AWS Compute Blog

Application integration patterns for microservices: Fan-out strategies

This post is courtesy of Dirk Fröhner, Sr. Solutions Architect

The first blog in this series introduced asynchronous messaging for building loosely coupled systems that can scale, operate, and evolve individually. It considered messaging as a communications model for microservices architectures. This post covers concrete architectural considerations, focusing on the messaging architecture.

Wild Rydes

Wild Rydes is a fictional technology start-up. You may have heard of it – it disrupts individual transportation by replacing traditional taxis with unicorns. We use the Wild Rydes storyline in several hands-on AWS workshops. It illustrates concepts such as serverless development, event-driven design, API management, and messaging in microservices.

This blog post explores the decision-making process in building the Wild Rydes workshop, with a goal of helping you apply these concepts to your applications.

In the workshop, a customer requests a ‘unicorn’ ride using the Wild Rydes customer application. Registered unicorn drivers can use the application to manage their rides. Unicorn drivers submit a ride completion message after they have successfully delivered a customer to their destination.

Wild Rydes app image

Submit a ride completion

API exposed by the unicorn management service

At Wild Rydes, end-user clients are implemented as mobile applications and communicate via REST APIs (also known as hypermedia APIs) with the backend services.

For this use case, the application interacts with the API exposed by the unicorn management service. It uses the submit-ride-completion resource that it discovered from the API’s home document to send the relevant details of a ride to the backend. In response, the backend persists these details, creates a new completed-ride resource. This returns the respective status code, the location, and a representation of the new resource to the client. The API details are shown below.

Request from client to submit the details of a completed ride:

POST /<submit-ride-completion-resource-path> HTTP/1.1
Content-Type: application/json;charset=UTF-8
...

{
    "from": "...",
    "to": "...",
    "duration": "...",
    "distance": "...",
    "customer": "...",
    "fare": "..."
}

Response from the unicorn management service:

HTTP/1.1 201 Created
Date: Sat, 31 Aug 2019 12:00:00 GMT
Location: <url-of-newly-created-completed-ride-resource>
Content-Location: <url-of-newly-created-completed-ride-resource>
Content-Type: application/json;charset=UTF-8
...

{
    "links": {
        "self": {
            "href": "https://..."
        }
    },
    <completed-ride-resource-representation-properties>
}

Schematic architecture for the use case

The schematic architecture for the use case is shown in diagram 1 below:

Diagram 1: Mutliple microservices need information about ride completion

Diagram 1: Multiple microservices need information about ride completion

There are other microservices in Wild Rydes that are also interested in a new completed ride. The examples from the diagram are:

  • Customer notification service: customers should receive a notification in the app about their latest completed ride.
  • Customer accounting service: After all, Wild Rydes is a business, so this service is responsible for collecting the fare from the customer.
  • Customer loyalty service: Everybody wants to collect miles and would like to receive benefits for being a loyal customer.
  • Data lake ingestion service: Wild Rydes is a data-driven company and they want to ingest all data generated from any process into their data lake for arbitrary analytics.
  • Extraordinary rides service: This special service is interested in rides with fares or distances above certain thresholds for preparing insights for business managers.

Based on this scenario, let’s review the integration options.

Integration options

Integration via database

The unicorn management service stores the details of a completed ride in a database. It could share the database with the other services directly, but that creates tight coupling. Sharing the database also restricts your flexibility to scale and evolve your services.

Integration via REST APIs

What about using REST APIs for the integration? The HTTP-based implementation of the REST architectural style uses the distributed architecture concepts of the web. However, what does this mean for the implementation?

Diagram 2: Using REST APIs to communicate to microservices

Diagram 2: Using REST APIs to communicate to microservices

As shown in diagram 2 above:

  • Effectively, all interested services on the right-hand side would have to expose an API resource. These would be called by the unicorn management service for each newly completed ride.
  • To enable elasticity behind a single resource URL, you may need a load balancer in front of each interested service.
  • The unicorn management service would have to know about all these interested services and their respective APIs. Hopefully, each service uses a streamlined API resource.
  • Lastly, the unicorn management service must store, retry, and track all request attempts in case an interested service is not available. This ensures durability so we don’t lose any of these notifications.

One approach is to manage a recipient list in the unicorn management service. This adds additional complexity to the unicorn management service and coupling on both sides. Although there are self-registration and discovery approaches, managing a recipient list is not the core use case of the unicorn management service.

