Saturday, June 15, 2013

Elastic Load Balancing (ELB) with a Java Web Application + Tomcat + Session Stickiness

Suppose you have a web application and you want to deploy it in Amazon cloud environment with load balance support. The whole process is pretty straight-forward and it generally doesn't take much time.

For this post, I'm using Apache Tomcat web server and I already have a war file from my HelloWorld application. 

Here is the Tomcat version I'm using:

I'm using two instances and I have extracted my tomcat zip file into /opt/ folder in each of those two instances. I have also placed HelloWorld.jar file into /opt/apache-tomcat-7.0.39/webapps folder.

Now, I will go to each of those two instances and will start tomcat server. After some minutes (or seconds) I should see my deployed web application is up and running. Which means, I can navigate to these URLs and able to see Log-In screen (initial page of my web app).

  • http://ip.address.instance-1:8080/HelloWorld/login.jsp
  • http://ip.address.instance-2:8080/HelloWorld/login.jsp

All of the above steps which I described so far, have nothing to do with Elastic Load Balancing (ELB). Just like everyone, I just deployed a web app in tomcat server. Before I start showing steps for ELB, I'm assuming your web application is also up and running and you can navigate through URLs separately.

Create Load Balancer

Step#1: On AWS EC2 console, click on the Load Balancer option under "Network & Security" section. If you do not have any ELB yet, you will see an empty list. Click on "Create Load Balancer" button.

Step#2: Write a name of your Load Balancer, this name will be used when it will create a default link. I'm also creating this Load Balancer inside my Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) that's why I'm selecting a specific VPC Id. By default, you might see only port 80 in the listerner configuration list, I have added port 8080 as my web app is running on port 8080. Add appropriate port based on your web application and click "Continue".

Step#3: This screen is dedicated to Health check configuration. Based on configuration, ELB will ping that path with that port to check the health condition and if it fails it will automatically remove your instances from the load balancer.

Since, Log-In is the default screen of my application (welcome page), so I'm using the path of Login screen as my ping path.

Step#4: Choose your Subnet id based on where you want to use your Load Balancer. For my case, subnet-2e961843 is my expected Subnet id.

Step#5: Next screen will ask you to select your security groups. I already have a security group for my VPC and I'm using it here too.

Step#6: In the "Add EC2 Instances" section, add the instances in where you already deployed Tomcat and your web application.

Step#7: This screen is for review purpose. Once you review it you can finally create your load balancer by clicking on the "Create" button.

Step#8: Once you create your balancer, it will redirect you to Load Balancer list and now you will see your newly created load balancer in the list. DNS Name column shows newly created DNS Name for your load balancer and you should be able to navigate it with proper port.

So for my case, I can navigate my load balancer by using:

Sticky Session:
Since you are using Tomcat with load balancer, it's pretty obvious that you might want to enable sticky session with session replication in Tomcat. My web application is a Spring MVC application and it uses Spring Security for all type of authorizations and authentications. If I directly go to the Log-In screen of my load balancer and try to authenticate, it might not work. It's expected as Tomcat gets confused when sending request and response in multiple instances. If I enable sticky session I will not face this issue.

You can do it with the help of AWS EC2 console. Open the Load Balancer screen and select your newly created load balancer.

If you look carefully at the port configuration part, you will see "Stickiness: Disabled" for all of your ports. By default, stickiness is disabled for all the ports you select for load balancer. Now click on the "edit" button of the port on where you want to enable stickiness. For my case, it will be port 8080. Once you click on the "edit" button, it will ask you how you want to enable session stickiness. You can either choose Load Balancer Generated Cookie Stickiness or Application Generated Cookie Stickiness. For my simple application, I have selected "Load Balancer Generated Cookie Stickiness" and I entered 86400 as my cookie expiration period which is a day in seconds.

After you enable it, you should be able to test your session stickiness. For my case, now I'm able to successfully authenticate to my application.

Some considerations: Sometimes you might see your load balancer is down or the link is not working or shows no page. In that case, best way to quickly test is to check each of the instance where tomcat is running and check whether you can access them individually (e.g. http://ip.address.instance-1:8080/HelloWorld/login.jsp). If you find that each of the instance is up and running, you can try removing them from your load balancer and add them again. Remember, "Status" section under "Description" tab of your load balancer does not get updated instantly. It takes some time and it waits for the result of the next health check. So wait few minutes until you see "Status: N of N instances in service".

That's pretty much it! This is the very basic AWS Load Balancer example with minimum configuration of Tomcat + Session Stickiness. Once its working for you, you can try other options (highly encouraged) and see how it works for you.

