Apache > ZooKeeper

ZooKeeper Observers

Observers: Scaling ZooKeeper Without Hurting Write Performance

Although ZooKeeper performs very well by having clients connect directly to voting members of the ensemble, this architecture makes it hard to scale out to huge numbers of clients. The problem is that as we add more voting members, the write performance drops. This is due to the fact that a write operation requires the agreement of (in general) at least half the nodes in an ensemble and therefore the cost of a vote can increase significantly as more voters are added.

We have introduced a new type of ZooKeeper node called an Observer which helps address this problem and further improves ZooKeeper's scalability. Observers are non-voting members of an ensemble which only hear the results of votes, not the agreement protocol that leads up to them. Other than this simple distinction, Observers function exactly the same as Followers - clients may connect to them and send read and write requests to them. Observers forward these requests to the Leader like Followers do, but they then simply wait to hear the result of the vote. Because of this, we can increase the number of Observers as much as we like without harming the performance of votes.

Observers have other advantages. Because they do not vote, they are not a critical part of the ZooKeeper ensemble. Therefore they can fail, or be disconnected from the cluster, without harming the availability of the ZooKeeper service. The benefit to the user is that Observers may connect over less reliable network links than Followers. In fact, Observers may be used to talk to a ZooKeeper server from another data center. Clients of the Observer will see fast reads, as all reads are served locally, and writes result in minimal network traffic as the number of messages required in the absence of the vote protocol is smaller.

How to use Observers

Setting up a ZooKeeper ensemble that uses Observers is very simple, and requires just two changes to your config files. Firstly, in the config file of every node that is to be an Observer, you must place this line:


This line tells ZooKeeper that the server is to be an Observer. Secondly, in every server config file, you must add :observer to the server definition line of each Observer. For example:


This tells every other server that server.1 is an Observer, and that they should not expect it to vote. This is all the configuration you need to do to add an Observer to your ZooKeeper cluster. Now you can connect to it as though it were an ordinary Follower. Try it out, by running:

$ bin/zkCli.sh -server localhost:2181

where localhost:2181 is the hostname and port number of the Observer as specified in every config file. You should see a command line prompt through which you can issue commands like ls to query the ZooKeeper service.

How to use Observer Masters

Observers function simple as non-voting members of the ensemble, sharing the Learner interface with Followers and holding only a slightly different internal pipeline. Both maintain connections along the quorum port with the Leader by which they learn of all new proposals on the ensemble.

By default, Observers connect to the Leader of the quorum along its quorum port and this is how they learn of all new proposals on the ensemble. There are benefits to allowing Observers to connect to the Followers instead as a means of plugging into the commit stream in place of connecting to the Leader. It shifts the burden of supporting Observers off the Leader and allow it to focus on coordinating the commit of writes. This means better performance when the Leader is under high load, particularly high network load such as can happen after a leader election when many Learners need to sync. It reduces the total network connections maintained on the Leader when there are a high number of observers. Activating Followers to support Observers allow the overall number of Observers to scale into the hundreds. On the other end, Observer availability is improved since it will take shorter time for a high number of Observers to finish syncing and start serving client traffic.

This feature can be activated by letting all members of the ensemble know which port will be used by the Followers to listen for Observer connections. The following entry, when added to the server config file, will instruct Observers to connect to peers (Leaders and Followers) on port 2191 and instruct Followers to create an ObserverMaster thread to listen and serve on that port.


Example use cases

Two example use cases for Observers are listed below. In fact, wherever you wish to scale the number of clients of your ZooKeeper ensemble, or where you wish to insulate the critical part of an ensemble from the load of dealing with client requests, Observers are a good architectural choice.