Shahzad Bhatti

June 18, 2019

Review of “Designing Distributed Systems”

Filed under: Computing,Technology — admin @ 11:34 am

The “Designing Distributed Systems” book provides design patterns for building distributed systems with support of container technologies such as Kubernetes. The book consists of three sections where first section focuses on single-nodes, second section focuses on long-running services, and third section focuses on batch computation.


The first pattern in the book introduces concept of sidecar pattern for modularity and reusability where a single application requires two containers: application container and sidebar container where sidebar container provides additional functionality such as adding SSL proxy for the service, collecting metrics for the application container. The side-bar container can be configured via dynamic configuration service.


The ambassador pattern introduces an ambassador container that sits between the application and external services and all incoming/outgoing traffic goes through it. It also helps with modularity and reusability where the ambassador may abstract sharded service (or A/B testing) so that client or service itself doesn’t need to know all details . You may also use ambassador container for service brokering where it looks up an external service and connects to it.


The adapter pattern uses special container to modify the interface of application container, e.g. you can deploy monitoring adapter to automatically collect health metrics using Prometheus or other tools. Similarly, you may use adapter container to collect kubernetes logs (stdout/stderr) and reformat the logs before sending them to log aggregator (Fluentd).

Replicated Load-Balanced Services

This pattern is part of long-running services where a load balancer is added in front of the service for scalability. Each service is designed as a stateless so that requests can be sent to any replica of the service behind the load balancer. Each service needs to provide readiness probe so that load balancer knows if it can serve the requests. In some cases, you may need to support session-tracked services where user requests are routed to the same replica using sticky session or consistent hashing function. You may add a caching layer that is deployed along with your service container (as sidebar). Further, you may need to provide rate-limiting and protect against DOS attacks (X-RateLimit-Remaining headers). This pattern can also implement SSL Termination where external traffic is encrypted with different certificate compared with internal traffic (Varnish).

Sharded Services

This pattern partitions the traffic where each shard serves subset of all requests. As opposed to replicated services that are generally used for stateless services, sharded services are used for building stateful services. You may use sharded cache for each shard that sits between user and front-end to optimize end-user performance and latency. You may add replicas for each shard for further redundancy and scalability. Sharding requires selecting a key to route the traffic, e.g. you may use IP-address or consistent hash function to avoid remapping when new shards are added. If one of the shard becomes hot, you can add replicated sharded cache to handle the increased load.


The scatter/gather pattern adds parallelism in servicing requests where work is broken and spawned to multiple services and then result is aggregated before returning to the user. For example, you can implement distributed document search by farming multiple leaf machines that returns matching document and root node aggregates the results. You can also add support for sharded data by searching each shard in parallel and root node generates union of all documents returned by each shard (leaf node). One downside of this pattern is that it may suffer straggler problem as total response time depends on the slowest response so you may need to replicate each shard to improve computational power.

Functions and Event-Driven Processing

This pattern is used to implement function-as-a-service (FaaS) products. FaaS simplifies development and deployment as the code is managed and scaled automatically. However, FaaS requires that you decouple your application into small parts that can be run independently. Faas uses event systems to communicate with each function or create a data pipeline. You can use external data services for storing states that is shared by these functions.

Ownership Election

This pattern helps in multi-node environment where a specific task must be owned by a single process. For example, when you have multiple replicas, you may need to elect master using consensus algorithm such as Paxos, Raft or frameworks such as etcd, ZooKeeper, and consul. You can use distributed locks to implement ownership (optionally with a lease or TTL). You may need to verify if you hold the lock before proceeding, e.g.

func (Lock l) isLocked() boolean {
return l.locked && l.lockTime + 0.75 * l.ttl > now()

Work Queue Systems

This pattern is part of batch computation section to handle work items within a certain amount of time. You may use a work-queue manager container along with an ambassador container to connect to external queue source where source might use storage API, network storage, pub/sub systems like Kafka or Redis. Once the queue manager receives a work item, it launches a worker container. Kubernetes contains a Job object that allows for the reliable execution of the work queue. In order to limit number of worker containers running concurrently, you can limit the number of Job objects that your work queue is willing to create. You can also use the multi-worker pattern when different worker containers are transformed into a single unified container that implements the worker interface.

Event-Driven Batch Processing

This pattern allows data pipelining where an output of one work queue becomes input to another work queue, referred as workflow systems. Here are patterns of event-driven processing:
Copier: This pattern just duplicates the work item into two or more identical streams.
Filter: This pattern reduce a stream of work items to a smaller stream of work items by filtering out items that don’t meet particular criteria.
Splitter: This works like filter, but instead of eliminating input, it sends different inputs to different queues based on criteria.
Sharder: This is more generic form of splitter and splits a work item into smaller work items based on sharding function.
Merger: This is opposite of copier and merges two different work queues into a single work queue.

You may use pub/sub API to communicate between different workers.

Coordinated Batch Processing

This is similar to Reduce part of MapReduce pattern where a work is broken up and distributed to multiple nodes in parallel. You may need Join or Barrier Synchronization to wait for intermediate results before proceeding to the next stage of the workflow. For example, reduce phase aggregates merges several outputs into a single output.

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