Joe Gregorio

The December issue of Linux Journal was among the newest arrivals in the pile of magazines in the cafeteria this week. In his column "Linux for Suits", Doc Searls interviews some of the fine folks at Technorati and talks about some of the infrastructure they use. One of the tools mentioned is memcached, a high-performance, distributed memory object caching system, generic in nature, but intended for use in speeding up dynamic web applications by alleviating database load.

But it didn't end there. It never ends there.

Memcached is built on libevent, an API that provides a mechanism to execute a callback function when a specific event occurs on a file descriptor or after a timeout has been reached. Furthermore, libevent also support callbacks due to signals or regular timeouts. Now this leads me on a side trip to /dev/poll, epoll, and kqueue/kevent.

Libevent also leads to C10K, which is an article on how to configure servers and write code to support thousands of clients:

It's time for web servers to handle ten thousand clients simultaneously, don't you think? After all, the web is a big place now.

And computers are big, too. You can buy a 1000MHz machine with 2 gigabytes of RAM and an 1000Mbit/sec Ethernet card for $1200 or so. Let's see - at 20000 clients, that's 50KHz, 100Kbytes, and 50Kbits/sec per client. It shouldn't take any more horsepower than that to take four kilobytes from the disk and send them to the network once a second for each of twenty thousand clients. (That works out to $0.08 per client, by the way. Those $100/client licensing fees some operating systems charge are starting to look a little heavy!) So hardware is no longer the bottleneck.

In 1999 one of the busiest ftp sites, cdrom.com, actually handled 10000 clients simultaneously through a Gigabit Ethernet pipe. As of 2001, that same speed is now being offered by several ISPs, who expect it to become increasingly popular with large business customers.

In the Books to Read First of the C10K paper is a reference to a paper by Welsh, Gibble, Brewer and Culler on A Design Framework for Highly Concurrent Systems (pdf). So far it is a good read. The downside is that I'm itching to pick up a couple of cheap Debian boxes and do some experimenting/benchmarking of my own.

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