Request routing with global tables - Amazon DynamoDB

Request routing with global tables

Perhaps the most complex piece of a global table deployment is managing request routing. Requests must first go from an end user to a Region that’s chosen and routed in some manner. The request encounters some stack of services in that Region, including a compute layer that perhaps consists of a load balancer backed by an AWS Lambdafunction, container, or Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) node, and possibly other services including another database. That compute layer communicates with DynamoDB It should do that by using the local endpoint for that Region. The data in the global table replicates to all other participating Regions, and each Region has a similar stack of services around its DynamoDB table.

The global table provides each stack in the various Regions with a local copy of the same data. You might consider designing for a single stack in a single Region and anticipate making remote calls to a secondary Region’s DynamoDB endpoint if there’s an issue with the local DynamoDB table. This is not best practice. The latencies associated with going across Regions might be 100 times higher than for local access. A back-and-forth series of 5 requests might take milliseconds when performed locally but seconds when crossing the globe. It’s better to route the end user to another Region for processing. To ensure resiliency you need replication across multiple Regions, with replication of the compute layer as well as the data layer.

There are numerous alternative techniques to route an end user request to a Region for processing. The optimum choice depends on your write mode and your failover considerations. This section discusses four options: client-driven, compute-layer, Route 53, and Global Accelerator.

Client-driven request routing

With client-driven request routing, an end user client such as an application, a web page with JavaScript another client will keeps track of the valid application endpoints. In this case that will be application endpoints like an Amazon API Gateway rather than literal DynamoDB endpoints. Tne end user client uses its own embedded logic to choose which Region to communicate with. It may choose based on random selection, lowest observed latencies, highest observed bandwidth measurements, or locally-performed health checks.

Diagram of how writing to a client's chosen target works.

The advantage to client-driven request routing is it can be adaptive to things such as real-world public internet traffic conditions to switch Regions should it notice any degraded performance. The client must be aware of all potential endpoints, but launching a new Regional endpoint is not a frequent occurrence.

With the write to any Regionmode, a client can unilaterally select its preferred endpoint. If its access to one Region becomes impaired, the client can route to another endpoint.

With the write to one Region mode, the client will need a mechanism to route its writes to the currently active region. This could be as basic as empirically testing which region is presently accepting writes (noting any write rejections and falling back to an alternate) or as complex as calling a global coordinator to query for the current application state (perhaps built on the Route 53 Application Recovery Controller (ARC) routing control which provides a 5-region quorum-driven system to maintain global state for needs such as this). The client can decide if reads can go to any Region for eventual consistency or must be routed to the active region for strong consistency. For further information see How Route 53 works.

With the write to your Region mode, the client needs to determine the home region for the data set it’s working against. For example, if the client corresponds to a user account and each user account is homed to a Region, the client can request the appropriate endpoint from a global login system.

For example, a financial services company that helps users manage their business finances via the web could use global tables with a write to your Region mode. Each user must login to a central service. That service returns credentials and the endpoint for the Region where those credentials will work. The credentials are valid for a short time. After that the webpage auto-negotiates a new login, which provides an opportunity to potentially redirect the user’s activity to a new Region.

Compute-layer request routing

With compute-layer request routing, the code running in the compute layer decides whether it wants to process the request locally, or pass it to a copy of itself that's running in another Region. When you use the write to one Region mode, the compute layer may detect that it’s not the active region and allow local read operations while forwarding all write operations onto another Region. This compute layer code must be aware of data topology and routing rules, and enforce them reliably based on the latest settings that specify which Regions are active for which data. The outer software stack within the Region doesn’t have to be aware of how read and write requests are routed by the microservice. In a robust design, the receiving Region validates whether it is the current primary for the write operation. If it isn’t, it generates an error that indicates that the global state needs to be corrected. The receiving Region might also buffer the write operation for a while if the primary Region is in the process of changing. In all cases, the compute stack in a Region writes only to its local DynamoDB endpoint, but the compute stacks might communicate with one another.

Diagram of compute layer request routing.

In this scenario, let’s say a financial services company uses a follow-the-sun Single Primary model. They use a system and a library for this routing process. Their overall system maintains the global state, similar to AWS's Route 53 ARC routing control. They use a global table to track which Region is the primary Region, and when the next primary switch is scheduled. All read and write operations go through the library, which coordinates with their system. The library allows read operations to be performed locally, at low latency. For write operations, the application checks if the local Region is the current primary Region. If so, the write operation completes directly. If not, the librate forwards the write task to the library that's in the current primary Region. That receiving library confirms that it also considers itself the primary Region and raises an error if it isn’t, which indicates a propagation delay with the global state. This approach provides a validation benefit by not writing directly to a remote DynamoDB endpoint.

Route 53 request routing

Amazon Route 53 Application Recovery Controller is a Domain Name Service (DNS) technology. With Route 53, the client requests its endpoint by looking up a well-known DNS domain name, and Route 53 returns the IP address corresponding to the regional endpoint(s) it thinks most appropriate. Route 53 has a list of routing policies it uses to determine the appropriate region. Route 53 also can do failover routing to route traffic away from regions that fail health checks.

Diagram of compute layer request routing.
  • With write to any Region mode, or if combined with the compute-layer request routing on the backend, Route 53 can be given full access to return the Region based on any complex internal rules such as the Region in closest network proximity, or closest geographic proximity, or any other choice.

  • With write to one Region mode, Route 53 can be configured to return the currently active region (using Route 53 ARC).


    Clients cache the IP addresses in the response from Route 53 for a time indicated by the time to live (TTL) setting on the domain name. A longer TTL extends the recovery time objective (RTO) for all clients to recognize the new endpoint. A value of 60 seconds is typical for failover use. Not all software perfectly adheres to DNS TTL expiration.

  • With write to your Region mode, it’s best to avoid Route 53 unless you're also using compute-layer request routing.

Global Accelerator request routing

A client uses AWS Global Accelerator to looks up the well-known domain name in Route 53. However, instead of getting back an IP address that corresponds to a regional endpoint the client receives an anycast static IP address which routes to the nearest AWS edge location. Starting from that edge location, all traffic gets routed on the private AWS network and to some endpoint (such as a load balancer or API Gateway) in a Region chosen by routing rules that are maintained within Global Accelerator. Compared with routing based on Route 53 rules, Global Accelerator request routing has lower latencies because it reduces the amount of traffic on the public internet. In addition, because Global Accelerator doesn’t depend on DNS TTL expiration to change routing rules it can adjust routing more quickly.

Diagram of how client writing with Global Accelerator can work.
  • With write to any Region mode, or if combined with the compute-layer request routing on the back- end, Global Accelerator works seamlessly. The client connects to the nearest edge location and need not be concerned with which Region receives the request.

  • With write to one Region Global Accelerator routing rules must send requests to the currently active Region. You can use health checks that artificially report a failure on any Region that’s not considered by your global system to be the active Region. As with DNS, it’s possible to use an alternative DNS domain name for routing read requests if the requests can be from any Region.

  • With write to your Region mode, it’s best to avoid Global Accelerator unless you're also using compute-layer request routing.