Blackboard Perspectives and thoughts from Zhenhua Yao

Persistence in Stateful Applications

In cloud computing, we build highly available applications on commodity hardware. The software SLA is typically higher thn the underlying hardware for an order or more. This is achieved by distributed application based on state machine replication. If strong consistency is required, state persistence based on Paxos algorithm is often used. Depending on the requirements on layering, latency, availability, failure model, and other factors, there are several solutions available.

Cosmos DB or Azure SQL Database

Most apps build on top of core Azure platform can take dependency of Cosmos DB or Azure SQL Database. Both are easier to use and integrate with existing apps. This is often the most viable path with the least resistence, particularly Cosmos DB with excellent availability, scalability, and performance.

If you are looking for lowest latency possible, the state is better to be persisted locally and cache inside the process. In this case, remote persistence such as Cosmos DB may not be desirable. For services within the platform below Cosmos DB, this approach may not be viable.


Although not many people have noticed it, Replicated State Library is one of the greatest contributions to OSS from Microsoft. It is a verified and well tested Paxos implmentation, which has been in production for many years. RSL has been the core layer to power the Azure core control plane since the beginning. The version released on GitHub is the one used in the product as of now. Personally I am not aware of other implementation with greater scale, performance, and reliability (in term of bugs) on Windows platform. If you have to store 100 GBs of data with strong consistency in a single ring, RSL is well capable of doing the job.

Note that it is for Windows platforms only, both native and managed code is supported. I guess it is possible to port it to Linux, however no one has looked into it and no plan to do so.

In-Memory Object Store (IMOS) is a proprietary managed code on top of RSL to provide transaction semantics, strong-typed object, object collections, relationships, and code-generation from UML class diagrams. Although the performance and scale are sacrificed somewhat, it is widely used because of convenience and productivity.

Service Fabric Reliable Collections

RSL and IMOS are often used by “monolithic” distributed applications before Service Fabric is widely adopted. SF is a great platform to build scalable and reliable microservices, in particular stateful services. Hosting RSL on SF isn’t impossible but it is far from straightforward. At least, the primary election in RSL is totally independent of SF, you’d better ensure both are consistent via some trick. In addition, SF may move the replicas around any time, and this must be coordinated with RSL dynamic replica set reconfiguration. Therefore, the most common approach is to use SF reliable collections in the stateful application as recommended. Over time, this approach will be the mainstream in the foundational layer.

Ring Master

If you need distributed synchorinization and are not satisfied with ZooKeeper because of its scale, or you want native SF integration, then you should consider adopting Ring Master which is released to open source. Essentially Ring Master provides a superset of ZooKeeper semantics. This is the core component supporting the goal state delivery in several mission-critical foundational services in the platform. The persistence layer can be replaced, the released source code supports SF reliable collections for production use and in-memory for testing. If you want absolute best performance and scale, considering persist to RSL.

If you have any question or comments, please leave a message in the discussion. Thanks!