How Bazaarvoice UGC APIs serve information to its brand & retailers

Bazaarvoice has thousands of clients including brands and retailers. Bazaarvoice has billions of records of product catalog and User Generated Content(UGC)from Bazaarvoice clients. When a shopper visits a brand or retailer site/app powered by Bazaarvoice, our APIs are triggered.

In 2023,Bazaarvoice UGC APIs recorded peak traffic of over 3+ billion calls per day with zero incidents. This blog post will discuss the high level design strategies that are implemented to handle this huge traffic even when serving hundreds of millions of pieces of User Generated Content to shoppers/clients around the globe.

The following actions can take place when shoppers interact with our User-Generated Content (UGC) APIs.

  • Writing Content
    • When a shopper writes any content such as reviews or comments etc. on any of the product on retailer or brand site, it invokes a call to Bazaarvoice’s write UGC APIs, followed by Authenticity/content moderation.
  • Reading Content
    • When a shopper visits the brand or retailer site/app for a product, Bazaarvoice’s read UGC APIs are invoked.

Traffic: 3+ Billion calls per day(peek)Data: ~5 Billions of records,Terabyte scale

High-level API Flow:

  1. Whenever a request is made to Bazaarvoice UGC API endpoints, the Bazaarvoice gateway service receives the request, authenticates the request, and then transmits the request information to the application load balancer.
  2. Upon receiving the request from the load balancer, the application server engages with authentication service to authenticate the request. If the request is deemed legitimate, the application proceeds to make a call to its database servers to retrieve the necessary information and the application formulates response accordingly.

Let’s get into a bit deeper into the design

Actions taken at the gateway upon receiving a request

  • API’s authentication:

We have an authentication service integrated to the gateway to validate the request. If it’s a valid request then we proceed further. Validation includes ensuring that the request is from a legitimate source to serve one of Bazaarvoice’s clients

  • API’s security:

If our API’s are experiencing any security attacks like Malicious or DDOS requests, WAF intercepts and subsequently blocks the security attacks as per the configured settings.

  • Response Caching:

We implemented response caching to improve response times and client page load performance, with a duration determined by the Time-to-Live (TTL) configuration for requests. This allows our gateway to resend the cached response, if the same request is received again, rather than forwarding the request to the server.

Understanding User-Generated Content (UGC) Data Types and API Services

Before delving into specifics of how the UGC is originally collected, it’s important to understand the type of data being served.

e.g.

  • Ratings & Reviews
  • Questions & Answers
  • Statistics (Product-based Review Statistics and Questions & Answers Statistics)
  • Products & Categories

For more details, you can refer to ConversationsAPI documentation via Bazaarvoice’s recently upgraded Developer Center.

Now, let’s explore the internals of these APIs in detail, and examine their interconnectedness.

  • Write UGC API service
  • Read UGC API service

Write UGC API service:

Our submission form customized for each client, the form will render based on the client configuration which can include numerous custom data attributes to serve their needs. When a shopper submits content such as a review or a question through the form, our system writes this content to a submission queue. A downstream internal system then retrieves this content from the queue and writes it into the master database.

Why do we have to use a queue rather than directly writing into a database?

  • Load Leveling
  • Asynchronous Processing
  • Scalability
  • Resilience to Database Failures

Read UGC API service:

The UGC read API’s database operates independently from the primary, internal database. While the primary database contains normalized data, the read API database is designed to serve denormalized and enriched data specifically tailored for API usage in order to meet the response time expectations of Bazaarvoice’s clients and their shoppers.

Why do we need denormalized data?

To handle large-scale traffic efficiently and avoid complex join operations in real-time, we denormalize our data according to specific use cases.

We transform the normalized data into denormalized enriched data through the following steps:

  1. Primary-Replica setup: This will help us to separate write and read calls.
  1. Data denormalization:  In Replica DB, we have triggers to do data processing (joining multiple tables) and write that data into staging tables. We have an application that reads data from staging tables and writes the denormalized data  into Nosql DB. Here data is segregated according to the content type. Subsequently, this data is forwarded to message queues for enrichment.
  1. Enriching the denormalized data: Our internal applications consume this data from message queues, with the help of internal state stores, we enrich the documents before forwarding them to a destination message queue.

e.g. : Average rating of a product, Total number of ugc information to a product.

  1. Data Transfer to UGC application Database: We have a connector application to consume data from the destination message queue and write it into the UGC application database.

Now that you’ve heard about how Bazaarvoice’s API’s handles the large client and request scale, let’s add another layer of complexity to the mix!

Connecting Brands and Retailers

Up to this point, we’ve discussed the journey of content within a given client’s dataset. Now, let’s delve into the broader problem that Bazaarvoice addresses.

Bazaarvoice helps its brands and retailers share reviews within the bazaarvoice network. For more details refer to syndicated-content.

Let’s talk about the scale and size of the problem before getting into details, 

From 12,000+ Bazaarvoice clients, We have billions of catalog and UGC content. Bazaarvoice provides a platform to share the content within its network. Here data is logically separated for all the clients.

Client’s can access their data directly, They can access other Bazaarvoice clients data, based on the Bazaarvoice Network’s configured connections. 

E.g. : 

From the above diagram, Retailer (R3) wanted to increase their sales of a product by showing a good amount of UGC content.

Retailer (R1)1 billion catalog & ugc records
Retailer (R2)2 billion catalog & ugc records
Retailer (R3)0.5 billion catalog & ugc records
Retailer (R4)1.2 billion catalog & ugc records
Brand (B1)0.2 billion catalog & ugc records
Brand (B2)1 billion catalog & ugc records

Now think, 

If Retailer (R3) is accessing only its data, then it’s operating on 0.5 billion records, but here Retailer (R3) is configured to get the ugc data from Brand (B1) , Brand (B2) , Retailer (R1) also.

If you look at the scale now it’s 0.5 + 0.2 + 1 + 1 = 2.7 billions.

To get the data for one request, it has to query on 2.7 billion records. On top of it we have filters and sorting, which make it even more complex.

In Summary

Here I’ve over simplified, to make you understand the solution that Bazaarvoice is providing, in reality it’s much more complex to serve the UGC Write and Read APIs at a global scale with fast response times and remain globally resilient to maintain high uptime.

Now you might correlate why we have this kind of architecture designed to solve this problem.  Hopefully after reading this post you have a better understanding of what it takes behind the scenes to serve User Generated Content across Brands and Retailers at billion-record-scale to shoppers across the globe.

Cloud-Native Marvel: Driving 6 Million Daily Notifications!