Diagram 3: Using a separate service to manage the fan-out to other services

Diagram 3: Using a separate service to manage the fan-out to other services

A better approach would be to externalize the recipient list into a separate Request Distribution Service, as diagram 3 shows. This decouples both sides, but binds each side to the new service. Still, the unicorn management service is still responsible for the delivery of the ride data to all the recipients. Again, this heavy lifting is not the main task of this service.

Diagram 4: Filtering information for extraordinary rides

Diagram 4: Filtering information for extraordinary rides

In diagram 4, the information filtering for the Extraordinary Rides Service is self-managed. This means that there is code on one side to either not send or to discard irrelevant ride data.

For this use case, integration via REST APIs potentially adds coupling to the services. And it adds heavy lifting to the services that is beyond their actual domain.

Integration via messaging

A third option could use messaging for the integration.

Publish-subscribe pattern

Both Amazon SNS and Amazon EventBridge can be used to implement the publish-subscribe pattern.  In this use case, we recommend Amazon SNS, which scales to support high throughput and fan-out applications. Amazon EventBridge includes direct integrations with software as a service (SaaS) applications and other AWS services. It’s ideal for publish-subscribe use cases involving these types of integrations.

Diagram 5: Using Amazon SNS to implement a publish-subscribe pattern

Diagram 5: Using Amazon SNS to implement a publish-subscribe pattern

Diagram 5 shows an SNS topic called Ride Completion Topic. The unicorn management service can now send the details about a completed ride into that topic. All interested services on the right-hand side can subscribe to this topic.

Using a message topic to publish the details of a completed ride frees us from managing the recipient list, as well as making ensuring reliable delivery of the messages. It also decouples both sides as much as possible. Services on the right-hand side can autonomously subscribe to the topic. The Unicorn Management Service does not know anything about the topic’s subscribers.

Message filter pattern

Looking at the Extraordinary Rides Service, the message filter functionality of Amazon SNS can autonomously and individually discard irrelevant messages. The Extraordinary Rides Service can specify the threshold values for the fare and distance.

Diagram 6: Filtering extraordinary rides using Amazon SNS

Diagram 6: Filtering extraordinary rides using Amazon SNS

Topic-queue-chaining pattern

Consider the publish-subscribe channel between the Unicorn Management Service, and the subscribing services on the right-hand side.

One of the consuming services may go offline for maintenance. Or the code that processes messages from the ride completion topic could run into an exception. These are two examples where a subscriber service could potentially miss topic messages.

A good pattern to apply here is topic-queue-chaining. That means that you add a queue, in our case an SQS queue, between the ride completion topic and each of the subscriber services. As messages are buffered persistently in an SQS queue, it prevents lost messages if a subscriber process run into problems for many hours or days.

Diagram 7: Chaining topics and queues to buffer messages persistently

Diagram 7: Chaining topics and queues to buffer messages persistently

Queues as buffering load balancers

An SQS queue in front of each subscriber service also acts as a buffering load balancer.

Since every message is delivered to one of potentially many consumer processes, you can scale out the subscriber services, and the message load is distributed over the available consumer processes.

As messages are buffered in the queue, they are preserved during a scaling event, such as when you must wait until an additional consumer process becomes operational.

Lastly, these queue characteristics help flatten peak loads for your consumer processes, buffering messages until consumers are available. This allows you to process messages at a pace decoupled from the message source.

Conclusion

The Wild Rydes example shows how messaging can provide decoupling and greater flexibility for your microservices landscape.

In contrast to REST APIs, a messaging system takes care of message delivery outside of your service code. Using a publish-subscribe channel provides simple fan-out capability. And message filters allow for selective message reception without the effort of implementing that logic into your code.

With topic-queue-chaining pattern, you can add queue characteristics to a fan-out scenario so that you can easily scale out on the consumer side, and flatten peak loads.

For a deeper dive into queues and topics and how to use them in your microservices architecture, please use the following resources:

  1. AWS whitepaper: Implementing Microservices on AWS
  2. AWS blog: Implementing enterprise integration patterns with AWS messaging services: point-to-point channels
  3. AWS blog: Implementing enterprise integration patterns with AWS messaging services: publish-subscribe channels
  4. AWS blog: Building Scalable Applications and Microservices: Adding Messaging to Your Toolbox