Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I love eventual consistency but there are some applications that are much easier to implement with strong consistency. Many like eventual consistency because it allows us to scale-out nearly without bound but it does come with a cost in programming model complexity. For example, assume your program needs to assign work order numbers uniquely and without gaps in the sequence.  Eventual consistency makes this type of application difficult to write.


Applications built upon eventually consistent stores have to be prepared to deal with update anomalies like lost updates. For example, assume there is an update at time T1 where a given attribute is set to 2. Later, at time T2, the same attribute is set to a value of 3. What will the value of this attribute be at a subsequent time T3?  Unfortunately, the answer is we’re not sure. If T1 and T2 are well separated in time, it will almost certainly be 3. But it might be 2. And it is conceivable that it could be some value other than 2 or 3 even if there have been no subsequent updates. Coding to eventual consistency is not the easiest thing in the world. For many applications its fine and, with care, most applications can be written correctly on an eventually consistent model. But it is often more difficult.


What I’ve learned over the years is that strong consistency, if done well, can scale to very high levels. The trick is implementing it well. The naïve approach to achieve full consistency is to route all updates through a single master server but clearly this won’t scale. Instead divide the update space into a large number of partitions, each with its own master. That scales but there is still a tension between the number of partitions and the cost of maintaining many partitions and avoiding hot spots.  The obvious way to avoid hot spots is to use a large number of partitions but this increases partition management overhead.  The right answer is to be able to dynamically repartition to maintain a sufficient number of partitions and to be able to adapt to load increases on any single server by further spreading the update load.


There are many approaches to support dynamic hot sport management. One is to divide the workload into 10 to 100x more partitions than expected servers and make these fixed-sized partitions be the unit of migration. Servers with hot partitions will end up serving less partitions while servers with cold partitions will manage more. The other class of approaches, is to dynamically repartition. Start with large partitions and divide hot partitions to multiple smaller partitions to spread the load over multiple servers.


There are many variants of these techniques with different advantages and disadvantages. The constant is that full consistency is more affordable than many think. Clearly, eventual consistency remains a very good thing for workloads that don’t need full consistency and for workloads where the overhead of the above techniques is determined to be unaffordable. Both higher consistency models are quite useful.


This morning SimpleDB announced support for two new features that make it much easier to write many classes of applications: 1) consistent Reads, 2) Conditional put and delete.  Consistent reads allows applications that need full consistency to be easily written against SimpleDB. So, for example, if you wanted to implement an inventory management system that didn’t lose parts in the warehouse, doesn’t sell components twice, or place multiple orders, it would now be trivial to write this application against SimpleDB using the consistent read support. Consistent read is implemented as an optional Boolean flag on SimpleDB GetAttributes or select statements. Absence of the flag continues to deliver the familiar eventually consistent behavior with which many of you are very familiar with. If the flag is present and set, you get strong consistency. 


SimpleDB conditional PutAttributes and DeleteAttributes are a related feature that makes it much easier to write applications where the new value of an attribute are functionally related to the old value. Conditional update support allows a programmer to read the value of an attribute, operate upon it, and then write it back only if the value hasn’t changed in the interim which would render the planned update invalid. For example, say you were implementing a counter (+1). If the value of the counter at time T0 was 0, and subsequently an increment was applied at time T1 and another at increment was applied at time T2, what is the value of the counter? Using eventual consistency and, for simplicity, assuming no concurrent updates, the resulting value is probably is 2. Unfortunately, the value might be 1. With conditional updates, it will be 2.  Again, conditional puts and deletes are just another great tool to help write correct SimpleDB applications quickly and efficiently.


For more information on consistent reads and conditional put and delete, see SimpleDB Consistency Enhancements.


These two SimpleDB features have been in the works for some time and so it is exciting to see them announced and available today. It’s great to now be able to talk about these features publically. If you are interested in giving them a try, you can for free.  There is no charge for SimpleDB use for database sizes under 1GB (and silly close to free above that level). Go for it.




James Hamilton



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Wednesday, February 24, 2010 3:17:57 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
 Monday, February 15, 2010

MySpace makes the odd technology choice that I don’t fully understand.  And, from a distance, there are times when I think I see opportunity to drop costs substantially. But, let’s ignore that, and tip our hat to the MySpace for incredibly scale they are driving. It’s a great social networking site and you just can’t argue with the scale they are driving. Their traffic is monstrous and, consequently, it’s a very interesting site to understand in more detail.


Lubor Kollar of SQL Server just sent me this super interesting overview of the MySpace service. My notes follow and the original article is at:


I particularly like social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace because they are so difficult to implement.  Unlike highly partitionable workloads like email, social networking sites work hard to find as many relationships, across as many  dimensions, amongst as many users as possible. I refer to this as the hairball problem. There are no nice clean data partitions which makes social networking sites amongst the most interesting of the high scale internet properties.  More articles on the hairball problem:

·         FriendFeed use of MySQL

·         Geo-Replication at Facebook

·         Scaling LinkedIn


The combination of the hairball problem and extreme scale makes the largest social networking sites like MySpace some of the toughest on the planet to scale.  Focusing on MySpace scale, it is prodigious:

·         130M unique monthly users

·         40% of the US population has MySpace accounts

·         300k new users each day


The MySpace Infrastructure:

·         3,000 Web Servers

·         800 cache servers

·         440 SQL Servers


Looking at the database tier in more detail:

·         440 SQL Server Systems hosting over 1,000 databases

·         Each running on an HP ProLiant DL585

o   4 dual core AMD procs

o   64 GB RAM

·         Storage tier: 1,100 disks on a distributed SAN (really!)

·         1PB of SQL Server hosted data


As ex-member of the SQL Server development team and perhaps less than completely unbiased, I’ve got to say that 440 database servers across a single cluster is a thing of beauty.


More scaling stores:


Hats off to MySpace for delivering a reliable service, in high demand, with high availability. Very impressive.



James Hamilton



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Monday, February 15, 2010 12:11:19 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [19] - Trackback
 Saturday, February 13, 2010

Last week, I posted Scaling Second Life. Royans sent me a great set of scaling stories: Scaling Web Architectures and Vijay Rao of AMD pointed out How FarmVille Scales to Harvest 75 Million Players a Month. I find the Farmville example particularly interesting in that it’s “only” a casual game. Having spent most of my life (under a rock) working on high-scale servers and services, I naively would never have guessed that casual gaming was big business. But it is. Really big business. To put a scale point on what "big" means in this context, Zynga, the company responsible for Farmville, is estimated to have a valuation of between $1.5B and $3B (Zynga Raising $180M on Astounding Valuation) with annual revenues of roughly $250M (Zynga Revenues Closer to $250).


The Zynga games portfolio includes 24 games, the best known of which are Mafia Wars and FarmVille. The Farmville scaling story is an great example of how fast internet properties can need to scale. The game had 1M players after 4 days and 10M after 60 days.  


In this interview with FarmVille’s Luke Rajich (How FarmVille Scales to Harvest 75 Million Players a Month), Luke talks about scaling what he refers to as both the largest game in the world and the largest application on a web platform. FarmVille is a Facebook application and peak bandwidth between FarmVille and Facebook can run as high as 3Gbps. The FarmVille team has to manage both incredibly fast growth and very spikey traffic patterns. They have implemented what I call graceful degradation mode(Designing and Deploying Internet-Scale Services) and are able to shed load as load as gaming traffic increases push them towards their resource limits. In Luke’s words “the application has the ability to dynamically turn off any calls back to the platform. We have a dial that we can tweak that turns off incrementally more calls back to the platform. We have additionally worked to make all calls back to the platform avoid blocking the loading of the application itself. The idea here is that, if all else fails, players can continue to at least play the game. […]The way in which services degrade are to rate limit errors to that service and to implement service usage throttles. The key ideas are to isolate troubled and highly latent services from causing latency and performance issues elsewhere through use of error and timeout throttling, and if needed, disable functionality in the application using on/off switches and functionality based throttles.”  These are good techniques that can be applied to all services.


Lessons Learned from scaling Farmville:

1.      Interactive games are write-heavy. Typical web apps read more than they write so many common architectures may not be sufficient. Read heavy apps can often get by with a caching layer in front of a single database. Write heavy apps will need to partition so writes are spread out and/or use an in-memory architecture.

2.    Design every component as a degradable service. Isolate components so increased latencies in one area won't ruin another. Throttle usage to help alleviate problems. Turn off features when necessary.

3.    Cache Facebook data. When you are deeply dependent on an external component consider caching that component's data to improve latency.

4.    Plan ahead for new release related usage spikes.

5.      Sample. When analyzing large streams of data, looking for problems for example, not every piece of data needs to be processed. Sampling data can yield the same results for much less work.


Check out the High Scalability article How FarmVille Scales to Harvest 75 Million Players a Month for more details.




