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Booting Beam Views

Written in March 2018 to describe an alternative approach to initializing views. Some sections were redacted and edited before making this public.


We expect a Beam cluster to consist of potentially many types of views. One of the goals of Beam is that these views are simple to write. We originally suggested that this could be achieved by having the shared log manage data persistence, and views could initialize themselves by applying the entire log at startup. This leads to an ever growing log & ever growing view boot times.

We considered an approach where we deleted individual log entries to make the log smaller, but this causes a few problems. Trying to implement a deletion policy directly on the log is complicated, as a log entry may contain many keys which might have differing deletion requirements. The log file itself would need to be re-written to new files to actually reclaim disk space. What if instead of trying to manage all this within the log, we just use the log for recent & in flight operations and move longer term management of the data elsewhere?

We created Disk Views in ProtoBeam v2 to hold larger data sets than we could fit in memory. The Disk Views persist all of their data to the local disk/SSD, and they leverage the OS buffer cache to keep hot data in RAM. This seemed like a good fit for our expected use cases. The Disk Views currently keep every version of every data item.

Now that the Disk Views had a copy of all the history, there was no need to keep this data in the log forever. When other views start up, they can read most of the information from the Disk Views, then read the most recent history from the log. Beam can scale out the number of Disk Views for more capacity and higher read throughput, so the Disk Views are a better place for this data than the log. Once the DiskView instances have enough replicas of each data item, up through a given log index, the entries in the log up to that index can be safely deleted.

We think this approach will allow other Beam views to keep their data in memory, if they so choose, and this will help keep other views simple. A view that could consume data at 800MiB/sec (not unreasonable with a 10Gb network) could initialize itself with 1TiB of data in ~20 minutes.

Background: Partitioning

Disk Views process log entries and write their data to an embedded key/value store. The data model entities will need to be mapped to keys. With the exception of small test clusters, we expect that data set sizes will require Disk Views to be partitioned, i.e. each Disk View instance contains some subset of the overall data.

Hash Partitions

It is expected that a dataset stored in Beam will not fit on a single host and will need to be partitioned across multiple hosts. Beam does not require that all views use the same partitioning scheme, or that they use the same number of partitions. In Protobeam v2 we used a hash partitioning scheme, where a node ID is hashed and the resulting 32 bit number broken up into a number of ranges to assign it to a partition. Using ranges allows the Disk View to understand how differing partition counts relate to each other, for example it knows that the first partition in an 8 way partition is entirely contained within the first partition of a 4 way partition.

hash ranges

With data split across partitioned Disk Views, a consumer that needs to consume the entire data set would need to perform an iteration from a set of Disk Views at once (just like it would have consumed the entire log before Disk Views existed).

read all partitions

Iteration Service

Disk Views offer an API that exposes their persisted data. Other views use the Iteration API to read the dataset when they start up. The following sections describe design concerns for this API / approach.

Data Order

Views normally process data from the log, so they expect to see data in log index order. However, a Disk View is unlikely to store data in log index order, because it's not an efficient structure for serving reads. We considered four different ordering guarantees that DiskViews could provide and discuss each one in the next subsections.

No Order

The easiest for the Disk View is to offer no guarantees about ordering. The Disk View could serve the data in whatever order is most convenient for it, most likely the natural underlying order of its embedded K/V store. How much work this is to consume will vary greatly by the consuming view. Some will require little to no additional work. Others, like the Index View, will have to use different data structures to be able to insert older values/log indexes after processing newer ones.

Log Order

The easiest for views to consume would be log order, as this is the order they already expect when reading from the log. Disk Views are unlikely to have data in this order, and would likely need to keep a second copy of the data in log order in order to be able to expose it efficiently in that order. None of the embedded key-value stores we tested for the DiskView support iterating over data in write order (which would alleviate the need for the 2nd copy).

Key Order

The Disk View could easily expose data in key order, but this creates complexity for the consumer. For Key Order (and also Log Order), consumers that need to consume from multiple Disk Views would need to carefully aggregate these multiple streams, similar to the merge part of a mergesort. This would also prevent the Carousel optimization described below.

Log Order Within Keys

One other possibility is to ensure that data is in log order per key, but keys are not required to be in order. For a Disk View that stores data in (Key, Index) order, this is the natural order that the keys are in. For consumers, they are likely to be tracking the index on a per-key basis, so having entries come in increasing log index order for each key allows them to process it in a very similar way to processing it from the log. This relaxation in key ordering also allows a consumer to arbitrarily combine streams from multiple Disk Views without regard to ordering of items from different Disk Views.

For ProtoBeam v2 we implemented iterations with the log order within keys ordering and found that, even for complex consumers such as the index view, this was as easy to consume as the log.

Data Filtering

The consumer may only need some subset of the data the DiskView contains. For example, an Index View might only need nodes and have no use for edges. It's inefficient (increases network traffic & contention) to ship all this data from the Disk Views to the consumers if they don't need it. The Disk View can offer filtering options to reduce this network traffic. This can help improve overall performance.

