4 Cluster Your Objects and Data

Coherence is an essential ingredient for building reliable, high-scale clustered applications. The term clustering refers to the use of more than one server to run an application, usually for reliability and scalability purposes. Coherence provides all of the necessary capabilities for applications to achieve the maximum possible availability, reliability, scalability and performance. Virtually any clustered application will benefit from using Coherence.

Coherence and Clustered Data

One of the primary uses of Coherence is to cluster an application's objects and data. In the simplest sense, this means that all of the objects and data that an application delegates to Coherence are automatically available to and accessible by all servers in the application cluster. None of the objects or data will be lost in the event of server failure.

By clustering the application's objects and data, Coherence solves many of the difficult problems related to achieving availability, reliability, scalability, performance, serviceability and manageability of clustered applications.


Availability refers to the percentage of time that an application is operating. High Availability refers to achieving availability close to 100%. Coherence is used to achieve High Availability in several different ways:

Supporting Redundancy in Java Applications

Coherence makes it possible for an application to run on more than one server, which means that the servers are redundant. Using a load balancer, for example, an application running on redundant servers will be available if one server is still operating. Coherence enables redundancy by allowing an application to share, coordinate access to, update and receive modification events for critical runtime information across all of the redundant servers. Most applications cannot operate in a redundant server environment unless they are architected to run in such an environment; Coherence is a key enabler of such an architecture.

Enabling Dynamic Cluster Membership

Coherence tracks exactly what servers are available at any given moment. When the application is started on an additional server, Coherence is instantly aware of that server coming online, and automatically joins it into the cluster. This allows redundancy (and thus availability) to be dynamically increased by adding servers.

Exposing Knowledge of Server Failure

Coherence reliably detects most types of server failure in less than a second, and immediately fails over all of the responsibilities of the failed server without losing any data. Consequently, server failure does not impact availability.

Part of an availability management is Mean Time To Recovery (MTTR), which is a measurement of how much time it takes for an unavailable application to become available. Since server failure is detected and handled in less than a second, and since redundancy means that the application is available even when that server goes down, the MTTR due to server failure is zero from the point of view of application availability, and typically sub-second from the point of view of a load-balancer re-routing an incoming request.

Eliminating Other Single Points Of Failure (SPOFs)

Coherence provides insulation against failures in other infrastructure tiers. For example, Coherence write-behind caching and Coherence distributed parallel queries can insulate an application from a database failure; in fact, using these capabilities, two different Coherence customers have had database failure during operational hours, yet their production Coherence-based applications maintained their availability and their operational status.

Providing Support for Disaster Recovery (DR) and Contingency Planning

Coherence can even insulate against failure of an entire data center, by clustering across multiple data centers and failing over the responsibilities of an entire data center. Again, this capability has been proven in production, with a Coherence customer running a mission-critical real-time financial system surviving a complete data center outage.


Reliability refers to the percentage of time that an application is able to process correctly. In other words, an application may be available, yet unreliable if it cannot correctly handle the application processing. An example that we use to illustrate high availability but low reliability is a mobile phone network: While most mobile phone networks have very high uptimes (referring to availability), dropped calls tend to be relatively common (referring to reliability).

Coherence is explicitly build to achieve very high levels of reliability. For example, server failure does not impact "in flight" operations, since each operation is atomically protected from server failure, and will internally re-route to a secondary node based on a dynamic pre-planned recovery strategy. In other words, every operation has a backup plan ready to go!

Coherence is designed based on the assumption that failures are always about to occur. Consequently, the algorithms employed by Coherence are carefully designed to assume that each step within an operation could fail due to a network, server, operating system, JVM or other resource outage. An example of how Coherence plans for these failures is the synchronous manner in which it maintains redundant copies of data; in other words, Coherence does not gamble with the application's data, and that ensures that the application will continue to work correctly, even during periods of server failure.


Scalability refers to the ability of an application to predictably handle more load. An application exhibits linear scalability if the maximum amount of load that an application can sustain is directly proportional to the hardware resources that the application is running on. For example, if an application running on 2 servers can handle 2000 requests per second, then linear scalability would imply that 10 servers would handle 10000 requests per second.

Linear scalability is the goal of a scalable architecture, but it is difficult to achieve. The measurement of how well an application scales is called the scaling factor (SF). A scaling factor of 1.0 represents linear scalability, while a scaling factor of 0.0 represents no scalability. Coherence provides several capabilities designed to help applications achieve linear scalability.

When planning for extreme scale, the first thing to understand is that application scalability is limited by any necessary shared resource that does not exhibit linear scalability. The limiting element is referred to as a bottleneck, and in most applications, the bottleneck is the data source, such as a database or an EIS.

