The cost of queue architecture, and why upfront payment will pay dividends Published: 2021-08-18 Author: Oren Eini, CEO RavenDB
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The cost of queue architecture, and why upfront payment will pay dividends

by Oren Eini, CEO RavenDB 2021-08-18

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago called: Architecture foresight: Put a queue on that. I got an interesting comment from Mike Tomaras on the post that deserve its own post in reply.

Even though the benefits of an async queue are indisputable, I will respectfully point out that you brush over or ignore the drawbacks.

… redacted, see the real comment for details …

I think we agree that your sync code example is much easier to reason about than your async one. “Well, it is a bit more complex to manage in the user interface”, “And you can play games on the front end” hides a lot of complexity in the FE to accommodate async patterns.

Your “At more advanced levels” section presents no benefits really, doing these things in a sync pattern is exactly the same as in async, the complexity is moved to the infrastructure instead of the code.

This is a great discussion, and I agree with Mike that there are additional costs to using the async option compared to the synchronous one. There is a really good reason why pretty much all modern languages has something similar to async/await, after all. And anyone who did any work with Node.js and promises without that knows exactly what are the cost of trying to keep the state of the system through multiple levels of callbacks.

It is important, however, that my recommendation had nothing to do with async directly, although that is the end result. My recommendation had a lot more to do with breaking apart the behavior of the system, so you aren’t expected to give immediate replies to the user.

Consider this: ⏱. When you are processing a user’s request, you have a timer inherent to the operation. That timer can be a real one (how long until the request times out) or it can be a mental one (how long until the user gets bored). That means that you have a very short SLA to run the actual request.

What is the impact of that on your system? You have to provision enough capacity in the system to handle the spikes within the small SLA that you have to work with. That is tough. Let’s assume that you are running a website that accepts comments, and you need to run spam detection on the comment before actually posting that. This seems like a pretty standard scenario, right? It doesn’t require specialized scenarios.

However, the service you use has a rate limit of 10 comments / sec. That is also something that is pretty common and reasonable. How would you handle something like that if you have a post that suddenly gets a lot of comments? Well, you’ll have something that ensure that you don’t pass the limit, but then the user is sitting there, waiting and thinking that the request timed out. On the other hand, if you accept the request and place it into a queue, you can show it in the UI as accepted immediately and then process that at leisure.

Yes, this is more complex than just making the call inline, it requires a higher degree of complexity, but it also ensure that you have proper separation in your system. The front end submit messages to the backend, which will reply when it is done. By having this separation upfront, as part of your overall design, you get options. You can change how you are processing things in the backend quickly. Your front end feel fast (which is usually much more important than being fast, mind you).

As for the rate limits and the SLA? In the case of spam API or similar services, sure, this is obvious. But there are usually a lot of implicit SLAs like that. Your database disk is only able to serve so many writes a second, for example. That isn’t usually surfaced to you as X writes / sec limit, but it is true nevertheless. And a queue will smooth over any such issues easily. With making the request directly, you have to ensure that you have enough capacity to handle spikes, and that is usually far more expensive.

What is more interesting, in my opinion, is that the queue gives you options that you wouldn’t have otherwise. For example, tracing of all operations (great for audits), retries if needed, easy model for scale out, smoothing out of spikes, etc.

You cannot actually put everything into a queue, of course. The typical example is that you’ll want to handle a login page. You cannot really “let the user login immediately and process in the background”. Another example where you don’t want to use asynchronous processing is when you are making a query. There are patterns for async query completions, but they are pretty horrible to work with.

In general, the idea is that whenever the is any operation in the system, you throw that to a queue. Reads and certain key aspects are things that you’ll need to run directly.