James Hamilton



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Saturday, February 13, 2010 8:05:33 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
 Sunday, February 07, 2010

As many of you know I collect high-scale scaling war stories. I’ve appended many of them below. Last week Ars Technica published a detailed article on Scaling Second Life: What Second Life can Teach your Datacenter About Scaling Web Apps. This article by Ian Wilkes who worked at Second Life from 2001 to 2009 where he was director of operations. My rough notes follow:

·         Understand scale required:

o   Billing system serving US and EU where each user interacts annually and the system has 10% penetration: 2 to 3 events/second

o   Chat system serving UE and EU where each user sends 10 message/day during workday: 20k messages/second

·         Does the system have to be available 24x7 and understand the impact of downtime (beware of over-investing in less important dimensions at the expense of those more important)

·         Understand the resource impact of features. Be especially cautious around relational database systems and object relational mapping frameworks. If nobody knows the resource requirements, expect trouble in the near future.

·         Database pain: “Almost all online systems use an SQL-based RDBMS, or something very much like one, to store some or all of their data, and this is often the first and biggest bottleneck. Depending on your choice of vendor, scaling a single database to higher capacity can range from very expensive to outright impossible. Linden's experience with uber-popular MySQL is illustrative: we used it for storing all manner of structured data, ultimately totaling hundreds of tables and billions of rows, and we ran into a variety of limitations which were not expected.”

·         MySQL specific issues:

o   Lacks alter table statement

o   Write heavy workload can run heavy CPU spikes due to internal lock conflicts

o   Lack of effective per-user governors means a single application can bring the system to its knees

·         Interchangeable parts :” A common behavior of small teams on a tight budget is to tightly fit the building blocks of their system to the task at hand. It's not uncommon to use different hardware configurations for the webservers, load balancers (more bandwidth), batch jobs (more memory), databases (more of everything), development machines (cheaper hardware), and so on. If more batch machines are suddenly needed, they'll probably have to be purchased new, which takes time. Keeping lots of extra hardware on site for a large number of machine configurations becomes very expensive very quickly. This is fine for a small system with fixed needs, but the needs of a growing system will change unpredictably. When a system is changing, the more heavily interchangeable the parts are, the more quickly the team can respond to failures or new demands.”

·         Instrument, propagate, isolate errors:

o   It is important not to overlook transient, temporary errors in favor of large-scale failures; keeping good data about errors and dealing with them in an organized way is essential to managing system reliability.

o   Second Life has a large number of highly asynchronous back-end systems, which are heavily interdependent. Unfortunately, it had the property that under the right load conditions, localized hotspots could develop, where individual nodes could fall behind and eventually begin silently dropping requests, leading to lost data.

·          Batch jobs, the silent killer: Batch jobs bring two challenges: 1) sudden workload spikes and 2) inability to complete the job within the batch window.

·         Keep alerts under control: “I can't count the number of system operations people I've talked to (usually in job interviews as they sought a new position) who, at a growing firm, suffered from catastrophic over-paging.”

·         Beware of the “grand rewrite”


If you are interested in reading more from Ian at Second Life: Interview with Ian Wilkes From Linden Lab.


More from the Scaling-X series:

·         Scaling Second Life:

·         Scaling Google:

·         Scaling LinkedIn:

·         Scaling Amazon:

·         Scaling Second Life:

·         Scaling Technorati:

·         Scaling Flickr:

·         Scaling Craigslist:

·         Scaling Findory:

·         Scaling Myspace:

·         Scaling Twitter, Flickr, Live Journal, Six Apart, Bloglines,, SlideShare, and eBay:


A very comprehensive list from Royans:  Scaling Web Architectures


Some time back for USENIX LISA, I brought together a set of high-scale services best practices:

·         Designing and Deploying Internet-Scale Services


If you come across other scaling war stories, send them my way:




James Hamilton



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Sunday, February 07, 2010 11:51:21 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [6] - Trackback
 Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cloud computing is an opportunity to substantially improve the economics of enterprise IT. We really can do more with less. 


I firmly believe that enterprise IT is a competitive weapon and, in all industries, the leaders are going to be those that invest deeply in information processing. The best companies in each market segment are going to be information processing experts and because of this investment, are going to know their customer better, will chose their suppliers better, will have deep knowledge and control of their supply chains, and will have an incredibly efficient distribution system. They will do everything better and more efficiently because of their information processing investment.  This is the future reality for retail companies, for financial companies, for petroleum exploration, for pharmaceutical, for sports teams, and for logistics companies. No market segment will be spared and, for many, it’s their reality today.  Investment in IT is the only way to serve customers and shareholders better than competitors.


It’s clear to me that investing in information technology is the future of all successful companies and it’s the present for most. The good news is that it really can be done more cost effectively, more efficiently, and with less environmental impact using cloud computing. We really can do more with less.


The argument for cloud computing is gaining acceptance industry-wide. But, private clouds are being embraced by some enterprises and analysts as the solution and the right way to improve the economics of enterprise IT infrastructure. Private clouds may feel like a step in the right direction but scale-economics make private clouds far less efficient than real cloud computing. What’s the difference? At scale, in a shared resource fabric, better services can be offered at lower cost with much higher resource utilization. We’ll look at both the cost and resource utilization advantages in more detail below.


At very high-scale it’s both affordable and efficient to have teams of experts in power distribution and mechanical systems on staff.  The major cloud computing providers have these teams and are inventing new techniques to lower costs, improve efficiency, and provide more environmentally sound solutions. This is very hard to do cost effectively at scale of less than 10s of megawatts.  Continuing that same argument to other domains, cloud computing providers have teams specialized in server and storage design.  And they are deeply invested in networking gear hardware and software. All of this is hard to justify at private cloud scales.


Cloud computing providers have 24x7 staff to monitor the services and to respond to customer issues. Doing service monitoring right is incredibly difficult and I’ve never seen it done well at anything less than multi-megawatt scales.


Cloud computing providers have some of the best distributed systems specialists in the world. They also have open source experts and depend deeply upon both open source and internally produced software.  They do this for two reasons: 1) at high-scale, things fail in new and interesting ways – operational excellence only comes from intimate knowledge of the entire hardware and software stack, and 2) when running at the high scale needed for efficiency, software licensing costs give up much of the excellent economics of a cloud service.


Resource utilization is even a stronger argument to move to a high-scale, shared infrastructure cloud. At scale, with high customer diversity, a wonderful property emerges: non-correlated peaks. Whereas each company has to provision to support their peak workload, when running in a shared cloud the peaks and valleys smooth.  The retail market peaks in November, taxation in April, some financial business peak on quarter ends and many of these workloads have many cycles overlaid some daily, some weekly, some yearly and some event specific.  For example, the death of Michael Jackson drove heavy workloads in some domains but had zero impact in others. A huge eastern seaboard storm drives massive peaks in a few businesses but has no impact on most. Large numbers of diverse workloads tend to average out and yield much higher utilization levels than are possible at low scale.  Private clouds can never achieve the utilization levels of shared clouds.


Last week Alistair Croll wrote an excellent InformationWeek article arguing that “the true cloud operators will have an unavoidable cost advantage because it's all they worry about. They'll also be closer to consumers (because they have POPs everywhere and partnerships with content delivery systems), and connecting with consumers and partners will become an increasingly essential part of any enterprise IT strategy.”  Have a look at Private Clouds are a Fix, Not the Future.


Private clouds are better than nothing but an investment in a private cloud is an investment in a temporary fix that will only slow the path to the final destination: shared clouds. A decision to go with a private cloud is a decision to run lower utilization levels, consume more power, be less efficient environmentally, and to run higher costs.


James Hamilton



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Sunday, January 17, 2010 9:20:10 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [24] - Trackback
 Thursday, January 07, 2010

There is a growing gap between memory bandwidth and CPU power and this growing gap makes low power servers both more practical and more efficient than current designs.   Per-socket processor performance continues to increase much more rapidly than memory bandwidth and this trend applies across the application spectrum from mobile devices, through client, to servers. Essentially we are getting more compute than we have memory bandwidth to feed. 


We can attempt to address this problem two ways: 1) more memory bandwidth and 2) less fast processors. The former solution will be used and Intel Nehalem is a good example of this but costs increase non-linearly so the effectiveness of this technique will be  bounded. The second technique has great promise to reduce both cost and power consumption.


For more detail on this trend:

·         The Case for Low-Cost, Low-Power Servers

·         2010 the Year of the MicroSlice Servers

·         Linux/Apache on ARM Processors

·         ARM Cortex-A9 SMP Design Announced


This morning GigOm reported that SeaMicro has just obtained a $9.3M Department of Energy grant to improve data center efficiency (SeaMicro’s Secret Server Changes Computing Economics).  SeaMicro is a Santa Clara based start-up that is building a 512 processor server based upon Intel Atom. Also mentioned was Smooth Stone who is designing a high-scale server based upon ARM processors. ARMs processors are incredibly power efficient, commonly used in embedded devices and by far the most common processor used in cell phones.


