EC-Cache Accepted to Appear at OSDI’2016

Update: Camera-ready version is available here now!

In-memory caching is the de facto solution to enable low latency analytics over large datasets. While caching objects,  one must be careful about maximizing the number of requests that can be served from memory in the presence of popularity skew, background load imbalance, and server failures. Traditional solutions use selective replication, i.e., adjusting the number of replicas based on object popularity, to address these issues. However, dynamically determining replication factors and reacting to hotspots and load imbalance fast enough is often challenging.

We applied erasure coding to address the same set of challenges. Traditionally, erasure coding is widely used in modern clusters to minimize storage usage. However, it is not applied to object caching, nor is it considered a viable solution for load balancing. We show both analytically and empirically that given the instruction sets in modern CPUs, erasure coding can be a viable solution to address the limitations of selective replication as long as we are willing to sacrifice some network bandwidth. Given the rise of high-capacity network topologies and networking technologies, we believe this to be a timely tradeoff.

Data-intensive clusters rely on in-memory object caching to maximize the number of requests that can be served from memory in the presence of popularity skew, background load imbalance, and server failures. In order to improve I/O latency and for load balancing, these caches typically employ selective replication, where the number of cached replicas of an object is proportional to its popularity. Selective replication, however, often falls short in practice, because it needs careful selection of replication factors and dynamic, load-aware replica placement.

EC-Cache is a load-balanced, high-performance cluster cache that uses erasure coding in a novel way to overcome the limitations of selective replication. EC-Cache employs two techniques: (a) splitting and erasure coding individual objects during writes, and (b) late binding, wherein obtaining any k out of (k + r) splits of an object are sufficient, during reads. As compared to selective replication, EC-Cache improves load balancing by a factor of 3.3X and reduces the median and tail read latencies by more than 2X, while using the same amount of memory. EC-Cache does so using 10% additional bandwidth and a small increase in the amount of stored metadata. The benefits offered by EC-Cache are further amplified in the presence of background network load imbalance.

The genesis of this work traces back to 2013, when I was just wrapping up Sinbad and heard Rashmi Vinayak giving a talk about her work at Facebook. While we planned many times, we were always busy with other stuff and never managed to work together until very recently. During this time, the project evolved from disk-based storage to general object store to its current form: in-memory object cache. The very energetic Jack Kosaian tracked me down last year to work on something exciting, which also helped in finally getting the project going at full speed. I’ve been very fortunate with my collaborators.

This year the OSDI PC accepted 47 out of 260 papers. This happens to be my first time submitting to OSDI. It’s also my first paper with my own student. Jack has been a tremendous force that kept the project going and helped Rashmi proceed at a fast pace. I also want to thank Rashmi for mentoring Jack throughout the process. I love this advising business :) Go Blue!

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