Coherence helps to solve the scalability problem by targeting obvious bottlenecks, and by completely eliminating bottlenecks whenever possible. It accomplishes this through a variety of capabilities, including:

Distributed Caching

Coherence uses a combination of replication, distribution, partitioning and invalidation to reliably maintain data in a cluster in such a way that regardless of which server is processing, the data that it obtains from Coherence is the same. In other words, Coherence provides a distributed shared memory implementation, also referred to as Single System Image (SSI) and Coherent Clustered Caching.

Any time that an application can obtain the data it needs from the application tier, it is eliminating the data source as the Single Point Of Bottleneck (SPOB).


Partitioning refers to the ability for Coherence to load-balance data storage, access and management across all of the servers in the cluster. For example, when using Coherence data partitioning, if there are four servers in a cluster then each will manage 25% of the data, and if another server is added, each server will dynamically adjust so that each of the five servers will manage 20% of the data, and this data load balancing will occur without any application interruption and without any lost data or operations. Similarly, if one of those five servers were to die, each of the remaining four servers would be managing 25% of the data, and this data load balancing will occur without any application interruption and without any lost data or operations - including the 20% of the data that was being managed on the failed server.

Coherence accomplishes failover without data loss by synchronously maintaining a configurable number of copies of the data within the cluster. Just as the data management responsibility is spread out over the cluster, so is the responsibility for backing up data, so in the previous example, each of the remaining four servers would have roughly 25% of the failed server's data backed up on it. This mesh architecture guarantees that on server failure, no particular remaining server is inundated with a massive amount of additional responsibility.

Coherence prevents loss of data even when multiple instances of the application run on a single physical server within the cluster. It does so by ensuring that backup copies of data are being managed on different physical servers, so that if a physical server fails or is disconnected, all of the data being managed by the failed server has backups ready to go on a different server.

Lastly, partitioning supports linear scalability of both data capacity and throughput. It accomplishes the scalability of data capacity by evenly balancing the data across all servers, so four servers can naturally manage two times as much data as two servers. Scalability of throughput is also a direct result of load-balancing the data across all servers, since as servers are added, each server is able to use its full processing power to manage a smaller and smaller percentage of the overall data set. For example, in a ten-server cluster each server has to manage 10% of the data operations, and - since Coherence uses a peer-to-peer architecture - 10% of those operations are coming from each server. With ten times that many servers (that is, 100 servers), each server is managing only 1% of the data operations, and only 1% of those operations are coming from each server - but there are ten times as many servers, so the cluster is accomplishing ten times the total number of operations! In the 10-server example, if each of the ten servers was issuing 100 operations per second, they would each be sending 10 of those operations to each of the other servers, and the result would be that each server was receiving 100 operations (10x10) that it was responsible for processing. In the 100-server example, each would still be issuing 100 operations per second, but each would be sending only one operation to each of the other servers, so the result would be that each server was receiving 100 operations (100x1) that it was responsible for processing. This linear scalability is made possible by modern switched network architectures that provide backplanes that scale linearly to the number of ports on the switch, providing each port with dedicated fully-duplexed (upstream and downstream) bandwidth. Since each server is only sending and receiving 100 operations (in both the 10-server and 100-server examples), the network bandwidth utilization is roughly constant per port regardless of the number of servers in the cluster.

Session Management

One common use case for Coherence clustering is to manage user sessions (conversational state) in the cluster. This capability is provided by the Coherence*Web module, which is a built-in feature of Coherence. Coherence*Web provides linear scalability for HTTP Session Management in clusters of hundreds of production servers. It can achieve this linear scalability because at its core it is built on Coherence dynamic partitioning.

Session management highlights the scalability problem that typifies shared data sources: If an application could not share data across the servers, it would have to delegate that data management entirely to the shared store, which is typically the application's database. If the HTTP session were stored in the database, each HTTP request (in the absence of sticky load-balancing) would require a read from the database, causing the desired reads-per-second from the database to increase linearly with the size of the server cluster. Further, each HTTP request causes an update of its corresponding HTTP session, so regardless of sticky load balancing, to ensure that HTTP session data is not lost when a server fails the desired writes-per-second to the database will also increase linearly with the size of the server cluster. In both cases, the actual reads and writes per second that a database is capable of, does not scale in relation to the number of servers requesting those reads and writes, and the database quickly becomes a bottleneck, forcing availability, reliability (for example, asynchronous writes) and performance compromises. Additionally, related to performance, each read from a database has an associated latency, and that latency increases dramatically as the database experiences increasing load.

Coherence*Web, however, has the same latency in a 2-server cluster as it has in a 200-server cluster, since all HTTP session read operations that cannot be handled locally (for example, locality as the result of the sticky load balancing) are spread out evenly across the rest of the cluster, and all update operations (which must be handled remotely to ensure survival of the HTTP sessions) are likewise spread out evenly across the rest of the cluster. The result is linear scalability with constant latency, regardless of the size of the cluster.