Over the past year I’ve met with both Smooth Stone and SeaMicro frequently and it’s great to see more information about both available broadly. The very low power server trend is real and advancing quickly. When purchasing servers, it needs to be all about work done per dollar and work done per joule


Congratulations to SeaMicro on the DoE grant.


James Hamilton



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Thursday, January 07, 2010 10:38:35 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [3] - Trackback
 Saturday, January 02, 2010

In this month’s Communications of the Association of Computing Machinery, a rematch of the MapReduce debate was staged.  In the original debate, Dave Dewitt and Michael Stonebraker, both giants of the database community, complained that:


1.    MapReduce is a step backwards in database access

2.    MapReduce is a poor implementation

3.    MapReduce is not novel

4.    MapReduce is missing features

5.    MapReduce is incompatible with the DBMS tools


Unfortunately, the original article appear to be no longer available but you will find the debate branching out from that original article by searching on the title Map Reduce: A Major Step Backwards. The debate was huge, occasionally entertaining, but not always factual.  My contribution was MapReduce a Minor Step forward.

Update: In comments, csliu offered updated URLs for the original blog post and a follow-on article:

·  MapReduce: A Major Step Backwards

· MapReduce II


I like MapReduce for a variety of reasons the most significant of which is that it allows non-systems programmers to write very high-scale, parallel programs with comparative ease.  There have been many attempts to allow mortals to write parallel programs but there really have only been two widely adopted solutions that allow modestly skilled programmers to write highly concurrent executions: SQL and MapReduce. Ironically the two communities participating in the debate,  Systems and Database, have each produced a great success by this measure. 


More than 15 years ago, back when I worked on IBM DB2, we had DB2 Parallel Edition running well over a 512 server cluster.  Even back then you could write a SQL Statement that would run over a ½ thousand servers.  Similarly, programmers without special skills can run MapReduce programs that run over thousands of serves. The last I checked Yahoo, was running MapReduce jobs over a 4,000 node cluster: Scaling Hadoop to 4,000 nodes at Yahoo!.


The update on the MapReduce debate is worth reading but, unfortunately, the ACM has marked the first article as “premium content” so you can only read it if you are a CACM subscriber:

·         MapReduce and Parallel DBMSs: Friend or Foe

·         MapReduce: A Flexible Data Processing Tool

Update: Moshe Vardi, Editor in Chief of the Communications of the Association of Computing Machinery has kindly decided to make both the of the above articles freely available for all whether or not CACM member. Thank you Moshe.


Even more important to me than the MapReduce debate is seeing this sort of content made widely available. I hate seeing it classified as premium content restricted to members only. You really all should be members but, with the plunging cost of web publishing, why can’t the above content be made freely available? But, while complaining about the ACM publishing policies, I should hasten to point out that the CACM has returned to greatness.  When I started in this industry, the CACM was an important read each month. Well, good news, the long boring hiatus is over.  It’s now important reading again and has been for the last couple of years. I just wish the CACM would follow the lead of ACM Queue and make the content more broadly available outside of the membership community.


Returning to the MapReduce discussion, in the second CACM article above, MapReduce: A Flexible Data Processing Tool, Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat, do a thoughtful job of working through some of the recent criticism of MapReduce.


If you are interested in MapReduce, I recommend reading the original Operating Systems Design and Implementation MapReduce paper: MapReduce: Simplied Data Processing on Large Clusters and the detailed MapReduce vs database comparison paper: A Comparison of Approaches to Large-Scale Data Analysis.




James Hamilton



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Saturday, January 02, 2010 8:15:19 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [8] - Trackback
 Saturday, December 19, 2009

The networking world remains one of the last bastions of the mainframe computing design point. Back in 1987 Garth Gibson, Dave Patterson, and Randy Katz showed we could aggregate low-cost, low-quality commodity disks into storage subsystems far more reliable and much less expensive than the best purpose-built storage subsystems (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks). The lesson played out yet again where we learned that large aggregations of low-cost, low-quality commodity servers are far more reliable and less expensive than the best purpose-built scale up servers. However, this logic has not yet played out in the networking world.


The networking equipment world looks just like mainframe computing ecosystem did 40 years ago. A small number of players produce vertically integrated solutions where the ASICs (the central processing unit responsible for high speed data packet switching), the hardware design, the hardware manufacture, and the entire software stack are stack are single sourced and vertically integrated.  Just as you couldn’t run IBM MVS on a Burrows computer, you can’t run Cisco IOS on Juniper equipment.

When networking gear is purchased, it’s packaged as a single sourced, vertically integrated stack. In contrast, in the commodity server world, starting at the most basic component, CPUs are multi-sourced. We can get CPUs from AMD and Intel. Compatible servers built from either Intel or AMD CPUs are available from HP, Dell, IBM, SGI, ZT Systems, Silicon Mechanics, and many others.  Any of these servers can support both proprietary and open source operating systems. The commodity server world is open and multi-sourced at every layer in the stack.


Open, multi-layer hardware and software stacks encourage innovation and rapidly drive down costs. The server world is clear evidence of what is possible when such an ecosystem emerges. In the networking world, we have a long way to go but small steps are being made. Broadcom, Fulcrum, Marvell, Dune (recently purchased by Broadcom), Fujitsu and others all produce ASICs (the data plane CPU of the networking world). These ASICS are available for any hardware designer to pick up and use. Unfortunately, there is no standardization and hardware designs based upon one part can’t easily be adapted to use another.


In the X86 world, the combination of the X86 ISA, hardware platform, and the BIOS forms a De facto standard interface.  Any server supporting this low level interface can host the wide variety of different Linux systems, Windows, and many embedded O/Ss.  The existence of this layer allows software innovation above and encourages nearly unconstrained hardware innovation below.  New hardware designs work with existing software.  New software extensions and enhancements work with all the existing hardware platforms. Hardware producers get a wider variety of good quality operating systems.  Operating systems authors get a broad install base of existing hardware to target. Both get bigger effective markets. High volumes encourage greater investment and drive down costs.


This standardized layer hasn’t existed in the networking ecosystem as it has in the commodity server world. As a consequence, we don’t have high quality networking stacks able to run across a wide variety of networking devices. A potential solution is near: OpenFlow. This work originating out of the Stanford networking team driven by Nick McKeown. It is a low level hardware independent interface for updating network routing tables in a hardware independent-way. It is sufficiently rich to support current routing protocols and it also can support research protocols optimized at high-scale data center networking systems such as VL2 and PortLand. Current OpenFlow implementations exist on X86 hardware running linux, Broadcom, NEC, NetFPGA, Toroki, and many others.


The ingredients of an open stack are coming together. We have merchant silicon ASIC from Broadcom, Fulcrum, Dune and others. We have commodity, high-radix routers available from Broadcom (shipped by many competing OEMs), Arista, and others.  We have the beginnings of industry momentum behind OpenFlow which has a very good chance of being that low level networking interface we need. A broadly available, low-level interface may allow a high-quality, open source networking stack to emerge. I see the beginnings of the right thing happening.


·         OpenFlow web site:

·         OpenFlow paper:  Enabling Innovation in Campus Networks

·         My Stanford Clean Slate Talk Slides: DC Networks are in my way


James Hamilton



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Saturday, December 19, 2009 10:00:08 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [14] - Trackback
 Friday, December 18, 2009

I'm on the technical program committe for ACM Science Cloud 2010. You should consider both submitting a paper and attending the conference. The conference will be held in Chicago on June21st, 2010 colocated with  ACM HPDC 2010 (High Performance Distributed Computing).

The call for papers abstracst are due Feb 22 with final papers due March 1st:

Workshop Overview:

The advent of computation can be compared, in terms of the breadth and depth of its impact on research and scholarship, to the invention of writing and the development of modern mathematics. Scientific Computing has already begun to change how science is done, enabling scientific breakthroughs through new kinds of experiments that would have been impossible only a decade ago. Today's science is generating datasets that are increasing exponentially in both complexity and volume, making their analysis, archival, and sharing one of the grand challenges of the 21st century. The support for data intensive computing is critical to advancing modern science as storage systems have experienced an increasing gap between their capacity and bandwidth by more than 10-fold over the last decade. There is an emerging need for advanced techniques to manipulate, visualize and interpret large datasets. Scientific computing involves a broad range of technologies, from high-performance computing (HPC) which is heavily focused on compute-intensive applications, high-throughput computing (HTC) which focuses on using many computing resources over long periods of time to accomplish its computational tasks, many-task computing (MTC) which aims to bridge the gap between HPC and HTC by focusing on using many resources over short periods of time, to data-intensive computing which is heavily focused on data distribution and harnessing data locality by scheduling of computations close to the data.

