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High availability vs Load balancing vs redundancy in messaging application SMPP

SMPP Load balancing

This article written based on our  experience on real world in messaging domain. Though the writing may not be very impressive, but we can assure you that a complete reading  will give you enough information on how to Scale with Speed.

I often get requests from our clients for high availability of their application. While requesting for high availability most of the time people assume that it will also act as load balancer and scale their application. But it is not true. Load balancer is actually a prerequisite to implement high availability.

Before I discuss further on load balancer, let me briefly tell you that high availability precisely means running your application from multiple geo-location which can be within a country or can be in two different continents. Choosing the ideal scenario depends on your customer base. If you are catering for only domestic audience then its better to host your services within the same country to avoid any undue latency.

Coming to redundancy, the scope is very wide. Degree of redundancy is relative and varies man to man. An organisation my feel that having their application running from two different geo-location is redundant, whereas at the same time another organization may like to put some more servers in different continents to make their application even more redundant for global audience. Some may be happy with a single load balancer whereas at the same time, some may think of adding multiple load balancer to achieve a near zero downtime. In short redundancy is a relative choice and should be decided based on criticality and affordability.

Load balancer is usually configured to distribute traffic based on round robin algorithm to all the healthy and connected nodes. It also does a health check at regular intervals to keep a track of healthy nodes. For pure TCP traffic such as SMPP, you need a TCP based load balancer and for web servers you can use Nginx as load balancer.

Challenges –

The biggest challenge of setting up high availability application are regular updates. Any new update needs to be pushed to all the locations. If you are using a docker container, there are tools available to make your life easier. For RESTful API updates are straight forward, but in the case of large web application, it is highly recommended to use CDN for all the assets, to make the updates smoother.

Now that your application is fully redundant, its time to discuss about other components such as caching Db, SQL databases, any other service running important job, file system (logs), upstream connectivity etc. Can we make everything redundant? Answer is yes with some riders. Lets go one by one.

Database –

Enough work has been done by Opensource community to make major databases highly scalable. For SQL database, sharding(horizontal scaling) should be treated as a buzzword and should be adopted as a last resort especially when you have exhausted all the options to increase your write.

Note – A quick suggestion is to use SSD drives to increase your write performance.

The moment you decide to scale horizontally, its day zero for you and entire application may require an architectural change.

So my humble suggestion is to scale horizontally as long as possible.

Humble suggestions on designing Database Architecture :

One: Never limit yourself running single instance to save some cost. From day one, you must opt for a replication server sitting at different geo-location. At initial stage we try to keep application and Db on same machine to save some cost. But, what happens if you are attacked with a ransomware, when you are just getting started? Your replication server will come to your rescue. There will be some downtime, but it will save you from going into depression. So thumb rule is to use a replication server from day one of your business.

Important Note: RAID and replication is not same. RAID can safeguard you from physical damage of disk but not from ransomware.

Two: Try to keep your Db server on a different machine for better performance and added security.

Three: When you reach the write bottleneck (IOPS), try to use one of your replication machines as  read node. Even if it fails to handle the desired load of traffic, do not waste your time in adding a new machine to your cluster. If you have more than two machines and make one of them as a proxy. (Details on setting up of Proxy is out of the scope of this blog, but it’s not that complicated if you know how to do it.

Final Say:

Scaling your DB is a decision rather than know how. Go for vertical scaling followed by cluster. Sharding should be avoided.

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