One of the filters could be to apply a partitioning scheme. Views using the same partitioning scheme as the Disk View (or another scheme where it's possible to compute if partitions overlap) can both reduce the number of Disk Views a consumer needs to fetch data from, as well as reduce network traffic.

For example if there was a cluster setup with a 4 way partition, and we wanted a new set of views in a 6 way partition, the new views can understand how their partitions are contained within the existing partitions and request data only from the relevant source views. In addition those old views can apply the 6 way partition filter so they only send the relevant data to each of the new views. This is shown in the following diagram:

partitions 4 to 6

Where partitioning schemes don't overlap, the consumer will need to request iterations of all the partitions (e.g. an index view that is partitioned by the value rather than the key):

The Disk View should also apply log index range filtering, so that the data it returns to the consumer is consistent to a specific log index. Once the consumer finishes iterating it can start reading the log from the next index.

In addition to filtering, it may also be beneficial for the Disk View to offer transformation services, again so that network traffic may be reduced, or to help do work once at the source rather that repeating it at many consumers. For example the Index View could use this to have the Disk View only send the one field it cares about from the value. As all instances of the index view for that field want to see that value, this could be extracted once at the Disk View instead of in each consumer.

View Selection

With the ordering guarantees covered in the ordering section, the iteration consumer is pretty simple. The most complex part is how it selects views. Given something that describes what Disk View servers are available and what data partitions they have (e.g. the cluster metadata), and a consumers' iteration request (i.e. the filtering, partitioning & transformation options), the consumer must calculate which are the best set of Disk Views to use. Some things it should take into consideration are:

  1. If there is partitioning in the consumer's request, select only from Disk Views that contain the relevant partitions.

  2. Given the improved throughput from requesting from multiple Disk Views concurrently, it should prefer using more Disk Views with smaller partitions, as opposed to fewer Disk Views with larger partitions.

  3. But, given a selected Disk View, it should aim to use as much of that Disk View's data as possible, to make best possible use of the I/O spent by the Disk View.

  4. It may want to exclude Disk Views that are significantly lagging others.

  5. We may want to segregate instances of Disk Views by usage pattern, i.e send iteration requests to replica 1 of each partition, and send other query requests to replicas 2 & 3.

An Iteration Service with too many consumers or a consumer that requests from too many servers will hit contention on its network connection. It'll be important to keep this in mind when sizing hosts & cluster sizes, and view types/counts.


During a deployment or other cluster management operation, multiple views may end up re-initializing at the same time, all trying to fetch the same data from the Disk Views. When multiple consumers are doing this at overlapping times, it can lead to I/O contention and cache thrashing. This leads to poor performance of the iterations as well as other work being performed by the disk view (such as answering query requests, and writing new entries it tailed from the log). For example running 5 concurrent iterations of a ~20M item dataset can cause each iteration to take more than double the time of a single iteration on its own. (See Appendix A)

To solve the thrashing problem, we wanted to multiplex access to the disk. One iteration through the underlying disk should serve the data to many consumers. We developed an abstraction for this which we call Carousels, shown in the following diagram:

all aboard

Imagine a rotating carousel that contains the Disk Views' dataset spread around the edge. Each consumer is at one point at the edge of the carousel. As the carousel spins, the consumer watches the data go by. Each consumer needs to see all of the data; it completes once the carousel has spun a full revolution. A single spin of the carousel can serve many consumers at once.

In the event that new consumers appear after the iteration has started, another iteration will be needed to allow those new consumers to see a complete dataset. For example if the Disk View has keys A..Z and a single consumer starts a carousel, it'll see key & values in order A..Z. If another consumer requires a carousel while the first is still in progress, it'll see the remaining keys from the current point onwards, and then start another iteration to see a full dataset, so it might see keys D..Z and then A..C, as shown in in the following diagram:

multiple consumers

Note that this satisfies the ordering guarantees (log order within keys) provided by the Iteration service. However, the carousel would not be able to provide the key order guarantee, since consumers 2 and 3 above receive keys out of order.

With the addition of the carousel, there are three major components to the Iteration Service, as shown in the diagram below:

  • The consumer view selects which Disk Views to make carousel requests to and specifies its requirements (filtering, transformation etc)

  • The DiskView's carousel request handler receives this request from the consumer and registers itself with the multiplexer. As it receives data from the multiplexer, it will process the data and send the relevant data back to the consumer.

  • The DiskView's multiplexer will run the actual iteration against the disk and forward data to the handlers. It will start an iteration when the first handler registers, and will stop the iteration once all consumers have seen all the data. The multiplexer must be careful to maintain the Log Order Within Keys guarantee; it can do this by ensuring that the handler is started at a key boundary.


Slow Consumers

One potential issue in the carousel approach is that a single slow consumer would cause other concurrent consumers to be limited to the slow consumers' rate. If this were a problem, the multiplexer could spot this and move the consumer off the carousel and onto a dedicated iterator. As the consumer is slow, this wouldn't cause much disk contention.

ProtoBeam v2 Implementation

In ProtoBeam v2 the Disk View implements both an iteration server and consumer. Other views, including the Memory View and Index View, support being initialized from Disk View iterations.