Note: For privacy purpose, I had to modify several lines on this post from my original post. So if you find something is not working or facing any issues, please do not hesitate to contact me :)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Cassandra Performance Tuning

In my previous post, I discussed about how to stress test Cassandra. In this post, I will discuss on some easy steps to tune-up its performance. I'm a big fan of Cassandra. It is optimized for very fast and highly available data write. There are so many things you can do to optimize its write and read performance further. But today, I will only discuss on some major and easy tune-up steps which you can apply easily.

Dedicated Commit Log Disk: I think this is the first tune-up you may want to try as it gives you a significant performance improvement. But before changing commit log destination it would be better to know it gives performance boost. Cassandra write operations are occurred on a commit log on disk and then to an in-memory table structure called Memtable. When thresholds are reached, that Memtable is flushed to a disk in a format called SSTable. So if you separate out Commit Log locations, it will isolate Commit Log I/O traffics from other Cassandra Reads, Memtables and SSTables traffics. Remember, after the flush, the Commit Log is no longer needed and is deleted. So the Commit Log disk doesn't need to be large. It just need to be in the size where it can holds Memtable data before its flushed. You can follow the following steps to change commit log location for Cassandra.

Step#1: Mount a separate partition for commit log
Step#2: Make sure you give expected ownership and access on that drive
Step#3: Edit Cassandra configuration file which can be found at conf/cassandra.yaml. You will find a property "CommitLogDirectory", update it based on your mount location. For my case, it will be:
CommitLogDirectory: /mnt/commitlog
Step#4: Restart your Cassandra cluster.

Increasing Java Heap Size: Cassandra runs on JVM. So you might face out of memory issues when you run a heavy load on Cassandra. There is also a rule of thumb about how you want to keep your heap size.
  • Heap Size = 1/2 of System Memory when System Memory < 2GB
  • Heap Size = 1GB when System Memory >= 2GB and <= 4GB
  • Heap Size = 1/4 of System Memory(but not more than 8GB) when System Memory >4GB
Remember, just a larger heap size might not give you a performance boost. So a well-tuned Java heap size is very important. To change the Java heap size, you need to update file and then restart Cassandra cluster again. If you are using Opscenter, you should see the updated heap size on one of the Opscenter's metrics.

Tune Concurrent Reads and Writes: Staged Event-Driven Architecture(SEDA) is used for implementing Cassandra. It breaks the application into stages. Concurrent readers and writers control the maximum number of threads allocated to a particular stage. So having an optimal concurrent reads and concurrent writes value will improve Cassandra performance. But raising these values beyond the limit will decrease Cassandra performance. These values are highly tied with CPU cores of the system. As like, Java heap size, there is also a rule of thumb about how to select these values:
  • Concurrent Reads: 4 concurrent reads per processor core
  • Concurrent Writes: Most of the time you do not need it as write is usually fast. If needed, you can set the value to equal or higher than the concurrent reads.
To change the value, you need to update conf/cassandra.yaml configuration file. There are two parameters present for these two: ConcurrentReaders and ConcurrentWriters. Update those values based on your system and restart Cassandra to take the effect.

Tune-Up Key Cache: For each of the column families, key cache holds the location of row keys in memory. Since keys are usually small, it can store a large cache without using much memory. Each cache hit results in less disk activity. 200000 is the default key cache size of Cassandra and its enabled by default. You can alter the default value by following:

You can monitor key cache performance by using nodetool cfstats command.

Tune-Up Row Cache: In Cassandra, row cache is disabled by default. Row cache holds the entire content of the date in memory. So a column family with large rows could easily consume system memory and could impact Cassandra performance, that's why its disabled by default and should be remain disabled in most of the cases. But if your column data is too small then using row cache will significantly improve performance as row cache keeps the most accessed rows hot in memory. To enable row cache, you can alter your column family and can pass number of rows for row cache.

You can also monitor it by using nodetool cfstats command like above (watch for ."Row cache hit rate").

Conclusion: As I said early, these are only some of the tune-up steps, there are more (high performing RAID level, file system optimization, disabling swap memory, memory mapped disk modes and so on). But I gave you something you can start with, once you find out improved Cassandra performance you can try the rest of the tuning. Cassandra is highly scalable and scaling up is done by enhancing each node (more RAM, high network throughput, SSD, disk size, etc). Remember, if you are using AWS EC2 instance do not expect much performance improvement if you are using medium or small type instance as they are not optimized for better I/O or network, use xlarge+ instance instead.

And finally, DO NOT forget to check the Cassandra Performance and Scalability slides by Adrian Cockcroft.

Note: For privacy purpose, I had to modify several lines on this post from my original post. So if you find something is not working or facing any issues, please do not hesitate to contact me :)