Bazaarvoice notification system stands as a testament to cutting-edge technology, designed to seamlessly dispatch transactional email messages (post-interaction email or PIE) on behalf of our clients. The heartbeat of our system lies in the constant influx of new content, driven by active content solicitations. Equipped with an array of tools, including email message styling, default templates, configurable scheduling, data privacy APIs, email security/encryption, reputation/identity management, as well as auditing and reporting functionalities, our Notification system is the backbone of client-facing communications.

PIE or post-interaction email messages

Let’s delve into the system’s architecture, strategically divided into two pivotal components. Firstly, the data ingestion process seamlessly incorporates transactional data from clients through manual uploads or automated transactions uploads. Secondly, the Notification system’s decision engine controls the delivery process, strategically timing email dispatches according to client configurations. Letterpress facilitates scalable email delivery to end consumers, enhancing the efficiency of the process.

Previous Obstacles: What Hindered Progress Before

Examining the architecture mentioned above, we were already leveraging the AWS cloud and utilizing AWS managed services such as EC2, S3, and SES to meet our requirements. However, we were still actively managing several elements, such as scaling EC2 instances according to load patterns, managing security updates for EC2s, and setting up a distinct log stream to gather all instance-level logs into a separate S3 bucket for temporary storage, among other responsibilities. It’s important to note that our deployment process used Jenkins and CloudFormation templates. Considering these factors, one could characterize our earlier architecture as semi-cloud-native.

Upon careful observation of the Bazaarvoice-managed File Processing EC2 instances, it becomes apparent that these instances are handling complex, prolonged batch jobs. The ongoing maintenance and orchestration of these EC2 instances add significant complexities to overall operations. Unfortunately, due to the lack of active development on this framework, consumers, such as Notifications, find themselves dedicating 30% of an engineer’s on-call week to address various issues related to feed processing, stuck jobs, and failures of specific feed files. Enduring such challenges over an extended period is challenging. The framework poses a risk of regional outages if a client’s job becomes stuck, and our aim is to achieve controlled degradation for that specific client during such instances. These outages occur approximately once a month, requiring a week of engineering effort to restore everything to a green state.

Embrace cloud-native excellence

The diagram above illustrates the recently operationalized cloud-native, serverless data ingestion pipeline for the Notification Systems. Our transition to a cloud-native architecture has been a game-changer. Through meticulous design and rigorous testing, we created a modern, real-time data ingestion pipeline capable of handling millions of transactional data records with unprecedented efficiency. Witness the evolution in action through our cloud-native, serverless data ingestion pipeline, operationalized with precision and running flawlessly for over seven months, serving thousands of clients seamlessly.

We’ve decomposed the complex services that were previously engaged with numerous responsibilities into smaller, specialized services with a primary focus on specific responsibilities. One such service is the engagement-service, tasked with managing all client inbox folders (Email/Text/WhatsApp). This service periodically checks for new files, employs a file splitting strategy to ingest them into our S3 buckets, and subsequently moves them from the inbox to a backup folder, appending a timestamp to the filename for identification.

Achieve excellence by breaking barriers

Microservice

The journey to our current state wasn’t without challenges. Previously, managing AWS cloud services like EC2, S3, and SES demanded significant manual effort. However, by adopting a microservices architecture and leveraging ECS fargate task, AWS Lambda, step functions, and SQS, we’ve streamlined file processing and message conversion, slashing complexities and enhancing scalability.

Serverless Computing

Serverless computing has emerged as a beacon of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. With AWS Lambda handling file-to-message conversion seamlessly, our focus shifts to business logic, driving unparalleled agility and resource optimization.

Transforming the ordinary into the remarkable, our daily transaction feed ingestion handles a staggering 5-6 million entries. This monumental data flow includes both file ingestion and analytics, fueling our innovative processes.

Consider a scenario where this load is seamlessly distributed throughout the day, resulting in a monthly cost of approximately $1.1k. In contrast, our previous method incurred a cost of around $1k per month.

Despite a nominal increase in cost, the advantages are game-changing:

  1. Enhanced Control: Our revamped framework puts us in the driver’s seat with customizable notifications, significantly boosting system maintainability.
  2. Streamlined Operations: Tasks like system downtime, debugging the master node issues, node replacements, and cluster restarts are simplified to a single button click.
  3. Improved Monitoring: Expect refined dashboards and alerting mechanisms that keep you informed and in control.
  4. Customized Delivery: By segregating email messages, SMS, and WhatsApp channels, we maintain client-set send times for text messages to their consumer base.

The pay-as-you-go model ensures cost efficiency of upto 17%, making serverless architecture a strategic choice for applications with dynamic workloads.

The logic for converting files to messages is implemented within AWS Lambda. This function is tasked with the responsibility of breaking down large file-based transactions into smaller messages, directing all client data to respective SQS queues based on the Notification channel (email or SMS). In this process, the focus is primarily on business logic, with less emphasis on infrastructure maintenance and scaling. Therefore, a serverless architecture, specifically AWS Lambda, step functions and SQS were used for this purpose.

Empower multitenancy, scalability, and adaptability

Our cloud-native notifications infrastructure thrives on managed resources, fostering collaboration and efficiency across teams. Scalability and adaptability are no longer buzzwords but integral elements driving continuous improvement and customer-centric innovations. These apps can handle problems well because they’re built from small, independent services. It’s easier to find and fix issues without stopping the whole server.

Notifications cloud-native infrastructure is spread out in different availability zones of a region, so if one zone has a problem, traffic can be redirected quickly to keep things running smoothly. Also, developers can add security features to their apps from the start.

Transitioning to cloud-native technologies demands strategic planning and cohesive teamwork across development, operations, and security domains. We started by experimenting with smaller applications to gain familiarity with the process. This allowed us to pinpoint applications that are well-suited for cloud-native transformation and retire those that are not suitable. Our journey has been marked by meticulous experimentation, focusing on applications ripe for transformation and retiring those not aligned with our cloud-native vision.

Conclusion: Shape tomorrow’s software engineering landscape

As we progress deeper into the era of cloud computing, the significance of cloud-native applications goes beyond a fleeting trend; they are positioned to establish a new standard in software engineering.

Through continuous innovation and extensive adoption, we are revolutionizing the landscape of Notifications system of Bazaarvoice with cloud-native applications, bringing about transformative changes through each microservice. The future has arrived, and it’s soaring on the cloud.

My First 4 months at Bazaarvoice as a DevOps Engineer

I joined Bazaarvoice as a DevOps engineer into the Cloud engineering team in September 2023. It has been a very busy first 4 months learning a lot in terms of technical and soft skills. In this post I have highlighted my key learnings from my start at BV.

