Shahzad Bhatti

March 6, 2018

Tips from the second edition of “Release It!”

Filed under: Design,Methodologies,Technology — admin @ 4:19 pm

The first edition of “Release It!” has been one of most influential books that I have read and it introduced a number of methods for writing fault tolerant systems such as circuit-breaker, bulkhead patterns so I was excited to read the second edition of the book when it came out. Here are a few tips from the book:

In the first chapter, the author defines stability in terms of robustness, i.e., “A robust system keeps processing transactions, even when transient impulses, persistent stresses, or component failures disrupt normal processing.” He recommends focusing on longevity bugs such as resource leaking, e.g. you can set timeout when invoking a network or database operation or detect dead connections before reading/writing. The author cautions against tightly coupled systems that can easily propagate failures to other parts of the system. Similarly, high number of integration points can increase probability of failure in one of those dependencies. The author suggests looking into the blocking calls that can lead to deadlocks when using multiple threads or scrutinizing resource pool that gets exhausted from blocking operations. Another cause of instability is chain reaction from failure of one of servers that increases load on the remaining servers, which can be remedied using bulkhead or circuit-breaker patterns. High memory usage on the server can also constrain resources and the author recommends using external caching systems such as Redis, memcache, etc. In order to monitor health of the system, the author suggests using a mock transaction to ensure it’s working as expected and keeping metrics on errors especially login errors, high latency warnings. One common self-inflicting failure can be caused by self-denial attacks by marketing campaign that can be mitigated by using shared-nothing architecture or reducing fan-in shared resources. The servers can also be subjected to dogpile effect, where resources after upgrade, cronjob or config change spike up that can be mitigated by using random clock skew, adding random jitter and using exponential backoff. Finally, the author recommends monitoring slow responses, removing unbounded result sets and failing fast.

Here is a summary of stability patterns that the author recommends:

  • Apply timeout with integration points and delayed retries when failure occurs.
  • Apply circuit-breaker to prevent cascading failures (along with timeout).
  • Apply bulk-head pattern to partition the system in the event of chain reaction failure.
  • Steady state
  • Data purging
  • Log files
  • Fail fast, restart fast and reintegrate
  • Let it crash with limited granularity, e.g. boundary of actor.
  • Supervision for monitoring, restarts, etc.
  • Shed Load
  • Back-pressure – queues must be finite for finite response time
  • Governor – create governor to slow rate of actions (from automated response) so that humans can review it.

Next few chapters focus on network, machines and processes for building and deploying the code. The author offers several mechanisms for scaling such as load balancing with DNS, using service registry for upgrading and fail-over, configuration, transparency, collecting logs and metrics, etc. The author recommends load shedding when under high load or use HTTP 503 to notify load balancer. For example, queue length can be calculated as: (max-wait-time / mean-processing-time + 1) * processing-threads * 1.5. You can use listen reject queue to return 503 error to prevent clients from reconnecting immediately. The control-panel chapter recommends tools for administration. It recommends postmortem template such as what happened, apologize, commit to improvement and emphasizes system failures (as opposed to human errors). The author recommends adding indicators such as traffic indicators, business transaction, users, resource pool health, database connection health, data consumption, integration point health, cache health, etc.

The security chapter offers standard best practices from OWASP such as using parameterized queries to protect against SQL injection, using high entropy random session-ids/storing cookies for exchanging session-ids to protect against session hijacking/fixation. In order to protect against XSS (when user’s input is rendered in HTML without escaping) by filtering input and escaping it when rendering. The author recommends using a random nonce and strict SameSite policy to protect against CSRF. Similarly, author recommends using the principle of least privilege, access control, etc. The admin tools can offer tools for resetting circuit breakers, adjust connection pool sizes, disabling specific outbound integrations, reloading configuration, stopping accepting load, toggling feature flags.

For ease of deployment, the author recommends automation, immutable infrastructure, continuous deployment, and rolling changes incrementally.

The author suggests several recommendations on process and organization such as OODA loop for fast learning, functional/autonomous teams, evolutionary architecture, asynchrony patterns, loose clustering and creating options for future.

Lastly, the author offers chaos engineering as a way to test resilience of your system using Simian army or writing your own chaos monkey. In the end, the new edition offers a few additional chapters on scaling, deployment, security, and chaos engineering and more war stories from author’s consulting work.

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