Performance is the inverse of latency, and latency is the measurement of how long something takes to complete. If increasing performance is the goal, then getting rid of anything that has any latency is the solution. Obviously, it is impossible to get rid of all latencies, since the High Availability and reliability aspects of an application are counting on the underlying infrastructure, such as Coherence, to maintain reliable up-to-date back-ups of important information, which means that some operations (such as data modifications and pessimistic transactions) have unavoidable latencies. However, every remaining operation that could possibly have any latency must be targeted for elimination, and Coherence provides a large number of capabilities designed to do just that.


Just as partitioning dynamically load-balances data evenly across the entire server cluster, replication ensures that a desired set of data is up-to-date on every single server in the cluster at all times. Replication allows operations running on any server to obtain the data that they need locally, at basically no cost, because that data has already been replicated to that server. In other words, replication is a tool to guarantee locality of reference, and the result is zero-latency access to replicated data.

Near Caching

Since replication works best for data that should be on all servers, it follows that replication is inefficient for data that an application would want to avoid copying to all servers. For example, data that changes all of the time and very large data sets are both poorly suited to replication, but both are excellently suited to partitioning, since it exhibits linear scale of data capacity and throughput.

The only downside of partitioning is that it introduces latency for data access, and in most applications the data access rate far out-weighs the data modification rate. To eliminate the latency associated with partitioned data access, near caching maintains frequently- and recently-used data from the partitioned cache on the specific servers that are accessing that data, and it keeps that data coherent with event-based invalidation. In other words, near caching keeps the most-likely-to-be-needed data near to where it will be used, thus providing good locality of access, yet backed up by the linear scalability of partitioning.

Write-Behind, Write-Coalescing and Write-Batching

Since the transactional throughput in the cluster is linearly scalable, the cost associated with data changes can be a fixed latency, typically in the range of a few milliseconds, and the total number of transactions per second is limited only by the size of the cluster. In one application, Coherence was able to achieve transaction rates close to a half-million transactions per second - and that on a cluster of commodity two-CPU servers.

Often, the data being managed by Coherence is actually a temporary copy of data that exists in an official System Of Record (SOR), such as a database. To avoid having the database become a transaction bottleneck, and to eliminate the latency of database updates, Coherence provides a Write-Behind capability, which allows the application to change data in the cluster, and those changes are asynchronously replayed to the application's database (or EIS). By managing the changes in a clustered cache (which has all of the High Availability, reliability and scalability attributes described previously,) the pending changes are immune to server failure and the total rate of changes scales linearly with the size of the cluster.

The Write-Behind functionality is implemented by queuing each data change; the queue contains a list of what changes must be written to the System Of Record. The duration of an item within the queue is configurable, and is referred to as the Write-Behind Delay. When data changes, it is added to the write-behind queue (if it is not already in the queue), and the queue entry is set to ripen after the configured Write-Behind Delay has passed. When the queue entry has ripened, the latest copy of the corresponding data is written to the System Of Record.

To avoid overwhelming the System Of Record, Coherence will replay only the latest copies of data to the database, thus coalescing many updates that occur to the same piece data into a single database operation. The longer the Write-Behind Delay, the more coalescing may occur. Additionally, if many different pieces of data have changed, all of those updates can be batched (for example, using JDBC statement batching) into a single database operation. In this way, a massive breadth of changes (number of pieces of data changed) and depth of changes (number of times each was changed) can be bundled into a single database operation, which results in dramatically reduced load on the database. The batching is also fully configurable; one option, called the Write Batch Factor, even allows some of the queue entries that have not yet ripened to be included in the batched update.


Serviceability refers to the ease and extent of changes that can be affected without affecting availability. Coherence helps to increase an application's serviceability by allowing servers to be taken off-line without impacting the application availability. Those servers can be serviced and brought back online without any end-user or processing interruptions. Many configuration changes related to Coherence can also be made on a node-by-node basis in the same manner. With careful planning, even major application changes can be rolled into production—again, one node at a time—without interrupting the application.


Manageability refers to the level of information that a running system provides, and the capability to tweak settings related to that information. For example, Coherence provides a clusterwide view of management information through the standard JMX API, so that the entire cluster can be managed from a single server. The information provided includes hit and miss rates, cache sizes, read-, write- and write-behind statistics, and detailed information all the way down to the network packet level.

Additionally, Coherence allows applications to place their own management information—and expose their own configurable settings—through the same clustered JMX implementation. The result is an application infrastructure that makes managing and monitoring a clustered application as simple as managing and monitoring a single server, and all through Java's standard management API.


There are a lot of challenges in building a highly available application that exhibits scalable performance and is both serviceable and manageable. While there are many ways to build distributed applications, only Coherence reliably clusters objects and data. After objects and data are clustered by Coherence, all the servers in the cluster can access and modify those objects and that data, and the objects and data managed by Coherence will not be affected if and when servers fail. By providing a variety of advanced capabilities, each of which is configurable, and application can achieve the optimal balance of redundancy, scalability and performance, and do so within a manageable and serviceable environment.