What's That Noise?! [Ian Kallen's Weblog]

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20041205 Sunday December 05, 2004

memcached in a service oriented functionality ecosystem Among my efforts over recent months have been those focused on decoupling. Technorati has a very high update rate as it taps the ping streams, fetches update contents, analyzes links and keyword indexes the substance of posts in the blogsphere. Such a system doesn't work well when components are closely coupled; the availability of the whole system is subject to the whim of the system's weakest links. Often, weaknesses are combinatorial; the weakness of the whole is greater than the weakness of the parts. That's what I'm focused on undoing. Fixing weaknesses in the components is important but decoupling them first is more so.

When folks say "service oriented architecture" it still cannotes monolithicism to me. An architecture implies a level of structure definition that sounds rigid; can you re-pour that foundation to adapt redrawn plans? Software development agility and loose coupling should reinforce each other. I prefer to think of architectures and ecosystems. A service oriented functionality ecosystem supplies application functionality as a suite of services. Supporting requirements (as opposed to the core business requirements) such security, logging, persistence, redundancy and caching are each handled independently; they in turn may be provisioned as services that higher level services rely on. This is part of the evolution under way at Technorati; some of the changes are evident in Dave's recent posts but some are just revisions that we're quietly rolling out.

Queues and distributed memory caches are natural elements of a such an environment. In the December issue of Linux Journal, Technorati's use of open source building blocks such as memcached is discussed by Doc Searls.

This is the game:
A memcached server (or a set of servers) can be accessed over the network to store things in a table kept in RAM. When storing things, you can specify a maximum age for the cache entry -- if you go back to fetch it and the elapsed time since it was stored exceeds that age, it gets treated as a cache miss.

Storing things in memcached with the timeout parameter and invalidating cache entries works as long as you have consistent mechanism for calculating the key. If internally you're managing "stories" and each one has an "id" attribute that is unique (a primary key), that's a good candidate to store them with. So for instance putting memcache inside a content management system (CMS) "content service" seems natural. In babytalk code:

  public Story fetchStory(int storyId) {
      Story story = memc.get(storyId);
      if (story == null) // perhaps more rigorous validation of the fetched object
          return story;
      story = StoryDB.findById(storyId);
      memc.put(storyId, story, AGE);

If it's difficult to determine whether something is new or an update because it doesn't have an id and uniqueness is determined by some combination of attributes, then the lookup cycle can be helped by caching with composite keys. It gets a little more complicated:
  public Story fetchStory(Map atts) {
      // encapulate whatever attributes uniquely identify a thing
      CacheKey key = new CacheKey(attrs); 
      Story story = memc.get(key);
      if (story == null) 
          return story;
      story = StoryDB.findByAttrs(attrs);
      memc.put(key, story, AGE);

We're in the process of evolving Technorati's infrastructure to one that is loosely coupled, redundant and robust. Our use of memcached is one of the enabling technologies of that evolution.

( Dec 05 2004, 09:22:23 AM PST ) Permalink


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