Presentation: “OrientDB, the database of the web”

I knew there was something called “OrientDB”, but didn’t know much about it until I went through these slides. Here is what I learned in one sentence. Its a easy to install NoSQL(schemaless) datastore, with absolutely no configuration required, supports ACID transactions, it can be used as a document store, a graph store and a key value store, it can be queried using SQL-like and JSON syntax, supports indexing and triggers and its been benchmarked to do 150000 inserts using commodity hardware.  That’s a lot of features.

@twitter annotations : What I learnt at the hackfest….

A few of us joined in at the new Twitter office in downtown SF (right next to Moscone Center) and were for the first time shown what Twitter is doing about  “Twitter Annotations”. We probably created the first set of 3rd party applications around this new API. During the Hackathon I spent some time to wear my “Scalable web architecture” hat to think what I could learn from this experience which I’ve summarized below.Twitter

Twitter annotations from a developer’s view point is just an extension to existing APIs which now allows posting of additional structured content along with “tweet”. The content stays within the context of the tweet and will be retweeted/shared automatically with the main tweet. Twitter has some recommendations on how the annotations should be structured, for example they were talking about “type” which sounded very much like Open Graph’s “type/category” concept, with the difference that Twitter has left the field open for any kind of “type” users want. Facebook, if I remember right, had strongly recommended users to use a small set of “categories/types” which they published. Twitter accepted these annotations in multiple formats of which I tried the “simple” and “JSON” protocols. The “JSON” way was the most recommended/used medium of annotation during the whole hackathon. While annotation structure (using JSON) did allow multiple “types” in the same tweet, there were a few limitations which were slightly constricting. The first big one was that the current implementation allowed only 512 bytes in the annotations field. The second limitation was that the structure, while its JSON, it only supported a few levels of depth in the structured annotation. This was extremely restrictive for the use case I was trying to hack up.

There were a few things I learnt during the whole 32 hour experience. The first one was that twitter had actually hosted these half baked APIs on and, which I’m glad to say is still accessible using my account from outside twitter’s buildings. Of course the hackers(we) had to be white-listed to get access to use it, but from an operations view point this is extremely gutsy since one bad ACL code fragment could expose a lot of uncooked APIs to the whole world. This approach of testing is not new to Twitter and is frequently used for A/B testing in newer (more agile) organizations around the world.

The second was the fact that while Cassandra is in use at twitter, they don’t use it as the primary datastore for all the tweets (yet). They have other uses for it which they didn’t elaborate. The version of Cassandra they use is close to 0.6.2 which just got released. It also looked (from my discussions with one engineer) like cassandra treated rack-awareness and datacenter-awareness in a slightly different way. In the previous documentations I read, they both were the same for all practical purposes. In other words, I need to research this a little more since optimizations in this area can boost Cassandra’s performance across datacenters.

The third was that while Twitter uses cutting edge tools for a lot of different things, they don’t have service discovery nailed yet. They are playing with zookeeper, and I believe they will use that eventually, but its not there yet. This by itself is amazing because without service discovery, the management of configuration and rolling out configuration changes becomes centralized which has its own advantages and disadvantages. At the organization I work, we are playing with cassandra as a service publication/discovery tool for monitoring and consuming services. The short discussion I had with twitter folks about using cassandra in such a way validated the work work I’m doing with cassandra. But I’m still puzzled why others are not thinking about cassandra (or other eventually-consistent datastore) for service discovery. It sounded like Zookeeper might be an overkill for my organization, but I should take a look at it again.

The fourth was that Twitter employs a lot of very smart/passionate people who are amazingly good with most of the network/application stack. They dove into things like browser/javascript/cookies and then switched to dissecting network traffic using sniffer tools to debug a possible Oauth implementation bug and other weird things. This just adds to the current popular wisdom that scalability/stability/security can’t be done in small little silos.

The fifth and final I’d like to write about is the hackthon itself. Its amazing how Twitter organized this hackathon, got a group of hackers to play with their new APIs and gave them ability to demo their hacks to the likes of Paul Graham  and Ron Conway. In return they got very interesting product-ideas and use-cases for a feature which is still unpolished and unreleased. But more importantly they also got a bunch of hackers to intentionally and unintentionally break the feature and discover some serious and some very annoying bugs. They also got feedback on what does and doesn’t resonates with developers. In a way this is similar to what some other organizations (including Google) already do with their alpha/beta program, but nothing beats the velocity of hacking up 10 to 20 almost-ready products around a brand new feature in less than 32 hours.


P.S.: I’m terribly sorry for spamming my twitter followers who were bombarded with twitter test messages for two days. Next time I’ll pick a test account 🙂

MongoDB: Migration from Mysql at Wordnik

I had the opportunity to listen to Tony Tam at MongoSF talking about why and how they moved Wordnik from Mysql to MongoDB.  Both the Slides and the Video of the talk are attached to the end of this post.

Wordnik is a new kind of “word” repository which is much more “current” than traditional dictionaries. In addition to showing words which have not yet reached mainstream, they give tons of other related information and statistics about any given word.logo_347x88

They had started looking for alternatives to Mysql after they hit 4billion rows in MyISAM and started noticing locks on tables exceeding 10s of seconds during inserts. They wanted to insert 1500 “values” per second and fell short of it even with elaborate workarounds.

