Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Pattern: Server-side service discovery


How does the client of service - the API gateway or another service - discover the location of a service instance?


  • Each instance of service exposes a remote API such as HTTP/REST, or Thrift etc. at a particular location (host and port)
  • The number of services instances and their locations changes dynamically.
  • Virtual machines and containers are usually assigned dynamic IP addresses.
  • The number of services instances might vary dynamically. For example, an EC2 Autoscaling Group adjusts the number of instances based on load.

The Server‑Side Discovery Pattern

The other approach to service discovery is the server-side discovery pattern. The following diagram shows the structure of this pattern.

The client makes a request for a service via a load balancer. The load balancer queries the service registry and routes each request to an available service instance. 

As with client‑side discovery, service instances are registered and deregistered with the service registry.

The AWS Elastic Load Balancer (ELB) is an example of a server-side discovery router. An ELB is commonly used to load balance external traffic from the Internet. However, you can also use an ELB to load balance traffic that is internal to a virtual private cloud (VPC). 

A client makes requests (HTTP or TCP) via the ELB using its DNS name. The ELB load balances the traffic among a set of registered Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances or EC2 Container Service (ECS) containers. 

There isn’t a separate service registry. Instead, EC2 instances and ECS containers are registered with the ELB itself.

HTTP servers and load balancers such as NGINX Plus and NGINX can also be used as server-side discovery load balancers. 

For example, this blog post describes using Consul Template to dynamically reconfigure NGINX reverse proxying. Consul Template is a tool that periodically regenerates arbitrary configuration files from configuration data stored in the Consul service registry. 

It runs an arbitrary shell command whenever the files change. In the example described by the blog post, Consul Template generates an nginx.conf file, which configures the reverse proxying, and then runs a command that tells NGINX to reload the configuration. 

A more sophisticated implementation could dynamically reconfigure NGINX Plus using either its HTTP API or DNS.

Some deployment environments such as Kubernetes and Marathon run a proxy on each host in the cluster. The proxy plays the role of a server‑side discovery load balancer. In order to make a request to a service, a client routes the request via the proxy using the host’s IP address and the service’s assigned port. 

The proxy then transparently forwards the request to an available service instance running somewhere in the cluster.

The server‑side discovery pattern has several benefits and drawbacks. One great benefit of this pattern is that details of the discovery are abstracted away from the client. Clients simply make requests to the load balancer. 

This eliminates the need to implement discovery logic for each programming language and framework used by your service clients. Also, as mentioned above, some deployment environments provide this functionality for free. 

This pattern also has some drawbacks, however. Unless the load balancer is provided by the deployment environment, it is yet another highly available system component that you need to set up and manage.

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