Communication

One of the key takeaways I have taken is no work in the DMs. I, and I imagine many others are used to asking questions via direct message to whom we believe would be most knowledgeable on the subject. Which can often lead to a goose chase of getting different names from various people until you find who can help. One thing my team Cloud Engineering utilizes is asking all work-related questions in public channels in slack. Firstly, this removes any wild goose chases as anyone who is knowledgeable on the matter can chime in not just a single person. Furthermore, by having these questions public it creates a FAQ page within slack. I often find myself now debugging or finding answers by searching questions/key words straight into the slack search bar and finding threads of questions which are addressing the same issues I’m facing. This means there are no repetitive answers and I do not have to wait on response times.

Bazaarvoice is a global organisation where I have team members across time zones. This essentially means you have only 50% of the day where myself and my colleagues in the US are online. So, using that time asking questions which have already been answered is not a productive use of time.

Work Ownership

Another concept which I have changed my views on is work ownership and pushing tickets forward as a team.

If you compare a Jira ticket from the first piece of work I started to my current Jira tickets 4 months in, you’ll notice now there is a stream of update comments in my current tickets. This feeds into the concept of the team owning the work rather than just myself. By having constant update comments if I fall ill or for whatever reason can’t continue a ticket a member of the team can easily get context on the state of the ticket by reading through the comments. This allows them to push the ticket forward themselves. Posting things like error messages and current blockers in the Jira comments also allows team members to offer their insight and input instead of keeping everything private.

As well as this upon finishing work, I would usually find another ticket to pick up, however what I now understand is that completing the teams work for the sprint is what’s important, using spare time now to help push the team’s tickets over the line with code reviews, jumping in huddles to troubleshoot issues as well as picking up tickets that colleagues haven’t got round to in the sprint. I now understand the importance of completing work as a team rather than an individual.

Treating internal stakeholders as customers

Bazaarvoice has many external customers and there are many teams who cater to these customers. However, in Cloud Engineering we are not an external customer facing team. Although, we do still have customers. This concept was strange to me at first where our colleagues in other teams were regarded as “customers”. The relationship is largely the same with how one would communicate and have expectations of external customers. We have SLA’s which are agreed upon as well as a “slack channel” for cloud related queries or escalations which the on-call engineer will handle. This customer relationship allows us to deliver efficiently with transparency. Another aspect of this is how we utilise a service request and playbook model. A service request is a common task/operation for our team to complete such as create an AWS account or create a VPC pairing. The service request template will extract all the necessary information from the customer needed to fulfil the request. This removes back and forth conversation between operator and customer, gathering the required information. Each service request is paired with a playbook for the operator to use. These playbooks include step by step instructions of how the operator can fulfil this request. Allowing someone like me from as early as week 2 to be able to fulfil customer requests.

Context shifting

In previous roles I would have to drop current workloads to deal with escalations or colleague questions. This requires a context shift where you must leave the current work and switch focus to something completely unrelated. Once the escalation/query is resolved then you must switch back. This can be tiresome and getting back into the original context of which I was working on takes time. This again feeds into the customer relationship the team has with internal stakeholders. A member of the team will be “on-call” for that week where they will handle all customer requests and answer customer queries. This allows the rest of the team to stick within their current context and deep focus on the task at hand without needing to switch focus. I have found this very beneficial when working on tasks which require a lot of deep focus and as such feel a lot more focussed in my delivery of meaningful work.

Utilising the size of the organisation

The organisation’s codebase consists of 1.5k repositories containing code serving all kinds of functionality. This means when embarking on a new piece of work there is often a nice template from another team which can be used which has a similar context due to being in the same organisation (same security constraints, AWS accounts ect.). For example, I recently created a GitHub Actions release workflow for one of our systems but had problems with authenticating into AWS via the workflow. A simple GitHub search for what I was looking for allowed me to find a team who has tackled the same problem I am facing. Meaning I can see how my code differs from theirs and make changes accordingly. I have had a problem solved by another team without them even realising!

Learn by doing!

I find reading documentation about systems can only get you so far in terms of understanding. Real understanding, I believe, comes from being able to actively make changes to a system and deploy these changes as a new release. This is something me and my onboarding mentor utilised. They set me a piece of work which I could go away and try in the mornings then we’d come together in the afternoon in a slack huddle to review my progress (making use of the time zone differences). This is a model that certainly worked for me and something I would try with any new onboardees that I may mentor.

Conclusion

Overall I have thoroughly enjoyed my first 4 months as a DevOps Engineer at Bazaarvoice particularly working on new technologies and collaborating with my team mates. But what has shocked me most is how much I had to improve on my communication and ways of working, something that is not taught much in the world of engineering with most the emphasis being on technical skills.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this and that you can take something away from your own ways of working!

Can You Keep a Secret?

We all have secrets. Sometimes, these are guilty pleasures that we try to keep hidden, like watching cheesy reality TV or indulging in strange comfort food. We often worry:

“How do we keep the secret safe?”

“What could happen if someone finds out the secret?”

“Who is keeping a secret?”

“What happens if we lose a secret?”

At Bazaarvoice, our security team starts with these same questions when it comes to secret management. They are less interested in trivial secrets like who left their dishes in the office sink or who finished the milk. Instead, they focus on the secrets used in the systems that power a wide range of products for the organization. They include:

  • API keys and tokens
  • Database connection strings that contain passwords
  • Encryption keys
  • Passwords

With hundreds of systems and components depending on secrets at Bazaarvoice, enumerating them and answering the above questions quickly, consistently and reliably can become a challenge without guiding standards. 

This post will discuss secret management and explain how Bazaarvoice implemented a Secret Catalog using open-source software. The post will provide reusable examples and helpful tips to reduce risk and improve compliance for your organization. Let’s dive in!

Secrets Catalog

Bazaarvoice is ISO27001 compliant and ensures its systems leverage industry standard tools and practices to store secrets securely. However, it isn’t always in the same place, and secrets can be stored using different tools. Sometimes AWS Secret Manager makes sense; other times, AWS KMS is a better choice for a given solution. You may even have a multi-cloud strategy, further scattering secrets. This is where a Secrets Catalog is extremely useful, providing a unified view of secrets across tools and vendors.

It may sound a little boring, and the information captured isn’t needed most of the time. However, in the event of an incident, having a secret catalog becomes an invaluable resource in reducing the time you need to resolve the problem.

Bazaarvoice recognized the value of a secrets catalog and decided to implement it. The Security Team agreed that each entry in the catalog must satisfy the following criteria:

  • A unique name
  • A good description of its purpose
  • Clear ownership
  • Where it is stored
  • A list of dependent systems
  • References to documentation to remediate any related incident, for example, how to rotate an API key

Crucially, the value of the secret must remain in its original and secure location outside of the Catalog, but it is essential to know where the secret is stored. Doing so avoids a single point of failure and does not hinder any success criteria.