The Disk View server, written in Go, implements most of the features described above, including:

  • Filtering / Transformation options
    • Partition filtering
    • Exclude node or edges filtering
    • Exclude values (just return keys)
    • Index range filtering
  • The Log Order Within Keys ordering guarantee
  • The Carousel

In order to support adding new Disk View instances to an existing cluster or to handle cases where a Disk View has been offline for a long period of time, the Disk View needs to implement initializing itself from an Iteration Service just like any other View does.

We also implemented a Rust version of the Disk View for comparison. This version additionally ejected what it considered to be slow consumers, causing them to restart. However, this caused problems when the carousel was used to count nodes and edges locally (with no network traffic), while it was used to initialize a remote index view (with lots of network traffic). The index view would be unnecessarily ejected as it was much slower than the counter.

The iteration consumer implementation included:

  • View Selection
    • Prefer smaller rather than larger partitions
    • But otherwise try and use all of the selected partition
    • Requests concurrent iterations where multiple Disk Views are selected
    • Option to ignore specific servers


We tested various iteration request patterns on a cluster with a graph of ~10M nodes & ~10M edges. The requests were made with a test consumer written in Go that summarizes the data received.

We start with a baseline of time taken to iterate the RocksDB data from Go using a standalone tool: this results in an iteration time of 46 seconds (384MiB/sec).

Performing an iteration of the same dataset using a DiskView with an iteration filter that results in no data being sent to the client (removing any grpc/protobuf overhead) takes 50 seconds. The extra time is a result of key parsing/filtering and other iteration bookkeeping.

We then move on to comparing iteration time with multiple concurrent consumers, both with carousel enabled, and carousel disabled. All consumers receive all the data.

iteration time vs consumers

You can see that with the carousel disabled iteration time increases with concurrency, and at 5 concurrent consumers iteration time is now over 2x the single consumer iteration time. With the carousel enabled iteration time does increase, but increases more slowly, and the resulting spread of iterations times is much more consistent.

Looking at CPU profiling on the Disk Views, Protocol Buffers marshalling comes to dominate as the number of consumers increase. There are approaches we believe can help alleviate that impact but they were not explored at this time (e.g. pre-serialization, switch to FlatBuffers).

As described in the view selection section, reading concurrently from multiple smaller partitions can allow the consumer to see the data at a higher overall rate. Here we have a consumer that requests the same 10M node/10M edge graph, but instead of from a single Disk View, it requests it from 8 Disk Views, each of which contains 1/8th of the graph. The consumer completes this iteration in 20.7 seconds, giving a data rate of 839MiB/sec, a considerable improvement vs the single Disk View source iteration.

concurrent carousel


The Iteration Service helps Beam meet its goal that views are easy to write. It's practical for a view to rely on the Disk Views & log for state management. Consuming data from the Iteration Service is typically no more work than consuming it from the log. The bulk of the complexity of the iteration is contained within the server implementation, which only needs writing once. As dataset sizes increase then some consideration to partition size & network bandwidth needs to be taken into account (but this is true for most distributed systems).

Appendix A: I/O Contention Testing

We ran 5 concurrent iterations of a Disk View's dataset without using carousels to observe the contention problem mentioned in the introduction. A Disk view contained a dataset of 9.6M nodes & 9.3M edges and has rocksDB compression disabled. It was iterated from another host using the cc tool we wrote (cc stands for "carousel client", but the servers were instructed to disable the shared carousel and run a normal iterator instead).

dist/cc -s <view> -dedicated ride 0 1

Took 1m0.119672114s
Average 289.59 MiB/s

This is the baseline performance of a single iteration.

We then ran increasing number of concurrent overlapping iteration requests, which each consumer running on a separate VM, here's the results for 5 concurrent iterations.

$ dist/cc -s <view> -noedges -nonodes -dedicated ride 0 1

Took 1m52.360824068s
Average 154.95 MiB/s

Took 1m54.519488931s
Average 152.03 MiB/s

Took 2m28.973828933s
Average 116.87 MiB/s

Took 2m40.46249817s
Average 108.50 MiB/s

Took 2m20.179012451s
Average 124.20 MiB/s

You can see that with 5 concurrent iterations the iteration time is significant larger than the single iteration baseline, and also varies considerably, on average these iterations were over 2x the baseline.

Appendix B: Concurrent Carousel Testing

The Disk View was configured the same as Appendix A, and iteration requests made from the same set of consumer VMs, requesting the entire dataset. This time the iterations had the carousel feature enabled.

The single consumer baseline is as expected basically the same as when carousels were disabled.

$ dist/cc -s <view> ride 0 1

Took 57.948935365s
Average 300.44 MiB/s

As before, increasing number of concurrent overlapping iteration requests were made from different VMs, resulting in these runs for 5 concurrent consumers.

$ dist/cc -s <view> ride 0 1

Took 1m27.365368079s
Average 199.28 MiB/s

Took 1m31.402092429s
Average 190.48 MiB/s

Took 1m33.521864895s
Average 186.16 MiB/s

Took 1m31.704571878s
Average 189.85 MiB/s

Took 1m28.88971672s
Average 195.86 MiB/s
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