AWS Compute Blog

Understanding how AWS Lambda scales with Amazon SQS standard queues

This post is written by John Lee, Solutions Architect, and Isael Pelletier, Senior Solutions Architect.

Many architectures use Amazon SQS, a fully managed message queueing service, to decouple producers and consumers. SQS is a fundamental building block for building decoupled architectures. AWS Lambda is also fully managed by AWS and is a common choice as a consumer as it supports native integration with SQS. This combination of services allows you to write and maintain less code and unburden you from the heavy lifting of server management.

This blog post looks into optimizing the scaling behavior of Lambda functions when subscribed to an SQS standard queue. It discusses how Lambda’s scaling works in this configuration and reviews best practices for maximizing message throughput. The post provides insight into building your own scalable workload and guides you in building well-architected workloads.

Scaling Lambda functions

When a Lambda function subscribes to an SQS queue, Lambda polls the queue as it waits for messages to arrive. Lambda consumes messages in batches, starting at five concurrent batches with five functions at a time.

If there are more messages in the queue, Lambda adds up to 60 functions per minute, up to 1,000 functions, to consume those messages. This means that Lambda can scale up to 1,000 concurrent Lambda functions processing messages from the SQS queue.

Lambda poller

Figure 1. The Lambda service polls the SQS queue and batches messages that are processed by automatic scaling Lambda functions. You start with five concurrent Lambda functions.

This scaling behavior is managed by AWS and cannot be modified. To process more messages, you can optimize your Lambda configuration for higher throughput. There are several strategies you can implement to do this.

Increase the allocated memory for your Lambda function

The simplest way to increase throughput is to increase the allocated memory of the Lambda function. While you do not have control over the scaling behavior of the Lambda functions subscribed to an SQS queue, you control the memory configuration.

Faster Lambda functions can process more messages and increase throughput. This works even if a Lambda function’s memory utilization is low. This is because increasing memory also increases vCPUs in proportion to the amount configured. Each function now supports up to 10 GB of memory and you can access up to six vCPUs per function.

You may need to modify code to take advantage of the extra vCPUs. This consists of implementing multithreading or parallel processing to use all the vCPUs. You can find a Python example in this blog post.

To see the average cost and execution speed for each memory configuration before making a decision, Lambda Power Tuning tool helps to visualize the tradeoffs.

Optimize batching behavior

Batching can increase message throughput. By default, Lambda batches up to 10 messages in a queue to process them during a single Lambda execution. You can increase this number up to 10,000 messages, or up to 6 MB of messages in a single batch for standard SQS queues.

If each payload size is 256 KB (the maximum message size for SQS), Lambda can only take 23 messages per batch, regardless of the batch size setting. Similar to increasing memory for a Lambda function, processing more messages per batch can increase throughput.

However, increasing the batch size does not always achieve this. It is important to understand how message batches are processed. All messages in a failed batch return to the queue. This means that if a Lambda function with five messages fails while processing the third message, all five messages are returned to the queue, including the successfully processed messages. The Lambda function code must be able to process the same message multiple times without side effects.

Failed message processing

Figure 2. A Lambda function returning all five messages to the queue after failing to process the third message.

To prevent successfully processed messages from being returned to SQS, you can add code to delete the processed messages from the queue manually. You can also use existing open source libraries, such as Lambda Powertools for Python or Lambda Powertools for Java that provide this functionality.

Catch errors from the Lambda function

The Lambda service scales to process messages from the SQS queue when there are sufficient messages in the queue.

However, there is a case where Lambda scales down the number of functions, even when there are messages remaining in the queue. This is when a Lambda function throws errors. The Lambda function scales down to minimize erroneous invocations. To sustain or increase the number of concurrent Lambda functions, you must catch the errors so the function exits successfully.

To retain the failed messages, use an SQS dead-letter queue (DLQ). There are caveats to this approach. Catching errors without proper error handling and tracking mechanisms can result in errors being ignored instead of raising alerts. This may lead to silent failures while Lambda continues to scale and process messages in the queue.

Relevant Lambda configurations

There are several Lambda configuration settings to consider for optimizing Lambda’s scaling behavior. Paying attention to the following configurations can help prevent throttling and increase throughput of your Lambda function.

Reserved concurrency

If you use reserved concurrency for a Lambda function, set this value greater than five. This value sets the maximum number of concurrent Lambda functions that can run. Lambda allocates five functions to consume five batches at a time. If the reserved concurrency value is lower than five, the function is throttled when it tries to process more than this value concurrently.

Batching Window

For larger batch sizes, set the MaximumBatchingWindowInSeconds parameter to at least 1 second. This is the maximum amount of time that Lambda spends gathering records before invoking the function. If this value is too small, Lambda may invoke the function with a batch smaller than the batch size. If this value is too large, Lambda polls for a longer time before processing the messages in the batch. You can adjust this value to see how it affects your throughput.

Queue visibility timeout

All SQS messages have a visibility timeout that determines how long the message is hidden from the queue after being selected up by a consumer. If the message is not successfully processed or deleted, the message reappears in the queue when the visibility timeout ends.

Give your Lambda function enough time to process the message by setting the visibility timeout based on your function-specific metrics. You should set this value to six times the Lambda function timeout plus the value of MaximumBatchingWindowInSeconds. This prevents other functions from unnecessarily processing the messages while the message is already being processed.

Dead-letter queues (DLQs)

Failed messages are placed back in the queue to be retried by Lambda. To prevent failed messages from getting added to the queue multiple times, designate a DLQ and send failed messages there.

The number of times the messages should be retried is set by the Maximum receives value for the DLQ. Once the message is re-added to the queue more than the Maximum receives value, it is placed in the DLQ. You can then process this message at a later time.

This allows you to avoid situations where many failed messages are continuously placed back into the queue, consuming Lambda resources. Failed messages scale down the Lambda function and add the entire batch to the queue, which can worsen the situation. To ensure smooth scaling of the Lambda function, move repeatedly failing messages to the DLQ.

Conclusion

This post explores Lambda’s scaling behavior when subscribed to SQS standard queues. It walks through several ways to scale faster and maximize Lambda throughput when needed. This includes increasing the memory allocation for the Lambda function, increasing batch size, catching errors, and making configuration changes. Better understanding the levers available for SQS and Lambda interaction can help in meeting your scaling needs.

To learn more about building decoupled architectures, see these videos on Amazon SQS. For more serverless learning resources, visit https://serverlessland.com.