Understanding where secrets are stored helps identify bad practices. For example, keeping an SSH key only on team members’ laptops would be a significant risk. A person can leave the company, win the lottery, or even spill a drink on their laptop (we all know someone!). The stores already defined in the catalog guide people in deciding how to store a new secret, directing them to secure and approved tools resistant to human error.

Admittedly, the initial attempt to implement the catalog at Bazaarvoice didn’t quite go to plan. Teams began meeting the criteria, but it quickly became apparent that each team produced different interpretations stored in multiple places and formats. Security would not have a unified view when multiple secret catalogs would ultimately exist. Teams would need additional guidance and a concrete standard to succeed.

We already have a perfect fit for this!

Bazaarvoice loves catalogs. After our clients, they might be our favourite thing. There is a product catalog for each of our over ten thousand clients, a data catalog, and, most relevantly, a service catalog powered by Backstage.

“Backstage unifies all your infrastructure tooling, services, and documentation to create a streamlined development environment from end to end.”

https://backstage.io/docs/overview/what-is-backstage

Out of the box, it comes with core entities enabling powerful ecosystem modeling:

https://backstage.io/docs/features/software-catalog/system-model#ecosystem-modeling

As shown in the diagram above, at the core of the Backstage model are Systems, Components, and Resources, the most relevant entities for secret management. You can find detailed descriptions of each entity in the Backstage modeling documentation. Briefly, they can be thought about as follows:

System – A collection of lower-level entities, including Components and Resources, acting as a layer of abstraction.

Component – A piece of software. It can optionally produce or consume APIs.

Resource – The infrastructure required by Components to operate.

New Resource Types

Resources are one of the Backstage entities used to represent infrastructure. They are a solid fit for representing secrets, allowing us to avoid writing custom in-house software to do the same job. Therefore, we defined two new Resource Types: secret and secret-store.

Tip: Agree on the allowed Types upfront to avoid a proliferation of variations such as ‘database’ and ‘db’ that can degrade searching and filtering.

Having already invested the effort in modeling the Bazaarvoice ecosystem, adding the necessary YAML to define secrets and secret stores was trivial for teams. 

Example minimal secret store:

apiVersion: backstage.io/v1alpha1
kind: Resource
metadata:
  name: aws-secrets-manager
  description: Resources of type 'secret' can depend on this Resource to indicate that it is stored in AWS Secrets Manager
spec:
  type: secret-store
  owner: team-x

Example minimal secret:

apiVersion: backstage.io/v1alpha1
kind: Resource
metadata:
  name: system-a-top-secret-key
  description: An example key stored in AWS Secrets Manager
  links:
    - url:https://internal-dev-handbook/docs/how-to-rotate-secrets 
      title: Rotation guide
spec:
  type: secret
  owner: team-1
  system: system-a
  dependsOn:
    - resource:aws-secrets-manager

Finally, to connect the dots to existing Systems, Components, and Resources, simply add a dependsOn section to their definitions. For example:

apiVersion: backstage.io/v1alpha1
kind: Component
metadata:
  name: system-a-component
  ...
spec:
  ...
  dependsOn:
    - resource:system-a-top-secret-key

How does it look?

It’s fantastic in our eyes! Let’s break down the image above.

The “About” section explains the secret, including which system it’s associated with, its owner, and the fact that it’s currently in production. It also provides a link to the source code and a way to report issues or mistakes, such as typos.

The “Relations” section, powered by an additional plugin, provides a visual and interactive graph that displays the relationships associated with the secret. This graph helps users quickly build a mental picture of the resources in the context of their systems, owners, and components. Navigating through this graph has proven to be an effective and efficient mechanism for understanding the relationships associated with the secret.

The “Links” section offers a consistent place to reference documentation related to secret management. 

Lastly, the “PagerDuty” plugin integrates with the on-call system, eliminating the need for manual contact identification during emergency incidents.

The value of Backstage shines through the power of the available plugins. Searching and filtering empower discoverability, and the API opens the potential for further integrations to internal systems.

Keeping it fresh

Maintaining accurate and up-to-date documentation is always a challenge. Co-locating the service catalog with related codebases helps avoid the risk of it becoming stale and has become a consideration for reviewing and approving changes. 

We are early in our journey with this approach to a secrets catalog and aim to share our incremental improvements in further blog posts as we progress.

How We Scale to 16+ Billion Calls

The holiday season brings a huge spike in traffic for many companies. While increased traffic is great for retail business, it also puts infrastructure reliability to the test. At times when every second of uptime is of elevated importance, how can engineering teams ensure zero downtime and performant applications? Here are some key strategies and considerations we employ at Bazaarvoice as we prepare our platform to handle over 16 Billion API calls during Cyber Week.

Key to approaching readiness for peak load events is defining the scope of testing. Identify which services need to be tested and be clear about success requirements.  A common trade off will be choosing between reliability and cost. When making this choice, reliability is always the top priority. ‘Customer is Key’ is a key value at Bazaarvoice, and drives our decisions and behavior.  Service Level Objectives (SLOs) drive clarity of reliability requirements through each of our services.

Reliability is always the top priority

When customer traffic is at its peak, reliability and uptime must take precedence over all other concerns. While cost efficiency is important, the customer experience is key during these critical traffic surges. Engineers should have the infrastructure resources they need to maintain stability and performance, even if it means higher costs in the short-term.

Thorough testing and validation well in advance is essential to surfacing any issues before the holidays. All critical customer-facing services undergo load and failover simulations to identify performance bottlenecks and points of failure. In a Serverless-first architecture, ensuring configuration like reserved concurrency and quota limits are sufficient for autoscaling requirements are valuable to validate.  Often these simulations will uncover problems you have not previously encountered. For example, in this year’s preparations our load simulations uncovered scale limitations in our redis cache which required fixes prior to Black Friday.

“It’s not only about testing the ability to handle peak load”

It’s important to note readiness is not only about testing the ability to handle peak load. Disaster recovery plans are validated through simulated scenarios. Runbooks are verified as up-to-date, to ensure efficient incident response in the event something goes wrong. Verifying instrumentation and infrastructure that supports operability are tested, ensuring our tooling works when we need it most.

Similarly ensuring the appropriate tooling and processes are in place to address security concerns is another key concern. Preventing DDoS attacks which could easily overwhelm the system if not identified and mitigated, preventing impact of service availability.

Predicting the future

Observability through actionable monitoring, logging, and metrics provides the essential visibility to detect and isolate emerging problems early. It also provides the historical context and growth of traffic data over time, which can help forecast capacity needs and establish performance baselines that align with real production usage. In addition to quantitative measures, proactively reaching out to clients means we are in step with client needs about expected traffic helping align testing to actual usage patterns.  This data is important to simulate real world traffic patterns based on what has gone before, and has enabled us to accurately predict Black Friday traffic trends. However it’s important our systems are architected to scale with demand, to handle unpredicted load if need be, key to this is observing and understanding how our systems behave in production.

