are to choose Cassandra when doing this kind of evaluation. Ryan's list of criteria is worth checking out.

Digg followed up their earlier announcement that they had taken part of their site live on Cassandra with another saying that they've now "reimplemented most of Digg's functionality using Cassandra as our primary datastore." Digg engineer Ian Eure also gave some more details on Digg's cassandra data model in a Hacker News thread.

Om Malik quoted extensively from the Digg announcement and from Rackspace engineer Stu Hood, who explained Cassandra's appeal: "Over the Bigtable clones, Cassandra has huge high-availability advantages, and no single point of failure. When compared to the Dynamo adherents, Cassandra has the advantage of a more advanced datamodel, allowing for a single row to contain billions of column/value pairs: enough to fill a machine. You also get efficient range queries for the top level key, and even within your values."

The Twitter and Digg news kicked off a lot of publicity, including a lot of "me too" articles but some interesting ones, including a highscalability post wondering if this was the end of the mysql + memcached era. If not quite yet the end, then the beginning of it. As Ian Eure from Digg said, "If you're deploying memcache on top of your database, you're inventing your own ad-hoc, difficult to maintain NoSQL system." Possibly the best commentary on this idea is Dare Obasanjo's, who explained "Digg's usage of Cassandra actually serves as a rebuttal to [an article claiming SQL scales just fine] since they couldn't feasibly get what they want with either horizontal or vertical scaling of their relational database-based solution."

Reddit also migrated to Cassandra from memcachedb, in only 10 days, the fastest migration to Cassandra I've seen. More comments from the engineer doing the migration, ketralnis, in the reddit discussion thread.

CloudKick blogged about how they use Cassandra for time series data, including a sketch of their data model. CloudKick migrated from PostgreSQL, skewering the theory you will sometimes see proffered that "only MySQL users are migrating to NoSQL, not people who use [my favorite vendor's relational database]."

Jake Luciani wrote about how Lucandra, the Cassandra Lucene back-end works, and how he's using it to power the Twitter search app sparse.ly. IMO, Lucandra is one of Cassandra's killer apps.

The FightMyMonster team switched from HBase to Cassandra after concluding that "HBase is more suitable for data warehousing, and large scale data processing and analysis... and Cassandra is more suitable for real time transaction processing and the serving of interactive data." Dominic covers CAP, architecture considerations, benchmarks, map/reduce, and durability in explaining his conclusion.

Eric Peters gave a talk on Cassandra use at his company, Frugal Mechanic, at the Seattle Tech Startups Meetup. This was interesting not because Frugal Mechanic is a big name but because it's not. I haven't seen Eric's name on the Cassandra mailing lists at all, but there he was deploying it and giving a talk on it, showing that Cassandra is starting to move beyond early adopters. (And, just maybe, that our documentation is improving. :)

Finally, Eric Florenzano has a live demo up now of Cassandra running a Twitter clone at twissandra.com, with source at github, as an example of how to use Cassandra's data model. If you're interested in the nuts and bolts of how to build an app on Cassandra, you should check it out.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why your data may not belong in the cloud

Several of the reports of the recently-concluded NoSQL Live event mentioned that I took a contrarian position on the "NoSQL in the Cloud" panel, arguing that traditional, bare metal servers usually make more sense. Here's why.

There are two reasons to use cloud infrastructure (and by cloud I mean here "commodity VMs such as those provided by Rackspace Cloud Servers or Amazon EC2):

  1. You only need a fraction of the capacity of a single machine
  2. Your demand is highly elastic; you want to be able to quickly spin up many new instances, then drop them when you are done
Most people looking at NoSQL solutions are doing it because their data is larger than a traditional solution can handle, or will be, so (1) is not a very strong motivation. But what about (2)? At first glance, cloud is a great fit for adding capacity to a database cluster painlessly. But there's an important difference between load like web traffic that bounces up and down frequently, and databases: with few exceptions, databases only get larger with time. You won't have 20 TB of data this week, and 2 next.

When capacity only grows in one direction it makes less sense to pay a premium for the flexibility of being able to reduce your capacity nearly instantly, especially when you also get reduced I/O performance (the most common bottleneck for databases) in the bargain because of the virtualization layer. That's why, despite working for a cloud provider, I don't think it's always a good fit for databases. (It doesn't hurt that Rackspace also offers classic bare metal hosting in the same data centers, so you can have the best of both worlds.)