The 1st workshop on Scientific Cloud Computing (ScienceCloud) will provide the scientific community a dedicated forum for discussing new research, development, and deployment efforts in running these kinds of scientific computing workloads on Cloud Computing infrastructures. The ScienceCloud workshop will focus on the use of cloud-based technologies to meet new compute intensive and data intensive scientific challenges that are not well served by the current supercomputers, grids or commercial clouds. What architectural changes to the current cloud frameworks (hardware, operating systems, networking and/or programming models) are needed to support science? Dynamic information derived from remote instruments and coupled simulation and sensor ensembles are both important new science pathways and tremendous challenges for current HPC/HTC/MTC technologies.  How can cloud technologies enable these new scientific approaches? How are scientists using clouds? Are there scientific HPC/HTC/MTC workloads that are suitable candidates to take advantage of emerging cloud computing resources with high efficiency? What benefits exist by adopting the cloud model, over clusters, grids, or supercomputers?  What factors are limiting clouds use or would make them more usable/efficient?

This workshop encourages interaction and cross-pollination between those developing applications, algorithms, software, hardware and networking, emphasizing scientific computing for such cloud platforms. We believe the workshop will be an excellent place to help the community define the current state, determine future goals, and define architectures and services for future science clouds. 

James Hamilton



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Friday, December 18, 2009 11:24:52 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
 Wednesday, December 16, 2009

There were three big announcements this week at Amazon Web Services. All three announcements are important but the first is the one I’m most excited about in that it is a fundamental innovation in how computation is sold.


The original EC2 pricing model was  on-demand pricing. This is the now familiar pay-as-you-go and pay-as-you-grow pricing model that has driven much of the success of EC2.  Subsequently reserved instances were introduced. In the reserved instance pricing model, customers have the option of paying an up-front charge to reserve a server. There is still no obligation to use that instance but it is guaranteed to be available if needed by the customer. Much like a server you have purchased but turned off. Its not consuming additional resources but it is available when you need. Drawing analogy from the power production world, reserved instances are best for base load. This is capacity that is needed most of the time. 


On-demand instances are ideal for Peak Load. This is capacity that is needed to meet peak demand over the constant base load demand. Spot instances are a new, potentially very low cost instance type ideal for computing capacity that can be run with some time flexibility. This instance type will often allow workloads with soft deadline requirements to be run at very low cost.  What makes Spot particularly interesting is the Spot instance price fluctuates with the market demand. When demand is low, the spot instance price is low. When demand is higher, the price will increase exactly as the energy spot market functions.


Also announced this week were the Virtual Private Cloud unlimited beta and CloudFront streaming support.


Elastic Cloud Compute Spot Instances: Amazon EC2 Spot Instances are a new way to purchase and consume Amazon EC2 Instances. Spot Instances allow customers to bid on unused Amazon EC2 capacity and run those instances for as long as their bid exceeds the current Spot Price. The Spot Price changes periodically based on supply and demand, and customers whose bids meet or exceed it gain access to the available Spot Instances. Spot Instances are complementary to On-Demand Instances and Reserved Instances, providing another option for obtaining compute capacity. If you have flexibility in when your applications can run, Spot Instances can significantly lower your Amazon EC2 costs. Additionally, Spot Instances can provide access to large amounts of additional capacity for applications with urgent needs. To learn more, please visit the Amazon EC2 Spot Instances detail page.


Amazon Virtual Private Cloud Unlimited Beta: Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) is a secure and seamless bridge between a company’s existing IT infrastructure and the AWS cloud. Since August 2009, Amazon VPC has been in a limited beta, during which we’ve selectively granted access. Starting today, all current and future Amazon EC2 customer accounts are enabled to use Amazon VPC, but customers will not be charged for Amazon VPC until they begin using it. Amazon VPC enables enterprises to connect their existing infrastructure to a set of isolated AWS compute resources via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection, and to extend their existing management capabilities such as security services, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems to include their AWS resources. To get started with the service, please visit the Amazon VPC detail page.


Amazon CloudFront Streaming: Amazon CloudFront, the easy-to-use content delivery service, now supports the ability to stream audio and video files. Traditionally, world-class streaming has been out of reach of for many customers – running streaming servers was technically complex, and customers had to negotiate long- term contracts with minimum commitments in order to have access to the global streaming infrastructure needed to give high performance.

Amazon CloudFront is designed to make streaming accessible to anyone with media content. Streaming with Amazon CloudFront is exceptionally easy: with only a few clicks on the AWS Management Console or a simple API call, you’ll be able to stream your content using a world-wide network of edge locations running Adobe’s Flash® Media Server. And, like all AWS services, Amazon CloudFront streaming requires no up-front commitments or long-term contracts. There are no additional charges for streaming with Amazon CloudFront; you simply pay normal rates for the data that you transfer using the service. Visit the Amazon CloudFront page to learn more.

James Hamilton



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Wednesday, December 16, 2009 5:41:07 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [6] - Trackback
 Monday, December 14, 2009

Want to join a startup team within Amazon Web Services?  I’m deeply involved and excited about this project and another couple of talented engineers could really make a difference.  We are looking for:


User Interface Software Development Engineer

We are looking for an experienced engineer with a proven track record of building high quality, AJAX enabled websites. HTML, JavaScript, AJAX, and CSS experience is critical, along with Java and Tomcat. Experience with languages such as PHP, Perl, Ruby, Python, etc. is also useful. You must have significant experience in designing highly reliable and scalable distributed systems, including building front end website facing applications.  You must thrive in a hyper-growth environment where priorities shift fast, have strong OO design and implementation experience, knowledge of web protocols, and in-depth knowledge of Linux tools and Java EE architectures.


For more information:


Senior Software Development Engineer

We are looking for a Senior Software Engineer with a strong track record of building production scalable, high end, reliable, data driven distributed website systems. You must be able to tackle tough challenges and feel strongly not only about building good software but about making that software achieve its goals in an operational reality. You must thrive in a hyper-growth environment where priorities shift fast, have strong OO design and implementation experience, knowledge of web protocols, and in-depth knowledge of Linux tools and Java EE architectures.


For more information:


If you are interested, send a resume to I’m looking forward to working with you.




James Hamilton, Amazon Web Services

1200, 12th Ave. S., Seattle, WA, 98144
W:+1(425)703-9972 | C:+1(206)910-4692 | H:+1(206)201-1859 | |  | blog:


Monday, December 14, 2009 8:01:45 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
 Wednesday, December 02, 2009

For several years I’ve been interested in PUE<1.0 as a rallying cry for the industry around increased efficiency. From PUE and Total Power Usage Efficiency (tPUE) where I talked about PUE<1.0:


In the Green Grid document [Green Grid Data Center Power Efficiency Metrics: PUE and DCiE], it says that “the PUE can range from 1.0 to infinity” and goes on to say “… a PUE value approaching 1.0 would indicate 100% efficiency (i.e. all power used by IT equipment only).   In practice, this is approximately true. But PUEs better than 1.0 is absolutely possible and even a good idea.  Let’s use an example to better understand this.  I’ll use a 1.2 PUE facility in this case. Some facilities are already exceeding this PUE and there is no controversy on whether its achievable. 


Our example 1.2 PUE facility is dissipating 16% of the total facility power in power distribution and cooling. Some of this heat may be in transformers outside the building but we know for sure that all the servers are inside which is to say that at least 83% of the dissipated heat will be inside the shell. Let’s assume that we can recover 30% of this heat and use it for commercial gain.  For example, we might use the waste heat to warm crops and allow tomatoes or other high value crops to be grown in climates that would not normally favor them.  Or we can use the heat as part of the process to grow algae for bio-diesel.  If we can transport this low grade heat and net only 30% of the original value, we can achieve a 0.90 PUE.  That is to say if we are only 30% effective at monetizing the low-grade waste heat, we can achieve a better than 1.0 PUE.


Less than 1.0 PUE are possible and I would love to rally the industry around achieving a less than 1.0 PUE.  In the database world years ago, we rallied around the achieving 1,000 transactions per second.  The High Performance Transactions Systems conference was originally conceived with a goal of achieving these (at the time) incredible result.  1,000 TPS was eclipsed decades ago but HPTS remains a fantastic conference. We need to do the same with PUE and aim to get below 1.0 before 2015. A PUE less than 1.0 is hard but it can and will be done.


So, a PUE of less than 1.0 is totally possible but doing it efficiently and economically has proven elusive so far. The challenge is finding a process that can make use of the very low grade heat produced by data centers and turn it into economic gain. The challenge is producing economic gain from the low grade heat where the economic gain exceeds the combined capital and operational expense of recovering that energy.


