·6 min read

Global Database for Serverless and Edge

Mehmet DoganMehmet DoganCTO @Upstash

In recent years, serverless architectures and edge computing are becoming very popular for application deployments. But storing application state and the data inside a serverless and/or edge function is a different story. There are many difficulties such as; managing the connections to the database, making the data available for fast access from multiple locations etc. There are only a few database services supporting serverless access and very few of those are also suitable for edge functions. (You can read a detailed analysis here.)

At Upstash, from day one, we are providing a serverless Redis compatible database for low latency and with a per-request pricing model. Additionally we expose a first-class REST API built directly on the database. REST API removes the connection management hassle, especially when used in serverless functions, but also accessible even from restricted environments like edge locations or web browsers.

Today we are happy to announce the Global Database, which is a step further to make the database available globally, closer to the clients and edge locations for low latency reads. Global Database is available on free tier, you can try it without any cost.

Use when?

A Global Database is deployed to multiple regions on different continents and the client requests are routed to the nearest region to minimize the latency when users are distributed around the world. Upstash Global databases can be used for;

  • Edge functions (Cloudflare workers, Fastly Compute): Built-in REST API and low latency access from all edge locations makes it a perfect solution.

  • Multi region serverless deployments: AWS Lambda, Vercel and Netlify functions can be deployed to multiple regions. A Global Database provides low latency data wherever your serverless functions are.

  • Web/mobile platforms: Using the read only REST API, you can access Redis database a web/mobile application directly. A Global Database will provide better latencies as you can expect the users from anywhere.

Another goal behind the Global Database is to make the database resilient to region wide failures. When a region is not available, your requests are routed to the nearest available region; so your database remains available.

How it works?

Global Database

In the global database model, there are multiple replicas of the same database and they form a cluster together. Each replica is connected to other cluster members and tracks liveness of each of them using a failure detector. Both cluster membership and failure detection are managed using a gossip based communication protocol. (See SWIM: scalable weakly-consistent infection-style process group membership protocol.)

To replicate data (more specifically, individual writes/updates/deletes), single leader replication model is used. A group of keys are assigned to a leader replica, which is elected using a leader election mechanism after a membership change. Remaining replicas become the backups of that leader for that group of keys. When the leader replica is detected as failed by the failure detector, remaining replicas start a new leader election round and elect a new leader. During the election process, the database becomes unavailable for a short period and all requests will be blocked until election is completed.

Only the leader replica accepts and processes the write requests, backup replicas internally forward writes to the leader without notifying the client. So regardless of the replica type, leader or backup, a client can send a write request. After processing the write request, leader replica propagates it to the backup replicas.

More on consistency

Currently, Global Databases are weakly consistent, they do not support strong consistency yet. Response of a write request is returned to the client after the leader replica processes the operation, without waiting for ACK from the majority of backups. Result of the write is replicated to backup replicas asynchronously in parallel.

Read requests are processed by any replica, which gives better read scalability but also means a read request may return a stale value until the result of a write operation for the same key reaches the backup replica.

Would be easier without conflicts!

In case of a cluster wide failure such as a network partition, multiple leaders can be elected for the same key. That means multiple replicas to accept writes and data to diverge on different replicas. It would be possible to prevent conflicts happening at the beginning with a stronger model by using protocols like Calvin or Spanner (or maybe even Paxos, Raft), but that's a different path we don't want to take at the moment.

Instead, Global Database allows conflicts to happen and resolves them using a LWW (last-write-wins) algorithm and converge the replicas to the same state eventually. Each write in Upstash database has a unique, monotonic sequence number. Every time a replica becomes the leader, it marks the sequence of the first write it processes. When two leader replicas discover each other, they share their writes after becoming the leader, and they resolve their conflicts.

Not all replicas are equal

Some replicas are more equal than others. Because only some of them can be elected as leaders. In a global database cluster, a replica can be marked as learner, which makes it unsuitable for leader election. Learner replicas always remain readonly and cannot be a candidate for leadership.

Adding learner replicas doesn't affect stability of the cluster and they cannot cause write conflicts when they are split away. Even when they are split from the leader, they still continue to allow read requests and sync the remaining writes after the split is healed. So learner replicas are a very good utility for us to expand more edge locations.

More regions, more replicas?

In our initial release, we are offering Global Database with five replicas and in five regions. And replicas outside of the US and EU are marked as learners, so only replicas in US and EU regions can be elected as leaders. This narrows down the possibility of write-conflicts during a network partition. But also allows us to add more regions as learner replicas without worrying about network partitions.

Still way to go

Currently Global Databases are designed only to optimize/minimize the latency of read operations. They are not a good fit for write-heavy loads. We are working to improve the latency for write operations too with a better design.

In addition to the initial five region setup, we are considering opening more regions and/or different region groups in future due to demand and feedback from our users.

You can reach us on Twitter and Discord to share your thoughts/ideas and for your questions.