Session Stickiness: A Fatal Misconception

The biggest misconception I'd like to lay to rest is that of mixing the concept of balancing load and session stickiness. Session stickiness is an approach to ensure that a specific visitor to the site is serviced by a machine in the cluster and that that visitor will continue to return to that machine throughout the life of his visit. If a request arrives at a load balancer and it assigns it to a machine based on information other than load metrics, it is not really balancing load.

One can argue that the attempt is to balance the load of a complete session rather than the load of an individual request. The Web exists on the terms of one short request after another. The act of bundling them into large composite transactions for the purpose of application design makes sense. However, doing this on the level of the load balancer leads to poor resource utilization and complicated resource allocation needs.

Many application programmers will tell you that all complicated web applications require application or web servers to store the state of the session locally (because sticking it in a centralized place is too expensive) and that this need mandates the use of session-sticky load balancing. Session information can be stored locally on the application or web serverthis technique necessitates sticky sessions. Sticking a user to a specific web server because her session information is stored there and only there should have some pretty obvious implications on the fault-tolerance of the solution. If that server were to become unavailable, that user and every other user unfortunate enough to have been "stuck" to that server would certainly be aware of a single point of failure in your system architecture.

Sessions information can also be stored on some shared storage medium such as a database; this approach is common but can require tremendous horsepower. However, one other party is involved that web application designers always seem to forget aboutthe client.

Far too little attention is given to the art of cookies. At times, session information is so large that it could never conceivably fit in a user's cookie. However, I have yet to be presented with an architecture where a user's session data could not be split into rarely accessed or rarely updated components stored in a centralized backing store and frequently accessed or frequently updated components stored securely in a client's cookie. If this can be done, the load balancing techniques used in the architecture can be radically changed for the better.

Scalable Internet Architectures
Scalable Internet Architectures
ISBN: 067232699X
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 114

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