In the posting Is Sandia National Lab's Red Sky Really Able to Deliver a PUE of 1.035?, I pointed to an innovative sewage waste heat reclamation system in Norway: Flush the loo, warm your house. In this system,  heat pumps are used to reclaim waste heat from sewage and convert to home heat. 


Other possible applications of waste heat are heating green houses to allow the growth of valuable crops in adverse climates.  See Vertical Farming for most radical extension of these ideas. Another possible approach is to grow biodiesel from microbes and use the low grade heat as a heat source for the culture. See A Better Biofuel for an example of this approach.


Yesterday, I came across an interesting application of waste heat reclamation from datacenters from Helsingin Energia (Helsinki public energy company).

In this proof of concept datacenter that will come on line next month, they have a conventional datacenter water cooling design but rather than releasing the waste heat to the atmosphere via a cooling tower or related technique, they run it through a heat pump to add heat to a heating loop to heat homes in the Finnish capital. The data center is located in an unused bomb shelter.


In a conversation I had earlier today, the project manager Sipilia Juha said:


We provide facilities for datacenter operators including underground property, electricity and cooling. We can capture almost 100% of the heat that comes out of the datacenter and put it in to the district heating system to heat buildings in Helsinki. Our customers make the detailed planning inside the premises and bring their own IT-equipment.


The cooling costs for the customer from 7€ to 20€ per MWh depending on the size of the center and of the time in the year. We can do it very ecologically and economically.


Computerworld also talked to Juha: Green Data Center Recycles Waste Heat.


I’ve been unable to get the details on the capital cost, the operational costs and the estimated cost recovery time and model used.  The facility won’t be live until January so, even with good cost models, they wouldn’t yet be calibrated by real operational experience.


They are aiming for a PUE of around 1.0 and its quite conceivable they will get there:

The energy efficiency of computer halls is quantified by the so-called efficiency factor which expresses the ratio of the total energy consumption and the energy used for actual computing. The efficiency factor of ordinary computer halls is between 1.5 and 2, with the figure for computer halls deemed to be extremely ecoefficient possibly under 1.5. The efficiency factor of Academica's and Helsingin Energia's hall is around one, and it is possible to get even below this figure.


The next test is to see if this level of efficiency can be achieved in a economically positively or at least without loss. It’s an interesting project. I’ll continue to watch this and similar proof of concept facilities closely.


A brochure from Helsingin Energia is at: Hel_En_Eco-efficient_computer_hall.pdf (1.93 MB).




James Hamilton



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Wednesday, December 02, 2009 7:54:56 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
 Monday, November 30, 2009

Very low-power scale-out servers -- it’s an idea whose time has come. A few weeks ago Intel announced it was doing Microslice servers: Intel Seeks new ‘microserver’ standard. Rackable Systems (I may never manage to start calling them ‘SGI’ – remember the old MIPS-based workstation company?) was on this idea even earlier: Microslice Servers. The Dell Data Center Solutions team has been on a similar path: Server under 30W.


Rackable has been talking about very low power servers as physicalization: When less is more: the basics of physicalization. Essentially they are arguing that rather than buying, more-expensive scale-up servers and then virtualizing the workload onto those fewer servers, buy many smaller servers. This saves the virtualization tax which can run 15% to 50% in I/O intensive applications and smaller and low-scale servers can produce more work done per joule and better work done per dollar. I’ve been a believer in this approach for years and wrote it up for the Conference on Innovative Data Research last year in The Case for Low-Cost, Low-Power Servers.


I’ve recently been very interested in the application of ARM processors to web-server workloads:

·         Linux/Apache on ARM Processors

·         ARM Cortex-A9 SMP Design Announced


ARMs are an even more radical application of the Microslice approach.


Scale-down servers easily win on many workloads when looking at work done per dollar and work done per joule and I claim, if you are looking at single dimensional metrics, like performance, you aren’t looking hard enough. However, there are workloads where scale-up wins. They are absolutely required when the workload won’t partition and scale near linearly. Database workloads are classic examples of partition-resistant workloads that really do often run better on more-expensive, scale-up servers.


The other limit is administration. Non-automated IT shops believe they are better off with fewer, more-expensive servers although they often achieve this goal by running many operating system images on a single server.  Given that the bulk of administration is spent on the software stack, it’s not clear that this approach of running the same number of O/S images and software stacks on a single server is a substantial savings. However, I do agree that administration costs are important at low-scale. If, at high-scale, admin costs are over 10% of overall operational costs, go fix it rather than buying bigger, more expensive servers.


When do scale-up servers win economically? 1) very low-scale workloads where administration costs dominate, and 2) workloads that partition poorly and suffer highly-sub-linear scale-out.  Simple web workloads and other partition-tolerant applications should look to scale-down severs. Make sure your admin costs are sub-10% and don’t scale with server count. Then use work done per dollar and work done per joule and you’ll be amazed to see scale-down gets more done at lower cost and lower power consumption.


2010 is the year of the low-cost, scale-down server.




James Hamilton



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Monday, November 30, 2009 7:04:17 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [10] - Trackback
 Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sometime back I whined that Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) is a seriously abused term: PUE and Total Power Usage Efficiency.  But I continue to use it because it gives us a rough way to compare the efficiency of different data centers.  It’s a simple metric that takes the total power delivered to a facility (total power) and divides it by the amount of power delivered to the servers (critical power or IT load).  A PUE of 1.35 is very good today. Some datacenter owners have claimed to be as good as 1.2.  Conventionally designed data centers operated conservatively are in the 1.6 to 1.7 range.  Unfortunately most of the industry has a PUE of over 2.0, some are as bad as 3.0, and the EPA reports the industry average is 2.0 (Report to Congress on Server Data Center Efficiency). A PUE of 2.0 means that for each watt delivered to the IT load (servers, net gear, and storage), one watt is lost in cooling and in power distribution.


Whenever a metric becomes important, managers ask about it and marketing people use it.  Eventually we start seeing data points that are impossibly good. The recent Red Sky installation is one of these events. Sandia National Lab’s Red Sky supercomputer is reported to be delivering a PUE of 1.035 in a system without waste heat recovery. In Red Sky at Night, Sandia’s New Computer Might it is reported “The power usage effectiveness of Red Sky is an almost unheard-of 1.035”. The video referenced below also reports Red Sky at a 1.035 PUE. in response to the claimed PUE of 1.035, Rich Miller of Data Center Knowledge astutely asked “How’s this possible?” (see Red Sky: Supercomputing and Efficiency Meet).  


The data center knowledge article links to a blog posting Building Red Sky by Marc Hamilton which includes a wonderful time lapse video showing the building of Red Sky: You should watch the 4 min and 51 second video and I’ll include my notes and observations from the video below. But, before we get to the video, let’s look more closely at the widely reported 1.035 PUE and what it would mean.


A PUE of 1.035 implies that for each 1 watt delivered to the servers, 0.035 is lost in power distribution and mechanical systems. For a facility of this size, I suspect they will get delivered high voltage in the 115kV range. In a conventional power distribution design, they will take 115kV and transform it to mid-voltage (13kV range), then to 480V 3p, then to 208V to be delivered to the servers. In addition to all these conversions, there is some loss in the conductors themselves. And there is considerable loss in even the very best uninterruptable power supply (UPS) systems.  In fact, a UPS alone with 3.5% loss is excellent. Excellent power distribution designs will avoid 1 or perhaps 2 of the conversions above and will use a full bypass UPS. But, getting these excellent power distribution designs to even within a factor of 2 of the reported 3.5% loss is incredibly difficult and I’m very skeptical that they are going to get much below 6% to 7%. In fact, if anyone knows how to get down below 6% loss in the power distribution system measured fully, I’m super interested and would love to see what you have done, buy you lunch, and do a datacenter a tour.


A 6% loss in power distribution would limit the PUE to nothing lower than 1.06. But, we still have the cooling system to account for. Air is an expensive fluid to move long distances. Consequently, Red Sky brings the water to the server racks using Sun Cooling Door Systems (similar to the IBM iDataPlex Rear Door Cooling system).


The Sun Cooling Door System is a nice designs that will significantly improve PUE over more conventional CRAC-based mechanical designs. Generally, bringing water close to the heat load in systems that use water (rather than aggressive free-air only designs) is a good approach. The Sun advertising material credibly reports that “A highly efficient datacenter utilizing a holistic design for closely coupled cooling using Sun Cooling Door Systems can reach a PUE of 1.3”.


I know of no way to circulate air through a heat exchanger, pump water to the outside of the building, and then cool the water using any of the many technologies available that can be done at only a 3.5% loss.  Which is to say that a PUE of 1.035 can’t be done with the Red Sky mechanical system design even if power distribution losses were ignored completely. I like Red Sky but suspect we’re looking at a 1.35 PUE system rather than the reported 1.035.  But, that’s OK, 1.35 is quite good and, for a top 10 super computer, it’s GREAT.   


