Héctor Ramos edited this page Apr 30, 2016 · 5 revisions

Using MongoDB + RocksDB

MongoRocks: What and Why?

Quick Version

Parse has been using MongoDB on RocksDB (MongoRocks) for application data since April, 2015. If you are migrating your Parse app(s) to your own MongoDB infrastructure, we recommend using MongoRocks to take advantage of the increased performance, greater efficiency, and powerful backup capabilities offered by the RocksDB storage engine.

Long Version

In version 3.0, MongoDB introduced the storage engine API to allow users an alternative to the default memory mapped (MMAP) storage engine used by earlier versions of MongoDB. In 2015, Facebook developed a RocksDB implementation of the storage engine API, MongoRocks, which is used by Parse for all customer data. RocksDB is an embeddable persistent key-value store developed by Facebook. It uses a Log-structured Merge Tree (LSM) for storage and is designed for high write throughput and storage efficiency.

Improved Performance and Efficiency

When Parse switched from MMAP to MongoRocks, we discovered the following benefits in our benchmarking:

  • 50x increase in write performance
  • 90% reduction in storage size
  • significantly reduced latency on concurrent workloads due to reduced lock contention

Simple and efficient hot backups

In addition to performance gains, a major advantage of MongoRocks (and RocksDB in general) is very efficient backups that do not require downtime. As detailed in this blog post, RocksDB backups can be taken on a live DB without interrupting service. RocksDB also supports incremental backups, reducing the I/O, network, and storage costs of doing backups and allowing backups to run more frequently. At Parse, we reduced DB infrastructure costs by more than 20% by using MongoRocks, the Strata backup tool, and Amazon S3 in place of MMAP and EBS Snapshots.

Are there any reasons not to use MongoRocks?

Generally speaking, MongoRocks was suitable for running all app workloads at Parse. However, there are some workloads for which LSM are not ideal, and for which better performance may be achieved with other storage engines like MMAP or WiredTiger, such as:

  • Applications with high number of in-place updates or deletes. For example, a very busy work queue or heap.
  • Applications with queries that scan many documents and fit entirely in memory.

It's difficult to make precise statements about performance for any given workload without data. When in doubt, run your own benchmarks. You can use the flashback toolset to record and replay benchmarks based on live traffic.

Example: Provisioning on Ubuntu and AWS

There are hundreds of ways to build out your infrastructure. For illustration we use an AWS and Ubuntu configuration similar to that used by Parse. You will need a set of AWS access keys and the AWS CLI.

Choosing Hardware

At Parse, we use AWS i2.* (i/o optimized) class instances with ephemeral storage for running MongoRocks. Prior to this, when we used the MMAP storage engine, we used r3.* (memory optimized) instances with EBS PIOPS storage. Why the change?

  • RocksDB is designed to take full advantage of SSD storage. We also experienced large bursts of I/O for some workloads, and provisioning enough IOPS with EBS to support this was expensive. The ephemeral SSDs provided by the i2 class were ideal in our case.
  • MongoRocks uses significantly more CPU than MMAP due to compression. CPU was never a major factor in MMAP.
  • Memory is less critical in MongoRocks. Memory is everything in MMAP.
  • EBS snapshots were critical to our backup strategy with MMAP. With MongoRocks, we had incremental backups with strata, so snapshots were not needed.

If you're not sure about your workload requirements, we recommend running on the i2 class instances. You can always change this later depending on your production experience.

Below is a general guide for instance sizing based on your existing Parse request traffic:

  • < 100 requests/sec: i2.xlarge
  • 100-500 requests/sec: i2.2xlarge
  • 500+ requests/sec: i2.4xlarge

This guide will use i2.2xlarge as an example.


We recommend you run MongoDB in replica set mode, with at least three nodes for availablity. Each node should run in a separate Availability Zone.

There are dozens of ways to provision hosts in AWS. For reference, we use the AWS CLI below, but the inputs can be easily translated to your tool of choice.

$ SECURITY_GROUP=<my security group ID>
$ US_EAST_1A_SUBNET=<subnet id for us-east-1a>
$ US_EAST_1C_SUBNET=<subnet id for us-east-1c>
$ US_EAST_1D_SUBNET=<subnet id for us-east-1d>
$ aws ec2 run-instances —image-id ami-fce3c696 --instance-type i2.2xlarge --key-name chef3 --block-device-mappings '[{"DeviceName": "/dev/sdb", "VirtualName": "ephemeral0"},{"DeviceName": "/dev/sdc", "VirtualName": "ephemeral1"}]' --security-group-ids ${SECURITY_GROUP} --subnet-id ${US_EAST_1A_SUBNET} --associate-public-ip-address
$ aws ec2 run-instances —image-id ami-fce3c696 --instance-type i2.2xlarge --key-name chef3 --block-device-mappings '[{"DeviceName": "/dev/sdb", "VirtualName": "ephemeral0"},{"DeviceName": "/dev/sdc", "VirtualName": "ephemeral1"}]' --security-group-ids ${SECURITY_GROUP} --subnet-id ${US_EAST_1D_SUBNET} --associate-public-ip-address
$ aws ec2 run-instances —image-id ami-fce3c696 --instance-type i2.2xlarge --key-name chef3 --block-device-mappings '[{"DeviceName": "/dev/sdb", "VirtualName": "ephemeral0"},{"DeviceName": "/dev/sdc", "VirtualName": "ephemeral1"}]' --security-group-ids ${SECURITY_GROUP} --subnet-id ${US_EAST_1D_SUBNET} --associate-public-ip-address