Traffic Trends

What did it look like this year? Consumer shopping patterns remained quite consistent on an elevated scale. Black Friday continues to be the largest shopping day of the year, and consumers continue to shop online in increasing numbers. During Cyber Week alone, Bazaarvoice handled over 16 Billion API calls.

Solving common problems once

While individual engineering teams own service readiness, having a coordinated effort ensures all critical dependencies are covered. Sharing forecasts, requirements, and learnings across teams enables better preparation. Testing surprises on dependent teams should be avoided through clear communication.

Automating performance testing, failover drills, and monitoring checks as part of regular release cycles or scheduled pipelines reduces the overhead of peak traffic preparation. Following site reliability principles and instilling always-ready operational practices makes services far more resilient year-round. 

For example, we recently put in place a shared dev pattern for continuous performance testing.  This involves a quick setup of k6 performance script, an example github action pipeline and observability configured to monitor performance over time. We also use an in-house Tech Radar to converge on common tooling so a greater number of teams can learn and stand on the shoulders of teams who have already tried and tested tooling in their context.

Other examples include, adding automation to performance tests to replay production requests for a given load profile makes tests easier to maintain, and reflect more accurately production behavior. Additionally, make use of automated fault injection tooling, chaos engineering and automated runbooks.

Adding automation and ensuring these practices are part of your everyday way of working are key to reducing the overhead of preparing for the holidays.

Consistent, continuous training conditions us to always be ready

Moving to an always-ready posture ensures our infrastructure is scalable, reliable and robust all year round. Implementing continuous performance testing using frequent baseline tests provides frequent feedback on performance from release to release.  Automated operational readiness service checks ensure principles and expectations are in place for production services and are continuously checked.  For example, automated checking of expected monitors, alerts, runbooks and incident escalation policy requirements.

At Bazaarvoice our engineering teams align on shared System Standards which gives technical direction and guidance to engineers on commonly solved problems, continuously evolving our systems and increasing our innovation velocity.  To use a trail running analogy, System Standards define the preferred paths and combined with Tech Radar, provide recommendations to help you succeed.  For example, what trail running shoes should I choose, what energy refuelling strategy should I use, how should I monitor performance.  The same is true for building resilient reliable software, as teams solve these common problems, share the learnings for those teams which come after.

Looking Ahead

With a relentless focus on reliability, scalability, continuous testing, enhanced observability, and cross-team collaboration, engineering organizations can optimize performance and minimize downtime during critical traffic surges. 

Don’t forget after the peak has passed and we have descended from the summit, analyze the data.  What went well, what didn’t go well, and what opportunities are there to improve for the next peak.

Flyte 1 Year In

On the racetrack of building ML applications, traditional software development steps are often overtaken. Welcome to the world of MLOps, where unique challenges meet innovative solutions and consistency is king. 

At Bazaarvoice, training pipelines serve as the backbone of our MLOps strategy. They underpin the reproducibility of our model builds. A glaring gap existed, however, in graduating experimental code to production.

Rather than continuing down piecemeal approaches, which often centered heavily on Jupyter notebooks, we determined a standard was needed to empower practitioners to experiment and ship machine learning models extremely fast while following our best practices.

(cover image generated with Midjourney)

Build vs. Buy

Fresh off the heels of our wins from unifying our machine learning (ML) model deployment strategy, we first needed to decide whether to build a custom in-house ML workflow orchestration platform or seek external solutions.

When deciding to “buy” (it is open source after all), selecting Flyte as our workflow management platform emerged as a clear choice. It saved invaluable development time and nudged our team closer to delivering a robust self-service infrastructure. Such an infrastructure allows our engineers to build, evaluate, register, and deploy models seamlessly. Rather than reinventing the wheel, Flyte equipped us with an efficient wheel to race ahead.

Before leaping with Flyte, we embarked on an extensive evaluation journey. Choosing the right workflow orchestration system wasn’t just about selecting a tool but also finding a platform to complement our vision and align with our strategic objectives. We knew the significance of this decision and wanted to ensure we had all the bases covered. Ultimately the final tooling options for consideration were Flyte, Metaflow, Kubeflow Pipelines, and Prefect.

To make an informed choice, we laid down a set of criteria:

Criteria for Evaluation

Must-Haves:

  • Ease of Development: The tool should intuitively aid developers without steep learning curves.
  • Deployment: Quick and hassle-free deployment mechanisms.
  • Pipeline Customization: Flexibility to adjust pipelines as distinct project requirements arise.
  • Visibility: Clear insights into processes for better debugging and understanding.

Good-to-Haves:

  • AWS Integration: Seamless integration capabilities with AWS services.
  • Metadata Retention: Efficient storage and retrieval of metadata.
  • Startup Time: Speedy initialization to reduce latency.
  • Caching: Optimal data caching for faster results.

Neutral, Yet Noteworthy:

  • Security: Robust security measures ensuring data protection.
  • User Administration: Features facilitating user management and access control.
  • Cost: Affordability – offering a good balance between features and price.

Why Flyte Stood Out: Addressing Key Criteria

Diving deeper into our selection process, Flyte consistently addressed our top criteria, often surpassing the capabilities of other tools under consideration:

  1. Ease of Development: Pure Python | Task Decorators
    • Python-native development experience
  2. Deployment: Kubernetes Cluster
    • Flyte’s native Kubernetes integration simplified the deployment process
  3. Pipeline Customization
    • Easily customize any workflow and task by modifying the task decorator
  4. Visibility
    • Easily accessible container logs
    • Flyte decks enable reporting visualizations 

The Bazaarvoice customization

As with any platform, while Flyte brought many advantages, we needed a different plug-and-play solution for our unique needs. We anticipated the platform’s novelty within our organization. We wanted to reduce the learning curve as much as possible and allow our developers to transition smoothly without being overwhelmed.

To smooth the transition and expedite the development process, we’ve developed a cookiecutter template to serve as a launchpad for developers, providing a structured starting point that’s standardized and aligned with best practices for Flyte projects. This structure empowers developers to swiftly construct training pipelines.

