Design: Image Hosting Application

Original Article Link
Below are few key takeaway from the article above. For details refer to the original article.

  1. It makes sense to split out reads and writes of images into their own services – The advantage of this approach is that we are able to solve problems independently of one another—we don’t have to worry about writing and retrieving new images in the same context. Both of these services still leverage the global corpus of images, but they are free to optimize their own performance with service-appropriate methods (for example, queuing up requests, or caching popular images—more on this below). And from a maintenance and cost perspective each service can scale independently as needed, which is great because if they were combined and intermingled, one could inadvertently impact the performance of the other as in the scenario discussed above.
    The above example can work well when you have two different endpoints.  For example, Flickr solves this read/write issue by distributing users across different shards such that each shard can only handle a set number of users, and as users increase more shards are added to the cluster (see the presentation on Flickr’s scaling,
    In the first example it is easier to scale hardware based on actual usage (the number of reads and writes across the whole system), whereas Flickr scales with their user base (but forces the assumption of equal usage across users so there can be extra capacity). In the former an outage or issue with one of the services brings down functionality across the whole system (no-one can write files, for example), whereas an outage with one of Flickr’s shards will only affect those users. In the first example it is easier to perform operations across the whole dataset—for example, updating the write service to include new metadata or searching across all image metadata—whereas with the Flickr architecture each shard would need to be updated or searched (or a search service would need to be created to collate that metadata—which is in fact what they do).
  2. Redundancy – Creating redundancy in a system can remove single points of failure and provide a backup or spare functionality if needed in a crisis. For example, if there are two instances of the same service running in production, and one fails or degrades, the system can failoverto the healthy copy.  For example, in our image server application, all images would have redundant copies on another piece of hardware somewhere (ideally in a different geographic location in the event of a catastrophe like an earthquake or fire in the data center), and the services to access the images would be redundant, all potentially servicing requests. (See Figure 1.3.) (Load balancers are a great way to make this possible, but there is more on that below).
  3. Partitions –  In our image server example, it is possible that the single file server used to store images could be replaced by multiple file servers, each containing its own unique set of images. (See Figure 1.4.) Such an architecture would allow the system to fill each file server with images, adding additional servers as the disks become full. The design would require a naming scheme that tied an image’s filename to the server containing it. An image’s name could be formed from a consistent hashing scheme mapped across the servers. Or alternatively, each image could be assigned an incremental ID, so that when a client makes a request for an image, the image retrieval service only needs to maintain the range of IDs that are mapped to each of the servers (like an index).
    Of course there are challenges distributing data or functionality across multiple servers. One of the key issues is data locality; in distributed systems the closer the data to the operation or point of computation, the better the performance of the system.
    Another potential issue comes in the form of inconsistency. When there are different services reading and writing from a shared resource, potentially another service or data store, there is the chance for race conditions—where some data is supposed to be updated, but the read happens prior to the update—and in those cases the data is inconsistent. For example, in the image hosting scenario, a race condition could occur if one client sent a request to update the dog image with a new title, changing it from “Dog” to “Gizmo”, but at the same time another client was reading the image. In that circumstance it is unclear which title, “Dog” or “Gizmo”, would be the one received by the second client.
  4. Cache
  5. Proxies – At a basic level, a proxy server is an intermediate piece of hardware/software that receives requests from clients and relays them to the backend origin servers. Typically, proxies are used to filter requests, log requests, or sometimes transform requests (by adding/removing headers, encrypting/decrypting, or compression). Proxies are also immensely helpful when coordinating requests from multiple servers, providing opportunities to optimize request traffic from a system-wide perspective. One way to use a proxy to speed up data access is to collapse the same (or similar) requests together into one request, and then return the single result to the requesting clients. This is known as collapsed forwarding
  6. Indexes
  7. Load Balancer
  8. Queue

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