SQL Azure: Notes on Building a Shard Technology

In Chapter 10 of the book on SQL Azure (http://www.apress.com/book/view/9781430229612) I am co-authoring, I am digging deeper in what it takes to write a Shard. It's actually a pretty cool exercise, and I wanted to share some thoughts on how I am designing the technology.

A Shard is a technology that spreads the load of database requests over multiple databases, as transparently as possible. The type of shard I am building is called a Vertical Partition Shard  (VPS). A VPS is a mechanism by which the data is stored in one or more databases behind the scenes, but your code has no idea at design time which data is in which database. It's like having a mini cloud for records instead of services.

Imagine you have three SQL Azure databases that have the same schema (DB1, DB2 and DB3), you would like to issue a SELECT * FROM Users on all three databases, concatenate the results into a single resultset, and order by last name. Imagine you want to ensure your code doesn't need to change if you add a new database to the shard (DB4). Now imagine that you want to make sure all three databases are queried at the same time, in a multi-threaded manner so your code doesn't have to wait for three database calls sequentially. Then, imagine you would like to obtain a breadcrumb (in the form of a new, virtual column) that gives you a hint as to which database a record came from, so that you could update it if needed. Now imagine all that is done through the standard SqlClient library... and you have the Shard I am currently building.

Here are some lessons learned and techniques I am using with this shard:

  • Parellel Processing: Querying databases in parallel is not too hard using the Task Parallel Library; all you need is to lock your resources when needed
  • Deleting/Updating Data: That's not too bad either as long as you have a breadcrumb. However it becomes more difficult if you need to update a single record and you don't know in which database it is.
  • Inserting Data: I am using a round-robin approach in which each new insert request is directed to the next database in the shard. Not sure how to deal with Bulk Loads just yet...
  • Shard Databases:  I use a static collection of SqlConnection objects which needs to be loaded once; from there on all the Shard commands use this collection
  • Extension Methods: In order to make it look like the Shard commands are part of the SqlClient class I use extension methods. For example I added ExecuteShardQuery and ExecuteShardNonQuery methods to SqlClient.
  • Exceptions: Capturing exceptions in a multi-threaded code is interesting... but I kept it simple for now. I am using the ConcurrentQueue to store my exceptions.
  • Database GUID: Every database in the shard is given a GUID, which is calculated based on the connection string's values.
  • DataTable. The Shard methods return a DataTable object which can be bound to objects.

 I will be sharing the code soon as an open-source project in CodePlex. Please stay tuned on twitter to know when it will be available (@hroggero). Or check www.bluesyntax.net for updates on the shard.


Print | posted @ Friday, May 28, 2010 9:50 PM

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