The most relevant files provided by the template are:

  • Pipfile    - Details project dependencies 
  • Dockerfile - Builds docker container
  • Makefile   - Helper file to build, register, and execute projects
  • README.md  - Details the project 
  • src/
    • tasks/
    • Workflows.py (Follows the Kedro Standard for Data Layers)
      • process_raw_data - workflow to extract, clean, and transform raw data 
      • generate_model_input - workflow to create train, test, and validation data sets 
      • train_model - workflow to generate a serialized, trained machine learning model
      • generate_model_output - workflow to prevent train-serving skew by performing inference on the validation data set using the trained machine learning model
      • evaluate - workflow to evaluate the model on a desired set of performance metrics
      • reporting - workflow to summarize and visualize model performance
      • full - complete Flyte pipeline to generate trained model
  • tests/ - Unit tests for your workflows and tasks
  • run - Simplifies running of workflows

In addition, a common challenge in developing pipelines is needing resources beyond what our local machines offer. Or, there might be tasks that require extended runtimes. Flyte does grant the capability to develop locally and run remotely. However, this involves a series of steps:

  • Rebuild your custom docker image after each code modification.
  • Assign a version tag to this new docker image and push it to ECR.
  • Register this fresh workflow version with Flyte, updating the docker image.
  • Instruct Flyte to execute that specific version of the workflow, parameterizing via the CLI.

To circumvent these challenges and expedite the development process, we designed the template’s Makefile and run script to abstract the series of steps above into a single command!

./run —remote src/workflows.py full

The Makefile uses a couple helper targets, but overall provides the following commands:

  • info       - Prints info about this project
  • init       - Sets up project in flyte and creates an ECR repo 
  • build      - Builds the docker image 
  • push       - Pushes the docker image to ECR 
  • package    - Creates the flyte package 
  • register   - Registers version with flyte
  • runcmd     - Generates run command for both local and remote
  • test       - Runs any tests for the code
  • code_style - Applies black formatting & flake8

Key Triumphs

With Flyte as an integral component of our machine learning platform, we’ve achieved unmatched momentum in ML development. It enables swift experimentation and deployment of our models, ensuring we always adhere to best practices. Beyond aligning with fundamental MLOps principles, our customizations ensure Flyte perfectly meets our specific needs, guaranteeing the consistency and reliability of our ML models.

Closing Thoughts

Just as racers feel exhilaration crossing the finish line, our team feels an immense sense of achievement seeing our machine learning endeavors zoom with Flyte. As we gaze ahead, we’re optimistic, ready to embrace the new challenges and milestones that await. 🏎️

If you are drawn to this type of work, check out our job openings.

What was Old is New: Finding Joy in Modernising Legacy Systems

(cover image from ThisisEngineering RAEng)

Let’s face it: software is easier to write than maintain. This is why we, as software engineers, prefer to just “rip it out and start over” instead of trying to understand what another developer (or our past self) was thinking. We seem to have collectively forgotten that “programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute”. You know it’s true — we’ve all had to painstakingly trace through a casserole of spaghetti code and thin, old-world-style abstractions digging for the meat of the program only to find nothing but a mess at the bottom of our plates.

It’s easy to yell “WTF” and blame the previous dev, but the truth is often more complicated. We can’t see the future, so it’s impossible to understand how requirements, technology, or business goals will grow when we design a net-new system. As a result, systems can become unreadable as their scope increases along with the business’s dependency on them. This is a bit of a paradox: older, harder to maintain systems often provide the most value. They are hard to work on because they’ve grown with the company, and scary to work on because breaking it could be a catastrophe.

Here’s where I’m calling you out: if you like hard, rewarding problems… try it. Take the oldest system you have and make it maintainable. You know the one I’m talking about — the one no one will “own”. That one the other departments depend on but engineers hate. The one you had to patch Log4Shell on first. Do it. I dare you.I recently had such an opportunity to update a decade old machine learning system at Bazaarvoice. On the surface, it didn’t sound exciting: this thing didn’t even have neural networks! Who cares! We ll… it mattered. This system processes nearly every user-generated product review received by Bazaarvoice — nearly 9 million per month — and does so with 90 million inference calls to machine learning models. Yup — 90 million inferences! It’s a huge scale, and I couldn’t wait to dive in.

In this post, I’ll share how modernizing this system through a re-architecture, instead of a re-write, allowed us to make it scalable and cost-effective without having to rip out all of the code and start over. The resulting system is serverless, containerized, and maintainable while reducing our hosting costs by nearly 80%. This post is a companion piece to a talk I recently presented at AWS Data Summit for Software Companies on generating value from data by leveraging our best practices to ensure success in machine learning projects. This post discusses the technical aspects in more detail, but you can watch the high-level talk linked at the end.

Something Old

First, let’s take a look at what we’re dealing with here. The legacy system my team was updating moderates user-generated content for all of Bazaarvoice. Specifically, it determines if each piece of content is appropriate for our client’s websites.

Photo by Diane Picchiottino

This sounds straightforward — eliminate obvious infractions such as hate speech, foul language, or solicitations — but in practice, it’s much more nuanced. Each client has unique requirements for what they consider appropriate. Beer brands, for example, would expect discussions of alcohol, but a children’s brand may not. We capture these client-specific options when we onboard new clients, and our Client Services team encodes them into a management database.

For some added complexity, we also sample a subset of our content to be moderated by human moderators. This allows us to continuously measure the performance of our models and discover opportunities for building more models.

The full architecture of our legacy system is shown below:

Our legacy moderation system hosted machine learning models on a single EC2 instance. This made deployments slow and limited scalability to the host’s memory size.

This system has some serious drawbacks. Specifically — all of the models are hosted on a single EC2 instance. This wasn’t due to bad engineering — just the inability of the original programmers to foresee the scale desired by the company. No one thought that it would grow as much as it did. In addition, the system suffered from developer rejection: it was written in Scala, which few engineers understood. Thus, it was often overlooked for improvement since no one wanted to touch it.

As a result, the system continued to grow in a keep-the-lights-on manner. Once we got around to re-architecting it, it was running on a single x1e.8xlarge instance. This thing had nearly a terabyte of ram and costs about $5,000/month (unreserved) to operate. Don’t worry, though, we just launched a second one for redundancy and a third for QA 🙃.

This system was costly to run and was at a high risk of failure (a single bad model can take down the whole service). Furthermore, the code base had not been actively developed and was thus significantly out of date with modern data science packages and did not follow our standard practices for services written in Scala.

Something New

When redesigning this system we had a clear goal: make it scalable. Reducing operating costs was a secondary goal, as was easing model and code management.

The new design we came up with is illustrated below:

Our new architecture deploys each model to a SageMaker Serverless endpoint. This lets us scale the number of models without limit while maintaining a small cost footprint.

Our approach to solving all of this was to put each machine learning model on an isolated SageMaker Serverless endpoint. Like AWS Lambda functions, serverless endpoints turn off when not in use — saving us runtime costs for infrequently used models. They also can scale out quickly in response to increases in traffic.

In addition, we exposed the client options to a single microservice that routes content to the appropriate models. This was the bulk of the new code we had to write: a small API that was easy to maintain and let our data scientists more easily update and deploy new models.

