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Google's Bigtable

Published on Apr 02, 2024


Bigtable is a distributed storage system for managing structured data that is designed to scale to a very large size: petabytes of data across thousands of commodity servers. Many projects at Google store data in Bigtable, including web indexing, Google Earth, and Google Finance.

These applications place very different demands on Bigtable, both in terms of data size (from URLs to web pages to satellite imagery) and latency requirements (from backend bulk processing to real-time data serving). Despite these varied demands, Bigtable has successfully provided a flexible, high-performance solution for all of these Google products. This describes the simple data model provided by Bigtable, which gives clients dynamic control over data layout and format, and also describe the design and implementation of Bigtable.

Over the last two and a half years Google designed, implemented, and deployed a distributed storage system for managing structured data called Bigtable. Bigtable is designed to reliably scale to petabytes of data and thousands of machines. Bigtable has achieved several goals: wide applicability, scalability, high performance, and high availability.

Bigtable is used by more than sixty Google products and projects, including Google Analytics, Google Finance, Orkut, Personalized Search and Google Earth. These products use Bigtable for a variety of demanding workloads, which range from throughput-oriented batch-processing jobs to latency-sensitive serving of data to end users. The Bigtable clusters used by these products span a wide range of configurations, from a handful to thousands of servers, and store up to several hundred terabytes of data.

Introduction of Google’s Bigtable

The Bigtable API provides functions for creating and deleting tables and column families. It also provides functions for changing cluster, table, and column family metadata, such as access control rights. Client applications can write or delete values in Bigtable, look up values from individual rows, or iterate over a subset of the data in a table. Figure 2 shows C++ code that uses a RowMutation abstraction to perform a series of updates. (Irrelevant details were elided to keep the example short.) The call to Apply performs an atomic mutation to the Webtable: it adds one anchor to and deletes a different anchor.

Google’s Bigtable

Figure 3 shows C++ code that uses a Scanner abstraction to iterate over all anchors in a particular row. Clients can iterate over multiple column families, and there are several mechanisms for limiting the rows, columns, and timestamps produced by a scan. For example, we could restrict the scan above to only produce anchors whose columns match the regular expression anchor:*, or to only produce anchors whose timestamps fall within ten days of the current time. Bigtable supports several other features that allow the user to manipulate data in more complex ways. First, Bigtable supports single-row transactions, which can be used to perform atomic read-modify-write sequences on data stored under a single row key. Bigtable does not currently support general transactions

Building Blocks

(GFS) to store log and data files. A Bigtable cluster typically operates in a shared pool of machines that run a wide variety of other distributed applications, and Bigtable processes often share the same machines with processes from other applications. Bigtable depends on a cluster management system for scheduling jobs, managing resources on shared machines, dealing with machine failures, and monitoring machine status.

The Google SSTable file format is used internally to store Bigtable data. An SSTable provides a persistent, ordered immutable map from keys to values, where both keys and values are arbitrary byte strings. Operations are provided to look up the value associated with a specified key, and to iterate over all key/value pairs in a specified key range. Internally, each SSTable contains a sequence of blocks (typically each block is 64KB in size, but this is configurable).

A block index (stored at the end of the SSTable) is used to locate blocks; the index is loaded into memory when the SSTable is opened. A lookup can be performed with a single disk seek: we first find the appropriate block by performing a binary search in the in-memory index, and then reading the appropriate block from disk. Optionally, an SSTable can be completely mapped into memory, which allows us to perform lookups and scans without touching disk.

Bigtable relies on a highly-available and persistent distributed lock service called Chubby. A Chubby service consists of five active replicas, one of which is elected to be the master and actively serve requests. The service is live when a majority of the replicas are running and can communicate with each other.

Chubby uses the Paxos algorithm to keep its replicas consistent in the face of failure. Chubby provides a namespace that consists of directories and small files. Each directory or file can be used as a lock, and reads and writes to a file are atomic. The Chubby client library provides consistent caching of Chubby files. Each Chubby client maintains a session with a Chubby service. A client’s session expires if it is unable to renew its session lease within the lease expiration time. When a client’s session expires, it loses any locks and open handles. Chubby clients can also register callbacks on Chubby files and directories for notification of changes or session expiration.

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