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Load balancing first draft.

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dgquintas committed Feb 11, 2016
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Load Balancing in gRPC
=======================
## Objective
To design a load balancing API between a gRPC client and a Load Balancer to
instruct the client how to send load to multiple backend servers.
## Background
Prior to any gRPC specifics, we explore some usual way to approach load
balancing.
## Proxy Model
Using a proxy provides a solid trustable client that can report load to the load
balancing system. Proxies typically require more resources to operate since they
have temporary copies of the RPC request and response. This model also increases
latency to the RPCs.
The proxy model was deemed inefficient when considering request heavy services
like storage.
## Balancing-aware Client
This thicker client places more of the load balancing logic in the client. For
example, the client could contain many load balancing policies (Round Robin,
Random, etc) used to select servers from a list. In this model, a load balancer
would be responsible for providing a list of servers and let the client choose
the preferred server from the list.
One of the drawbacks of this approach is writing and maintaining the load
balancing policies in multiple languages and/or versions of the clients. These
policies can be fairly complicated. Some of the algorithms also require client
to server communication so the client would need to get thicker to support
additional RPCs to get health or load information in addition to sending RPCs
for user requests.
It would also significantly complicate the API: the new design hides the load
balancing complexity of multiple layers and presents it as a simple list of
servers to the client.
## External Load Balancing Service
The client load balancing code is kept simple and portable, implementing
straightforward algorithms (ie, Pick First, Round Robin) for server selection.
Complex load balancing algorithms are instead provided by the load balancer. The
client relies on the load balancer to provide _load balancing configuration_ and
_the list of servers_ to which the client should send requests. The balancer
updates the server list as needed to balance the load as well as handle server
unavailability or health issues. The load balancer will make any necessary
complex decisions and inform the client. The load balancer may communicate with
the backend servers to collect load and health information.
## Proposed Architecture
The gRPC load balancing approach follows the third approach, by having an
external load balancer which provides simple clients with a list of servers.
## Client
When establishing a gRPC stream to the balancer, the client will send an initial
request to the load balancer (via a regular gRPC message). The load balancer
will respond with client config (including, for example, settings for flow
control, RPC deadlines, etc.) or a redirect to another load balancer. If the
balancer did not redirect the client, it will then send a list of servers to the
client. The client will contain simple load balancing logic for choosing the
next server when it needs to send a request.
## Load Balancer
The Load Balancer is responsible for providing the client with a list of servers
and client RPC parameters. The balancer chooses when to update the list of
servers and can decide whether to provide a complete list, a subset, or a
specific list of “picked” servers in a particular order. The balancer can
optionally provide an expiration interval after which the server list should no
longer be trusted and should be updated by the balancer.
The load balancer is may open reporting streams to each server contained in the
server list. These streams are primarily used for load reporting. For example,
Weighted Round Robin requires that the servers report utilization to the load
balancer in order to compute the next list of servers.
## Server
The gRPC Server is responsible for answering RPC requests and providing
responses to the client. The server will also report load to the load balancer
if a reporting stream was opened for this purpose.
### Security
The load balancer may be separate from the actual server backends and a
compromise of the load balancer should only lead to a compromise of the
loadbalancing functionality. In other words, a compromised load balancer should
not be able to cause a client to trust a (potentially malicious) backend server
any more than in a comparable situation without loadbalancing.

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