This approach has the following benefits:

  • Decreased the time to value by over 6x. Specifically, routing traffic to existing models is instantaneous, and deploying new models can be done in under 5 minutes instead of 30.
  • Scale without limit – we currently have 400 models but plan to scale to thousands to continue to increase the amount of content we can automatically moderate.
  • Saw a cost reduction of 82% moving off EC2 as the functions turn off when not in use, and we’re not paying for top-tier machines that are underutilized.

Simply designing an ideal architecture, however, isn’t the really interesting hard part of rebuilding a legacy system — you have to migrate to it.

Something Borrowed

Our first challenge in migration was figuring out how the heck to migrate a Java WEKA model to run on SageMaker, let alone SageMaker Serverless.

Fortunately, SageMaker deploys models in Docker containers, so at least we could freeze the Java and dependency versions to match our old code. This would help ensure the models hosted in the new system returned the same results as the legacy one.

Photo from JJ Ying

To make the container compatible with SageMaker, all you need to do is implement a few specific HTTP endpoints:

  • POST /invocation — accept input, perform inference, and return results.
  • GET /ping — returns 200 if the JVM server is healthy

(We chose to ignore all of the cruft around BYO multimodel containers and the SageMaker inference toolkit.)

A few quick abstractions around com.sun.net.httpserver.HttpServer and we were ready to go.

And you know what? This was actually pretty fun. Toying with Docker containers and forcing something 10 years old into SageMaker Serverless had a bit of a tinkering vibe to it. It was pretty exciting when we got it working — especially when we got the legacy code to build it in our new sbt stack instead of maven. The new sbt stack made it easy to work on, and containerization ensured we could get proper behavior while running in the SageMaker environment.

Something Blue

So we have the models in containers and can deploy them to SageMaker — almost done, right? Not quite.

Photo by Tim Gouw

The hard lesson about migrating to a new architecture is that you must build three times your actual system just to support migration.

In addition to the new system, we had to build:

  • A data capture pipeline in the old system to record inputs and outputs from the model. We used these to confirm that the new system would return the same results.
  • A data processing pipeline in the new system to compute results and compare them to the data from the old system. This involved a large amount of measurement with Datadog and needed to offer the ability to replay data when we found discrepancies.
  • A full model deployment system to avoid impacting the users of the old system (which would simply upload models to S3). We knew we wanted to move them to an API eventually, but for the initial release, we needed to do so seamlessly.

All of this was throw-away code we knew we could toss once we finished migrating all of the users, but we still had to build it and ensure that the outputs of the new system matched the old.

Expect this upfront.

While building the migration tools and systems certainly took more than 60% of our engineering time on this project, it too was a fun experience. Unit testing became more like data science experiments: we wrote whole suites to ensure that our output matched exactly. It was a different way of thinking that made the work just that much more fun. A step outside our normal boxes, if you will.

So… Just Try It

Next time you’re tempted to rebuild a system from code up, I’d like to encourage you to try migrating the architecture instead of the code. You’ll find interesting and rewarding technical challenges and will likely enjoy it much more than debugging unexpected edge cases of your new code.


The talk I gave is a bit more high-level and goes into the MLOps side of things. Check it out here:

Kedro 6 Months In

We build AI software in two modes: experimentation and productization. During experimentation, we are trying to see if modern technology will solve our problem. If it does, we move on to productization and build reliable data pipelines at scale.

This presents a cyclical dependency when it comes to data engineering. We need reliable and maintainable data engineering pipelines during experimentation, but don’t know what that pipeline should do until after we’ve completed the experiments. In the past, I and many data scientists I know have used an ad-hoc combination of bash scripts and Jupyter Notebooks to wrangle experimental data. While this may have been the fastest way to get experimental results and model building, it’s really a technical debt that has to be paid down the road.

The Problem

Specifically, the ad-hoc approach to experimental data pipelines causes pain points around:

  • Reproducibility: Ad-hoc experimentation structures puts you at risk of making results that others can’t reproduce, which can lead to product downtime if or when you need to update your approach. Simple mistakes like executing a notebook cell twice or forgetting to seed a random number generator can usually be caught. But other, more insidious problems can occur, such as behavior changes between dependency versions.
  • Readability: If you’ve ever come across another person’s experimental code, you know it’s hard to find where to start. Even documented projects might just say “run x script, y notebook, etc”, and it’s often unclear where the data come from and if you’re on the right track. Similarly, code reviews for data science projects are often hard to read: it’s asking a lot for a reader to differentiate between notebook code for data manipulation and code for visualization.
  • Maintainability: It’s common during data science projects to do some exploratory analysis or generate early results, and then revise how your data is processed or gathered. This becomes difficult and tedious when all of these steps are an unstructured collection of notebooks or scripts. In other words, the pipeline is hard to maintain: updating or changing it requires you to keep track of the whole thing.
  • Shareability: Ad-hoc collections of notebooks and bash scripts are also difficult for a team to work on concurrently. Each member has to ensure their notebooks are up to date (version control on notebooks is less than ideal), and that they have the correct copy of any intermediate data.

Enter Kedro

A lot of the issues above aren’t new to the software engineering discipline and have been largely solved in that space. This is where Kedro comes in. Kedro is a framework for building data engineering pipelines whose structure forces you to follow good software engineering practices. By using Kedro in the experimentation phase of projects, we build maintainable and reproducible data pipelines that produce consistent experimental results.

Specifically, Kedro has you organize your data engineering code into one or more pipelines. Each pipeline consists of a number of nodes: a functional unit that takes some data sets and parameters as inputs and produces new data sets, models, or artifacts.

This simple but strict project structure is augmented by their data catalog: a YAML file that specifies how and where the input and output data sets are to be persisted. The data sets can be stored either locally or in a cloud data storage service such as S3.

I started using Kedro about six months ago, and since then have leveraged it for different experimental data pipelines. Some of these pipelines were for building models that eventually were deployed to production, and some were collaborations with team members. Below, I’ll discuss the good and bad things I’ve found with Kedro and how it helped us create reproducible, maintainable data pipelines.