Configuring Storage

The i2.2xlarge and larger instances have multiple ephemeral volumes that should be striped together to produce your data volume. On each host, use mdadm to create the raid volume:

$ sudo apt-get install mdadm
$ sudo mdadm —create /dev/md0 --level=stripe /dev/xvdb /dev/xvdc
$ sudo mkfs -t ext4 /dev/md0
$ sudo mkdir -p /var/lib/mongodb
$ sudo mount /dev/md0 /var/lib/mongodb


To use MongoRocks, you will need to use a special build of MongoDB that has the storage engine compiled in. At Parse, we run an internally built version, as a pre-packaged version of MongoRocks did not exist when we initially migrated. For new installations, we recommend that you use the Percona builds located here. These builds are 100% feature compatible with the official MongoDB releases, but have been compiled to include the RocksDB storage engine. We have tested the Percona builds with the Parse migration utility and the strata backup software, and verified that both work and are suitable for running Parse apps in production.

Ubuntu installation

$ curl -s -O
$ tar -xf percona-server-mongodb-3.0.8-1.2-r97f91ef-trusty-x86_64-bundle.tar
$ sudo dpkg -i percona-server-mongodb-*


Configuring MongoDB to use the RocksDB storage engine is a matter of setting a few flags in the mongodb.conf file. For complete documentation of all MongoDB configuration options, visit the MongoDB reference page for Configuration File Options.

First, set the storage engine parameter to instruct MongoDB to use the RocksDB storage engine.

  dbPath: /var/lib/mongodb
    enabled: true
  engine: rocksdb

Next, some additional parameters.

# RockDB tuning parameters
# Yield if it's been at least this many milliseconds since we last yielded.
setParameter = internalQueryExecYieldPeriodMS=1000
# Yield after this many "should yield?" checks.
setParameter = internalQueryExecYieldIterations=100000

The adjustments to the internalQueryExecYield* options reduce the frequency that MongoDB yields for writers. Since RocksDB has document level locking, frequent yielding is not necessary.


When starting MongoRocks on a host for the very first time, your storage directory (e.g. /var/lib/mongodb) should be empty. If you have existing data from other storage engines (i.e. MMAP or WiredTiger), you should back up and remove those data files, as the storage formats are not compatible.


Installing strata

Strata is written in go. It requires go 1.4 or later to compile. You can use apt or yum to install go, but these packages are frequently out of date on common distributions. To install a more recent version of go:

$ curl | sudo tar xzf - -C /usr/local
$ sudo mkdir /go
$ sudo chmod 0777 /go

You will need to add go to your PATH environment variable and set GOPATH. On ubuntu, this is as simple as:

$ echo -e 'export PATH="/usr/local/go/bin:${PATH}:" \nexport GOPATH=/go' | sudo tee /etc/profile.d/

After logging in again, you can test that go is installed by running

$ go version
go version go1.5.3 linux/amd64

Installing strata

With go installed, compiling and installing strata is simply a matter of using go install:

$ go get
$ go install

This installs the strata binary to $GOPATH/bin/strata

Configuring backups

At Parse, we deployed strata using a simple distributed cron on all backup nodes. You can find a sample cron and and schedule here in the rocks-strata repository.

At a high level, the three things you want to do regularly when running backups with strata are:

  1. Run strata backup to create the actual backup. This stores the data files and backup metadata in S3, identified by a unique replica ID. Each host must have its own replica ID. For example, if your RS is named "mydata" and your host name is "db1", you might use "mydata-db1" as your replica ID.
  2. Run strata delete to prune metadata for backups older than a certain date. The retention period that you specify is dependent on your needs.
  3. Run strata gc to delete data files that are orphaned by strata delete.

Displaying backups

You can view backup metadata at any time with strata show backups:

For example, to see all backups for node db1 in replica set mydb, you would run something like this:

$ strata --bucket=mybucket --bucket-prefix=mongo-rocks show backups --replica-id=mydb-db1

ID   data                      num files   size (GB)   incremental files   incremental size   duration
0    2015-09-02 21:11:20 UTC   4           0.000005    4                   0.000005           187.929573ms

More documentation on strata, including how to restore backups, can be found here.

Migrating Existing Data to MongoRocks

Moving your Parse app for the first time

If your data is still hosted on Parse, then your job is really easy. Just follow the steps in our migration guide to move your data to your new MongoRocks replica set. We highly recommend that you take steps to secure your MongoDB installation with authentication and encryption. For a list of best security practices, see the MongoDB Security Checklist.

Upgrading an existing replica set to MongoRocks

The data files used by MMAP, WiredTiger, and RocksDB are not compatible. In other words, you cannot start MongoRocks using existing MMAP or Wiredtiger data. To change storage formats, you must do one of the following:

  1. Do a logical export and import using mongodump and mongorestore.
  2. Perform an initial sync of data using replication

Option 2 is the easiest, as you can bring a new, empty node online and add it to the replica set without incurring downtime. This approach usually works fine until your data size is in the hundreds of gigabytes. To do so:

  1. Provision a new node configured for RocksDB, following the above steps.
  2. Add the node to your replica set using rs.add()
  3. Wait for initial sync. Note that your data sync must complete before the oplog window expires. Depending on the size of your data, you may need to resize your oplog