Note that a PUE of 1.035 is technically possible with waste heat recovery and, in fact, even less than 1.0 can be achieved with waste heat recovery. See the “PUE less than 1.0” section of PUE and Total Power Usage Efficiency for more data on waste heat recovery.  Remember this is “technically possible” rather than achieved in production today. It’s certainly possible to do today but doing it cost effectively is the challenge.  I have seen it applied to related domains that also have large quantities of low grade heat. For example, a city in Norway is experimenting with waste heat recovery from Sewage: Flush the loo, warm your house.


My notes from the Red Sky Video follow:

·         47,232 cores of Intel EM64T Xeon X55xx (Nehalem-EP) 2930 MHz (11.72 GFlops)

o   553 Teraflops

·         Infiniband QDR interconnect

o   1,440 cables totally 9.1 miles

·         Operating System: CentOS

·         Main Memory: 22,104 GB

·         266 VA [jrh: this is clearly incorrect unless they are talking about each server]

o   Each reach is 32kW

·         96 JBOD enclosures

o   2,304 1TB disks

·         12 GB RAM/note & 70TB total

·         PUE 1.035 [jrh: I strongly suspect they meant 1.35]

·         328 tons cooling

·         7.3million gallons of water per year


The video is worth watching although if you play with cross referencing the numbers above, there appear to be many mistakes: Red Sky time Lapse.  Thanks to Jeff Bar for sending this one my way.




James Hamilton



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Sunday, November 22, 2009 8:30:19 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [4] - Trackback
 Friday, November 20, 2009

I’m on the program committee for the ACM Symposium on Cloud Computing. The conference will be held June 10th and 11th 2010 in Indianapolis Indiana. SOCC brings together database and operating systems researchers and practitioners interested in cloud computing. It is jointly sponsored by the ACM Special Interest Group on Management of Data (SIGMOD) and the ACM Special Interest Group on Operating Systems (SIGOPS). The conference will be held in conjunction with ACM SIGMOD in 2010 and with SOSP in 2011 continuing to alternate between SIGMOD and SOSP in subsequent years.


Joe Hellerstein is the SOCC General Chair and Surajit Chaudhuri and Mendel Rosenblum are Program Chairs. The rest of the SOCC organizers are at:  If you are interested in cloud computing in general and especially if you are interested in systems or database issues and their application to cloud computing, consider submitting a paper (copied below). The paper submission deadline for SOCC is January 15, 2010. Get writing!




The ACM Symposium on Cloud Computing 2010 (ACM SOCC 2010) is the first in a new series of symposia with the aim of bringing together researchers, developers, users, and practitioners interested in cloud computing. This series is co-sponsored by the ACM Special Interest Groups on Management of Data (ACM SIGMOD) and on Operating Systems (ACM SIGOPS). ACM SOCC will be held in conjunction with ACM SIGMOD and ACM SOSP Conferences in alternate years, starting with ACM SIGMOD in 2010.

The scope of SOCC Symposia will be broad and will encompass diverse systems topics such as software as a service, virtualization, and scalable cloud data services. Many facets of systems and data management issues will need to be revisited in the context of cloud computing. Suggested topics for paper submissions include but are not limited to:


  Administration and Manageability

  Data Privacy

  Data Services Architectures

  Distributed and Parallel Query Processing

  Energy Management

  Geographic Distribution

  Grid Computing

  High Availability and Reliability

  Infrastructure Technologies

  Large Scale Cloud Applications


  Provisioning and Metering

  Resource management and Performance

  Scientific Data Management

  Security of Services

  Service Level Agreements

  Storage Architectures

  Transactional Models

  Virtualization Technologies



General Chair:
Joseph M. Hellerstein, U. C. Berkeley

Program Chairs:
Surajit Chaudhuri, Microsoft Research
Mendel Rosenblum, Stanford University

Brian Cooper, Yahoo! Research

Publicity Chair:
Aman Kansal, Microsoft Research

Steering Committee
Phil Bernstein, Microsoft Research
Ken Birman, Cornell University
Joseph M. Hellerstein, U. C. Berkeley
John Ousterhout, Stanford University
Raghu Ramakrishnan, Yahoo! Research
Doug Terry, Microsoft Research
John Wilkes, Google

Technical Program Committee:
Anastasia Ailamaki, EPFL
Brian Bershad, Google
Michael Carey, UC Irvine
Felipe Cabrera, Amazon
Jeff Chase, Duke
Dilma M da Silva, IBM
David Dewitt, Microsoft
Shel Finkelstein, SAP
Armando Fox, UC Berkeley
Tal Garfinkel, Stanford
Alon Halevy, Google
James Hamilton, Amazon
Jeff Hammerbacher, Cloudera
Joe Hellerstein, UC Berkeley
Alfons Kemper, Technische Universität München
Donald Kossman, ETH
Orran Krieger, Vmware
Jeffrey Naughton, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Hamid Pirahesh, IBM
Raghu Ramakrishnan, Yahoo!
Krithi Ramamritham, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay
Donovan Schneider,
Andy Warfield, University of British Columbia
Hakim Weatherspoon, Cornell

Paper Submission

Authors are invited to submit original papers that are not being considered for publication in any other forum. Manuscripts should be submitted in PDF format and formatted using the ACM camera-ready templates available at See the Paper Submission page for details on the submission procedure.

A submission to the symposium may be one of the following three types:
(a) Research papers: We seek papers on original research work in the broad area of cloud computing. The length of research papers is limited to twelve pages.
(b) Industrial papers: The symposium will also be a forum for high quality industrial presentations on innovative cloud computing platforms, applications and experiences on deployed systems. Submissions for industrial presentations can either be an extended abstract (1-2 pages) or an industrial paper up to 6 pages long.
(c) Position papers: The purpose of a position paper is to expose a new problem or advocate a new approach to an old idea. Participants will be invited based on the submission's originality, technical merit, topical relevance, and likelihood of leading to insightful technical discussions at the symposium. A position paper can be no more than 6 pages long.

Important Dates

Paper Submission: Jan 15, 2010 (11:59pm, PST)
Notification: Feb 22, 2010
Camera-Ready: Mar 22, 2010

James Hamilton



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Friday, November 20, 2009 6:24:30 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
 Saturday, November 14, 2009

HPTS has always been one of my favorite workshops over the years. Margo Seltzer was the program chair this year and she and the program committee brought together one of the best programs ever.  Earlier I posted my notes from Andy Bectolsheim’s session Andy Bechtolsheim at HPTS 2009 and his slides Technologies for Data Intensive Computing.


Two other sessions were particularly interesting and worth summarizing here. The first is a great talk on high-scale services lessons learned from Randy Shoup and a talk by John Ousterhout on RAMCloud a research project to completely eliminate the storage hierarchy and store everything in DRAM.


Randy Shoup

My notes from Randy’s talk follow and his slides are at: eBay’s Challenges and Lessons from Growing an eCommerce Platform to Planet Scale.

·         eBay Manages

1.       Over 89 million active users worldwide

2.       190 million items for sale in 50,000 categories

3.       Over 8 billion URL requests per day

4.       Roughly 10% of the items are listed or ended each day

5.       70B read/write operations/day

·         Architectural Lessons

1.       Partition Everything

2.       Asynchrony Everywhere

3.       Automate Everything

4.       Remember Everything Fails

5.       Embrace Inconsistency

6.       Expect Service Evolution

7.       Dependencies Matter

8.       Know which databases are Authoritativeand which are caches

9.       Never enough data (save everything)

10.   Invest in custom infrastructure


John Ousterhout

My notes from John’s talk follow and his slides are at: RAMCloud: Scalable Data Center Storage Entirely in DRAM. I really enjoyed this talk despite the fact that I saw the same talk presented at the Stanford Clean Slate CTO Summit. This talk is sufficiently thought provoking to be just as interesting the second time through. My notes from John’s talk:

·         Storage entirely in DRAM spread over 10s to 10s of thousands of servers

·         Focus of project:

o   Low latency and very large scale

·         ~64GB server each supporting:

o   1M ops/second

o   5 to 10 us RPC

·         Today commodity servers can stretch easily to 64GB. Expect to see 1TB in commodity servers out 5 to 10 years

·         Current cost is roughly $60/GB. Expect this to fall to $4/GB in 5 to 10 years

·         Motivation for RAMCloud project:

o   Databases don’t scale

·         Disk access rates not keeping up with capacity so disks must become archival:

o   See Jim Gray’s excellent Disk is Tape

·         Aggressive goal of achieving 5 to 10 u sec RPC

·         Points out that very low latency applications are not built upon relational databases and argues that very low data access latency removes the need for optimization of access plans and concludes the relational model will disappear.

o   I see value in low latency but don’t agree that the relational model will disappear. See One Size Does Not Fit All.

