Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Multicasts and Latency

The next few entries in the series will consider some aspects of multicast protocols.

As described in [Shrivastava 90a], the latency of a multicast service is defined to be the time taken for a message, once sent, to reach the destination processes. This latency is particularly important for protocols providing reliability and ordering guarantees. As we shall see, whereas the latency for an unreliable multicast service is bounded (typically of the order of a few milliseconds), the latency for a multicast service which operates in the presence of failures (message losses and node crashes) can be bounded or unbounded depending upon the implementation.

Existing order preserving protocols can be broadly classified in the following way:
  • message history based: the main idea behind such protocols is that when a process sends a message it appends some historical information about the messages it has received in its recent past. This historical information enables the receivers to retrieve any missing messages and to order them properly. This type of protocol ensures that an incomplete multicast is eventually completed, and hence possesses an unbounded latency property.
  • centralised distributors: here the sender delivers the message to a specific member of the group (the primary) who is then responsible for distributing the message to the fellow members of the group. The primary can assign a total order to the messages it receives. As we have already seen, failure detection mechanisms are necessary to detect failed primaries and to elect new primaries which can take over and complete the multicasts. Such protocols can possess bounded latency, but the necessity to detect asynchronously occurring failures can impose an overhead on performance.
  • multi-phase commit: these protocols, providing total order, use multiphase algorithms (typically 2 or 3 message rounds) which are similar to the two-phase algorithm described earlier for atomic action commits. The sender delivers the message to the destinations which return sufficient information to the sender about the messages that they have received so that in the subsequent rounds of the protocol the sender can impose an identical order of the message onto the destinations. The message is only considered to have been delivered if all of the phases of the protocol complete. Such protocols provide bounded latency.
  • clock-based: these protocols are an important class of the multi-phase algorithms, and assume the existence of a global time base. Timestamps derived from such a time base can then be used for imposing a total order on messages. Such protocols can provide constant latency communication, having the attractive property that if a sender multicasts a message at clock time T, then it can be sure that all functioning receivers will have received the message by clock time T + ∆, where ∆ is the constant indicating the protocol latency (∆ must be determined by applying worst case timing and failure assumptions).
We shall next examine a system which provides a reliable multicast protocol using a message history based approach.

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