With replication

  • Copies of each partition are stored in multiple nodes

Partitioning strategies

  • unfair partitioning may lead to hotspots e.g. nodes with more data than the others
  • assign records randomly, can’t read data
  • by range e.g. given a dictionary with sorted keys node 1 can have words from A -> B, node 2 B -> C, etc
    • within each partition keys are stored in order
    • range scans are easy
    • may lead to hotspots e.g. if all the keys belong to the range A -> B node 1 will be the hotspot
  • by hash key e.g. take the hashkey of the key and assign it to a range (consistent hashing)
    • distributes data evenly
    • no range scans
    • cassandra allows a multi-column primary key, the first part of the key is hashed to determine the partition and the other columns are used as a concatenated index to use SSTables
  • take a hybrid approach with skewed workloads e.g. where all the writes/reads are for the same key
    • append 2 digits to the key e.g. key00, key01, …, key99, key00 = tradeoff with read

Rebalancing partitions

Things that change in a database over time:

  • more throughput = more cpu,ram,disk = vertical scaling
  • a machine fails and other machines need to take over the machine’s reponsabilities

Rebalancing requirements:

  • load should be fairly shared
  • the DB should accept read/writes while it’s being rebalanced
  • no more data than necessary should be moved (minimize IO)


  • fixed number of partitions (Riak)
    • when # of partitions > # of nodes, assign multiple partitions to each node
    • when a new node is added it steals some partitions from every other node
    • when a node is removed it distributes its partitions to every other node
    • the # of partitions is fixed when the DB is set up and not changed afterward
    • choosing the # of partitions is difficult if the size of the dataset varies
  • dynamic partitioning (MongoDB)
    • a partition is split once it reaches a limit or merged if it has very little data
    • number of partitions adapt to the size of the dataset
    • an empty DB starts with a single partition and all the writes are written to the same node i.e. the other nodes are idle
  • partitioning proportionally to nodes (Cassandra)
    • fixed number of partitions per node, partitions grow without affecting the nodes
    • when a node is added the partitions become smaller and the data is redistributed

Request routing

Problem: how does a client know which node to connect to?

  • Allow clients to connect to any node via a round-robin load balancer
    • Cassandra and Riak use a gossip protocol to inform of changes in the cluster
    • A request can be sent to any node which forwards it to the appropiate node
    • Puts more complexity on the DB to avoid a dependency
  • Send requests to a routing tier acting as a partition aware load-balancer
    • ZooKeeper is a coordination service that keeps track of the cluster metadata mapping partitions to nodes, whenever a partition is created/updated/removed ZooKeeper notifies the routing tier
  • Client is aware of the partition and doesn’t need an intermediary