·         John makes an interesting observation “the cost of consistency increases with transaction over-lap”

o   Let:

§  0 = # overlapping transactions

§  R = arrival rate for new transactions

§  D = duration of each transaction

o   Then:

§  0 is proportional to R * D

§  R increases with system scale and, eventually, strong consistency becomes unaffordable

§  But, D decreases with lower latency

o   The interesting question: can we afford higher levels of consistency with lower latency?

·         John argues perhaps with very low latency, one size might fit all (a single data storage system could handle all workloads).

o   The counter argument to this one is that capital cost and power cost of an all memory solution appears prohibitively expensive for cold sequential workloads. Its perfect for OLTP but I don’t yet see the “one size can fit again” prediction.


If you are interested in digging deeper, the slides for all sessions are posted at:




James Hamilton



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Saturday, November 14, 2009 8:24:25 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
Services | Software
 Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In an earlier post Andy Bechtolsheim at HPTS 2009 I put my notes up on Andy Bechtolsheim's excellent talk at HPTS 2009. His slides from that talk are now available: Technologies for Data Intensive Computing. Strongly recommended.

James Hamilton



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Wednesday, November 11, 2009 4:45:37 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
 Saturday, November 07, 2009

Just about exactly one year ago, I posted a summary and the slides from an excellent Butler Lampson talk: The Uses of Computers: What’s Past is Merely Prologue. Its time for another installment. Butler was at SOSP 2009 a few weeks back and Marvin Theimer caught up with him for a wide ranging discussion on distributed systems.


With Butler's permission, what follows are Marvin’s notes from the discussion.


Contrast cars with airplanes: when the fancy electronic systems fail you (most-of-the-time) can pull a car over to the side of the road and safely get out whereas an airplane will crash-and-burn.


Systems that behave like cars vs. airplanes:

·         It’s like a car if you can reboot it

·         What’s the scope of the damage if you reboot it


Ensuring that critical sub-systems keep functioning:

·         Layered approach with lower layers being simpler and able to cut off the higher layers and still keep functioning

·         Bottom layers need to be simple enough to reason about or perhaps even formally verify

·         Be skeptical about designing systems that gracefully degrade/approach their “melting points”.  Nice in theory, but not likely to be feasible in practice in most cases.

·         Have “firewalls” that partition your system into independent modules so that damage is contained.

·         Firewalls have “blast doors” that automatically come down in case of alarms going off.  Under normal circumstances the blast doors are up and you have efficient, optimized interaction between modules.  When alarms go off the blast doors go down.  The system must be able to work in degraded mode with the blast doors down.

·         You need to continually test your system for how it behaves with the blast doors down to ensure that “critical functioning” is still achievable despite system evolution and environment evolution.  Problem is that testing is expensive, so there is a trade-off between extensive testing and cost.  Essentially you can’t test everything.  This is part of the reason why the lowest levels of the system need to be simple enough to formally reason about their behavior.

o   Dave Gifford’s story about bank that had diesel backup generators for when power utility failed.  They religiously tested firing up the backup generators.  However, when a prolonged power actually occurred they discovered that the generators failed after half an hour because their lubricating oil failed.  No one had thought to test running on backup power for more than a few minutes.


Low-level multicast is bad because you can’t reason about the consequences of its use.  Better to have application-level multicast where you can explicitly control what’s going on.


RPC conundrum:

·         People have moved back from RPC to async messages because of the performance issues of sync RPC.

·         By doing so they are reintroducing concurrency issues into their programs.

A possible solution:

·         Constrain your system (if you can) to enable the definition of a small number of interaction patterns that hide the concurrency and asynchrony.

·         Your experts employ async messages to implement those higher-level interaction patterns.

·         The app developers only use the simper, higher-level abstractions.

·         Be happy with 80% solution – which you might achieve – and don’t expect to be able to handle all interactions this way.


Partitioned, primary-key scale-out approach is essentially mimicking the OLTP model of transactional DBs.  You are giving up certain kinds of join operators in exchange for scale-out and the app developer is essentially still programming the simple ACID DB model.

·         Need appropriate patterns/framework for updating multiple objects in a non-transactional manner.

·         Standard approach: update one object and transactionally write a message in a message queue for the other object.  Transactional update to other object is done asynchronously to the first object update.  Need compensation code for when things go wrong.

·         An interesting approach for simplifying the compensation problem: try to turn it into a garbage collection problem.  Background tasks look for to-do messages that haven’t been executed and figure out how to bring the system back into “compliance”.  You need this code for your fsck case anyway.


WARNING: don’t over-engineer your system.  Lots of interesting ideas here; you’ll be tempted to over-generalize and make things too complicated.  “Ordinary designers get it wrong 99% of the time; really smart designers get it wrong 50% of the time.”


Thanks to Butler Lampson and Marvin Theimer for making this summary available.




James Hamilton



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Saturday, November 07, 2009 10:45:57 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
 Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Last week AWS announced the Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) and I blogged that it was big step forward for the cloud storage world: Amazon RDS, More Memory, and Lower Prices. This really is an important step forward in that a huge percentage of commercial applications are written to depend upon Relational Databases.  But, I was a bit surprised to get a couple of notes asking about the status of Simple DB and whether the new service was a replacement. These questions were perhaps best characterized by the forum thread The End is Nigh for SimpleDB. I can understand why some might conclude that just having a relational database would be sufficient but the world of structured storage extends far beyond relational systems. In essence, one size does not fit all and both SimpleDB and RDS are important components in addressing the needs of the broader database market.


Relational databases have become so ubiquitous that the term “database” is often treated as synonymous with relational databases like Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL, or DB2. However, the term preceded the invention and implementation of the relational model and non-relational data stores remain important today.


Relational databases are incredibly rich and able to support a very broad class of applications but with incredible breadth comes significant complexity. Many applications don’t need the rich programming model of relational systems and some applications are better serviced by lighter-weight, easier-to-administer, and easier-to-scale solutions. Both relational and non-relational structured storage systems are important and no single solution is appropriate for all applications. I’ll refer to this broader, beyond-relational database market as “structured storage” to differentiate it from file stores and blob stores.


There are a near infinite number of different taxonomies for the structured storage market, but one I find useful is a simple one based upon customer intent: 1) features-first, 2) scale-first, 3) simple structure storage, and 4) purpose-optimized stores. In the discussion that follows, I assume that no database would ever be considered as viable that wasn’t secure and didn’t maintain data integrity.  These are base requirements of any reasonable solutions.



The feature-first segment is perhaps the simplest to talk about in that there is near universal agreement. After 35 to 40 years, depending upon how you count, Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMSs) are the structured storage system of choice when a feature-rich solution is needed. Common Feature-First workloads are enterprise financial systems, human resources systems, and customer relationship management systems. In even very large enterprises, a single database instance can often support the entire workload and nearly all of these workloads are hosted on non-sharded relational database management systems.


Examples of products that meet this objective well include Oracle, SQL Server, DB2, MySQL, PostgreSQL amongst others. And the Amazon Relational Database Service announced last week is a good example of a cloud-based solution. Generally, the feature-first segment use RDBMSs.



The Scale-first segment is considerably less clear and the source of much more debate. Scale-first applications are those that absolutely must scale without bound and being able to do this without restriction is much more important than more features. These applications are exemplified by very high scale web sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Gmail, Yahoo, and Some of these sites actually do make use of relational databases but many do not. The common theme across all of these services is that scale is more important than features and none of them could possibly run on a single RDBMS. As soon as a single RDBMS instance won’t handle the workload, there are two broad possibilities: 1) shard the application data over a large number of RDBMS systems, or 2) use a highly scalable key-value store.


Looking first at sharding over multiple RDBMS instances, this model requires that the programming model be significantly constrained to not expect cross-database instance joins, aggregations, globally unique secondary indexes, global stored procedures, and all the other relational database features that are incredibly hard to scale. Effectively, in this first usage mode, an RDBMS is being used as the implementation but the full relational model is not being exposed to the developer since the full model is incredibly difficult to scale. In this approach, the data is sharded over 10s or even 100s of independent database instances. The Windows Live Messenger group store is an excellent example of the Sharded RDBMS model of Scale-First.


There may be some that will jump in and say that DB2 Parallel Edition (DB2 PE, now part of the DB2 Enterprise Edition) and Oracle Real Application Clusters (Oracle RAC) actually do scale the full relational model. I was lucky enough to work closely with the DB2 PE team when I was Lead Architect on DB2 so I know it well. There is no question that both DB2 and RAC are great products but, as good as they are, very high scale sites still typically chose to either 1) shard over multiple instances or 2) use a high-scale, key-value store.