The core requirement for a replacement was very simple. The datastore they were about to replace was RO-centric at the rate of 10000 reads for every write, they had almost no application logic in database (no stored procedures), there were no PrivateKey/ForiegnKey to worry about and consistency wasn’t an absolute must.

Of all the NoSQL solutions they tried, and they eventually decided to go with MongoDB.

After repeated failures of using virtual servers, the final MongoDB server configuration was a non-virtualized 32GB server instance with 2×4 cores connected to external FC/SAN storage for high disk throughput. Since the datastructure they were planning to move from Mysql was not heavily relational, they were able to construct a hierarchical representation of the same data for MongoDB.

To make the migration easy, they made extensive effort to make the application work with both Mysql and MongoDB. They wanted the ability to change the backend datastore with just a flip of the switch. To avoid too much complications, they decided to freeze writes to Mysql during migration without disabling the website entirely, so users were able to use the application with minimal impact (since the application didn’t require too much writes to begin with).  The 4billion rows migration took one whole day. During the data migration process they were able to execute up to 100000 inserts per second [ I hope I got my notes right 🙂 ]

At the end of the migration they slowly moved frontend application servers one node at a time to MongoDB datastore. They did find some issues (which they expected), and continued tweaking the setup until they got a stable, well tuned system, ready for all the write load.

Things learnt from the move

  • MongoDB’s read was so good that memcached layer wasn’t needed anymore
  • “Key” names for each object in a row takes up space. If you use key name which is 10 bytes long, then by 1000 inserts you would have wasted 10000 bytes just on the key name. Based on Tony’s estimate MongoDB used up 4 times the storage they had used in Mysql.
  • Writing queries to read and write data is much more readable. JSON is much more structured than some of the SQL queries.
  • MongoDB is a resource intensive system. It needs a lot of CPU, memory and disk. Sharding should be investigated for larger datastores. [ From what I heard auto-sharding is not exactly fully production ready though… but things could have changed since I researched this ]
  • Every “document” in MongoDB has a 4MB size limit by default.

All 20 of the MongoSF slides are up which you can find here.

MongoDB : The implementation

I was at the MongoSF conference few weeks ago, and 10gen just hosted one at NY as well.I was taken aback by the simplicity and the hope MongoDB provides.

I’ll have a more detailed post about what I think about it in a few days, but until then chew on these slides from who also uses it to power its backend datastore.

Scalability links for March 20th 2010 – Lots of datastore related items

NoSQL in the Twitter world

NoSQL solutions have one thing in common. They are generally designed for horizontal scalability. So its no wonder that lot of applications in the “twitter” world have picked NoSQL based datastores for their Twitter.compersistence layer. Here is a collection of these apps from MyNoSQL blog.

  1. Twitter uses Cassandra
  2. MusicTweets used Redis [ Ref ] – The site is dead, but you can still read about it
  3. Tstore uses CouchDB
  4. Retwis uses CouchDB
  5. Retwis-RB uses Redis and Sinatra ??  – No idea what sinatra is. Will have to look into it. [ Update: Sinatra is not a DB store ]
  6. Floxee uses MongoDB
  7. Twidoop uses Hadoop
  8. Swordfish built on top of Tokyo Cabinet comes with a twitter clone app with it.
  9. Tweetarium uses Tokyo Cabinet


Do you know of any more ?

Cassandra : inverted index

Cassandra is the only NOSQL datastore I’m aware of, which is scalable, distributed, self replicating, eventually consistent, schema-less key-value store running on java which doesn’t have a single point of failure. HBase could also match most of these requirements, but Cassandra is easier to manage due to its tiny footprint.

The one thing Cassandra doesn’t do today is indexing columns.

Lets take a specific example to explain the problem. Lets say there are 100 rows in the datastore which have 5 columns each. If you want to find the row which says “Service=app2”, you will have to iterate one row at a time which is like full database scan. In a 100 row datastore if only one row had that particular column, it could take on an average about 50 rows before you find your data.


While I’m sure there is a good reason why this doesn’t exist yet, the application inserting the data could build such an inverted index itself even today. Here is an example of how a table of inverted index would look like.


If you want to find the “status” of all rows where “Service=app2”, all you have to do is find the list of keys by making a single call to this table. The second call would be to get all the columns values for that row. Even if you have 100 different rows in a table, finding that one particular row, matching your search query, could  now be done in two calls.

Of course there is a penalty you have to pay. Every time you insert one row of data, you would also have to insert multiple rows to build the inverted index. You would also have to update the inverted index yourself if any of the column values are updated or deleted. Cassandra 0.5.0 which was recently released has been benchmarked to insert about 10000 rows per second on a 4 core server with 2GB of RAM. If you have an average of 5 columns per row, that is about 1.5k actual row inserts per second (that includes 5 rows of inserts/updates required for an inverted index). For more throughput you always have an option to add more servers.

Facebook and Digg are both extensively using Cassandra in their architectures. Here are some interesting reading materials on Cassandra if you’d like to explore more.

[Updated: Discussion on Google Buzz ]