This first option, that of using an RDBMS as an implementation component, and sharding data over many instances is a perfectly reasonable and rational approach and one that is frequently used. The second option is to use a scalable key-value store. Some key-value store product examples include Project Voldemort, Ringo, Scalaris, Kai, Dynomite, MemcacheDB, ThruDB, CouchDB, Cassandra, HBase and Hypertable (see Key Value Stores).  Amazon SimpleDB is a good example of a cloud-based offering.


Simple Structured Storage

There are many applications that have a structured storage requirement but they really don’t need the features, cost, or complexity of an RDBMS. Nor are they focused on the scale required by the scale-first structured storage segment. They just need a simple key value store. A file system or BLOB-store is not sufficiently rich in that simple query and index access is needed but nothing even close to the full set of RDBMS features is needed. Simple, cheap, fast, and low operational burden are the most important requirements of this segment of the market.


Uses of Simple Structured Storage at unremarkable and, as a consequence, there are less visible examples at the low-end of the scale spectrum to reference. Towards the high-end, we have email inbox search at Facebook (using Cassandra), reports they will be using Project-Voldemort (using Project-Voldemort), and Amazon uses Dynamo for the retail shopping cart (using Dynamo). Perhaps the widest used example of this class of storage system is Berkeley DB.  On the cloud-side, SimpleDB again is a good example (AdaptiveBlue, Livemocha, and Alexa).


Purpose-Optimized Stores

Recently Mike Stonebraker wrote an influential paper titled One Size Fits All: An Idea Whose Time Has Come and Gone. In this paper, Mike argued that the existing commercial RDBMS offerings do not meet the needs of many important market segments. In a presentation with the same title, Stonebraker argues that StreamBase special purpose stream processing system  beat the RDBMS solutions in benchmarks by 27x, that Vertica, a special purpose data warehousing product beat the RDBMS incumbents by never less than 30x, and H-Store (now VoltDB), a special purpose transaction processing system, beat the standard RDBMS offerings by a full 82x.


Many other Purpose-Optimized stores have emerged (for example, Aster Data, Netezza, and Greenplum) and this category continues to grow quickly. Clearly there is space and customer need for more than a single solution.


Where do SimpleDB and RDS Fit in?

The Amazon RDS service is aimed squarely at the first category above, Feature-First. This is a segment that needs features and mostly uses RDBMS databases. And RDS is amongst the easiest ways to bring up one or more databases quickly and efficiently without needing to hire a database administrator.


Amazon SimpleDB is a good solution for the third category, Simple Structured Storage. SimpleDB is there when you need it, is incredibly easy to use, and is inexpensive.  The SimpleDB team will continue to focus on 1) very high availability, 2) supporting scale without bound, 3) simplicity and ease of use, and 4) lowest possible cost and this service will continue to evolve.


The second category, scale-first, is served by both SimpleDB and RDS.  Solutions based upon RDS will shard the data over multiple, independent RDS database instances. Solutions based upon SimpleDB will either use the service directly or shard the data over multiple SimpleDB Domains. Of the two approaches, SimpleDB is the easiest to use and more directly targets this usage segment.


The SimpleDB team is incredibly busy right now getting ready for several big announcements over the next 6 to 9 months. Expect to see SimpleDB continue to get easier to use while approaching the goal of scaling without bound. The team is working hard and I’m looking forward to the new features being released.


The AWS solution for the final important category, purpose optimized storage, is based upon the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and the Elastic Block Store (EBS). EC2 provides the capability to host specialized data engines and EBS provides virtualized storage for the data engine hosted in EC2. This combination is sufficiently rich to support Purpose-Optimized Stores such as Aster Data, Vertica, or Greenplum or any of the commonly used RDBMS offerings such as Oracle, SQL Server, DB2, MySQL, PostgreSQL.


The Amazon Web Services plan is to continue to invest deeply in both SimpleDB and RDS as direct structured storage solutions and to continue to rapidly enhance EC2 and EBS to ensure that broadly-used database solutions as well as purpose-built stores run extremely well in the cloud. This year has been a busy one in AWS storage and I’m looking forward to the same pace next year.




James Hamilton



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Tuesday, November 03, 2009 6:11:16 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [12] - Trackback
 Saturday, October 31, 2009

Recently I came across Steve Souder's Velocity 2009 presentation: High Performance Web Sites: 14 Rules for Faster Loading Pages. Steve is an excellent speaker and the author of two important web performance books:

·         High Performance Web Sites

·         Even Faster Web Sites


The reason this presentation caught my interest is it focused on 1) why web sites are slow, 2) what to do about it, and 3) the economics of why you should care. Looking first at the economic argument for faster web sites, many companies are obsessed with site performance but few publish data the economic impact of decreasing web site latency.  The earliest data point I recall coming across from a major web site on the price of latency was from the Marissa Mayer 2008 keynote at Google IO:  Rough Notes from Marissa Mayer Keynote. In an example of Google’s use of A/B testing she reported:

[they surveyed users] would you like 10, 20, or 30 results. Users unanimously wanted 30.

·         But 10 did way better in A/B testing (30 was 20% worse) due to lower latency of 10 results

·         30 is about twice the latency of 10


Greg Linden had more detail on this from a similar talk Marissa gave at Web2.0: Marissa Mayer at Web 2.0 where he reported:

Marissa ran an experiment where Google increased the number of search results to thirty. Traffic and revenue from Google searchers in the experimental group dropped by 20%.


Ouch. Why? Why, when users had asked for this, did they seem to hate it?


After a bit of looking, Marissa explained that they found an uncontrolled variable. The page with 10 results took .4 seconds to generate. The page with 30 results took .9 seconds.


Half a second delay caused a 20% drop in traffic. Half a second delay killed user satisfaction.


Greg reported he found similar results when working at Amazon:

This conclusion may be surprising -- people notice a half second delay? -- but we had a similar experience at In A/B tests, we tried delaying the page in increments of 100 milliseconds and found that even very small delays would result in substantial and costly drops in revenue.


Being fast really matters. As Marissa said in her talk, "Users really respond to speed."


The O’Reilly Velocity 2009 Conference organizers managed to convince some of the big players to present data on the cost of web latency. From a blog posting by Souders Velocity and the Bottom Line

·         Eric Schurman (Bing) and Jake Brutlag (Google Search) co-presented results from latency experiments conducted independently on each site. Bing found that a 2 second slowdown changed queries/user by -1.8% and revenue/user by -4.3%. Google Search found that a 400 millisecond delay resulted in a -0.59% change in searches/user. What's more, even after the delay was removed, these users still had -0.21% fewer searches, indicating that a slower user experience affects long term behavior. (video, slides)

·         Dave Artz from AOL presented several performance suggestions. He concluded with statistics that show page views drop off as page load times increase. Users in the top decile of page load times view ~7.5 pages/visit. This drops to ~6 pages/visit in the 3rd decile, and bottoms out at ~5 pages/visit for users with the slowest page load times. (slides)

·         Marissa Mayer shared several performance case studies from Google. One experiment increased the number of search results per page from 10 to 30, with a corresponding increase in page load times from 400 milliseconds to 900 milliseconds. This resulted in a 25% dropoff in first result page searches. Adding the checkout icon (a shopping cart) to search results made the page 2% slower with a corresponding 2% drop in searches/user. (Watch the video to see the clever workaround they found.) Image optimizations in Google Maps made the page 2-3x faster, with significant increase in user interaction with the site. (video, slides)

·         Phil Dixon, from Shopzilla, had the most takeaway statistics about the impact of performance on the bottom line. A year-long performance redesign resulted in a 5 second speed up (from ~7 seconds to ~2 seconds). This resulted in a 25% increase in page views, a 7-12% increase in revenue, and a 50% reduction in hardware. This last point shows the win-win of performance improvements, increasing revenue while driving down operating costs. (video, slides)


Souders presentation included many of the cost of latency data points above and included data from the Alexa Top 10 list to show that the bulk of web page latency is actually front end time rather than server latency:


Steve’s 14 rules from his book High Performance Web Sites:

1.       Make fewer HTTP requests

2.       Use a CDN

3.       Add an Expires header

4.       Gzip components

5.       Put stylesheets at the top

6.       Put scripts at the bottom

7.       Avoid CSS expressions

8.       Make JS and CSS external

9.       Reduce DNS lookups

10.   Minify JS

11.   Avoid redirects

12.   Remove duplicate scripts

13.   Configure ETags

14.   Make AJAX cacheable


I’ve always believed that speed was an undervalued and under-discussed asset on the web.  Google appears to be one of the early high-traffic sites to focus on low latency as a feature but, until recently, the big players haven’t talked much about the impact of latency. The data from Steve’s talk and his blog entry above is wonderful in that it underlines why low latency really is a feature rather than the result of less features. The rest of his presentation goes into detail into how to achieve low latency web pages. It’s a great talk.




James Hamilton



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Saturday, October 31, 2009 7:39:37 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [6] - Trackback

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of current or past employers.

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