The Good

  • Reproducibility: I can’t say enough good things here: they nailed it. Their dependency management took a bit of getting used to but it forces a specific version on all dependencies, which is awesome. Also, the ability to just type kedro install and kedro run to execute the whole pipeline is fantastic. You still have to remember to seed random number generators, but even that is easy to remember if you put it in their params.yml file.
  • Function Isolation: Kedro’s fixed project structure encourages you to think about what logical steps are necessary for your pipeline, and write a single node for each step. As a result, each node tends to be short (in terms of lines of code) and specific (in terms of logic). This makes each node easy to write, test, and read later on.
  • Developer Parallelization: The small nodes also make it easier for developers to work together concurrently. It’s easy to spot nodes that won’t depend on each other, and they can be coded concurrently by different people.
  • Intermediate Data: Perhaps my favorite thing about Kedro is the data catalog. Just add the name of an output data set to catalog.yml and BOOM, it’ll be serialized to disk or your cloud data store. This makes it super easy to build up the pipeline: you work on one node, commit it, execute it, and save the results. It also comes in handy when working on a team. I can run an expensive node on a big GPU machine and save the results to S3, and another team member can simply start from there. It’s all baked in.
  • Code Re-usability: I’ll admit I have never re-used a notebook. At best I pulled up an old one to remind myself how I achieved some complex analysis, but even then I had to remember the intricacies of the data. The isolation of nodes, however, makes it easy to re-use them. Also, Kedro’s support for modular pipelines (i.e., packaging a pipeline into a pip package) makes it simple to share common code. We’ve created modular pipelines for common tasks such as image processing.

The Bad

While Kedro has solved many of the quality challenges in experimental data pipelines, we have noticed a few gotchas that required less than elegant work arounds:

  • Incremental Dataset: This support exists for reading data, but it’s lacking for writing datasets. This affected us a few times when we had a node that would take 8-10 hours to run. We lost work if the node failed part of the way through. Similarly, if the result data set didn’t fit in memory, there wasn’t a good way to save incremental results since the writer in Kedro assumes all partitions are in memory. This GitHub issue may fix it if the developers address it, but for now you have to manage partial results on your own.
  • Pipeline Growth: Pipelines can quickly get hard to follow since the input and outputs are just named variables that may or may not exist in the data catalog. Kedro Viz helps with this, but it’s a bit annoying to switch between the navigator and code. We’ve also started enforcing name consistency between the node names and their functions, as well as the data set names in the pipeline and the argument names in the node functions. Finally, making more, smaller pipelines is also a good way to keep your sanity. While all of these techniques help you to mentally keep track, it’s still the trade off you make for coding the pipelines by naming the inputs and outputs.
  • Visualization: This isn’t really considered much in Kedro, and is the one thing I’d say notebooks still have a leg up on. Kedro makes it easy for you to load the Kedro context in a notebook, however, so you can still fire one up to do some visualization. Ultimately, though, I’d love to see better support within Kedro for producing a graphical report that gets persisted to the 08_reporting layer. Right now we worked around this by making a node that renders a notebook to disk, but it’s a hack at best. I’d love better support for generating final, highly visual reports that can be versioned in the data catalog much like the intermediate data.

Conclusion

So am I a Kedro convert? Yah, you betcha. It replaces the spider-web of bash scripts and Python notebooks I used to use for my experimental data pipelines and model training, and enables better collaboration among our teams. It won’t replace a fully productionalized stream-based data pipeline for me, but it absolutely makes sure my experimental pipelines are maintainable, reproducible, and shareable.

Root Cause Analysis for Hadoop Applications

Parth Shah and Thai Bui

Overview

One of the reasons why Hadoop jobs are hard to operate is their inability to provide clear, actionable error diagnostic messages for users. This stems from the fact that Hadoop consists of many interrelated components. When a component fails or behaves poorly, the failure will be cascaded to its dependent components which causes a job to fail.

This blog post is an attempt to help to solve that problem by created a user-friendly, self-serving and actionable Hadoop diagnostic system.

Our Goals

Due to its complex nature, the project was split into multiple components. First, we prototyped a diagnostic tool to help debug Hadoop application failure by providing a clear root cause analysis and save engineering time. Second we purposely inflict failures on a cluster (via a method called chaos testing) and collected the data to understand how certain log messages map to errors. Finally, we examined regular expression as well as natural language processing (NLP) techniques to automatically provide root cause analysis in production.

To document this, we organized the blog in the following sections:

  • Error Message Analytics Portal
    • To provide a quick glance at the known root cause.
  • Datadog Dashboard
    • To calculate failure rates related to the unknown root cause and known root cause.
    • Separate infrastructure failure from a missing data failure (missing partition).
  • Data Access
    • All relevant logs messages from services like Yarn, Oozie, HDFS, hive server, etc. were collected and stored under an S3 bucket with an expiration policy.
  • Chaos Data Generation
    • Using chaos testing, we produced actual errors related to memory, network, etc. This was done to understand relationships between log messages and root cause errors.
    • A service was made to create an efficient and simple way to run chaos tests and collect its corresponding/related log data.
  • Diagnostic Message Classification
    • Due to the simple and repetitive nature of log messages (low in entropy), we built a natural language processing model that classified specific error types of an unknown failure.
    • Tested the model on the chaos data for the specific workload at Bazaarvoice

Error Message Analytics Portal

Bazaarvoice provides an internal portal tool for managing analytics applications by the end-users. The following screenshot demonstrates an example message of a “Job failures due to missing data”. This message is caught by using a simple regular expression of the stack trace. A regular expression works because there is only one way a job could fail due to missing data.



DataDog Dashboard

What is a partition?

Partitioning is a strategy of dividing a table into related parts based on date, components or other categories. Using a partition, it is easy and faster to query a portion of data. However, the partition a job is querying can sometimes not be available which causes a job to fail by our design. The dashboard below calculates metrics and keeps track of jobs that failed due to an unavailable partition.

The dashboard classifies failed jobs as either a partition failure (late/missing data) or an unknown failure (Hadoop application failure). Our diagnostic tool attempts to find the root cause of the unknown failures since a late or missing data is an easy problem to solve. 



Data Access

Since our clusters are powered by Apache Ambari, we leveraged and enhanced Ambari Logsearch Logfeeder to ship logs of relevant services directly to S3 and partitioned the data by as shown in the raw_log of the Directory Tree Diagram below. However, as the dataset got bigger, partitioning was not enough to efficiently query the data. To speed up read performance and to iterate faster, the data was later converted into ORC format.



Convert JSON logs to ORC logs

DROP TABLE IF EXISTS default.temp_table_orc;
CREATE EXTERNAL TABLE default.temp_table_orc (
cluster STRING,
file STRING,
thread_name STRING,
level STRING,
event_count INT,
ip STRING,
type STRING,
...
hour INT,
component STRING
) STORED AS ORC
LOCATION 's3a://<bucket_name>/orc-log/${workflowYear}/${workflowMonth}/${workflowDay}/${workflowHour}/';
INSERT INTO default.temp_table_orc SELECT * FROM bazaar_magpie_rook.rook_log
WHERE year=${workflowYear} AND month=${workflowMonth} AND day=${workflowDay} AND hour=${workflowHour};

Sample Queries for Root Cause Diagnosis

SELECT t1.log_message,
       t1.logtime,
       t1.level,
       t1.type,
       t2.Frequency
FROM
  (SELECT log_message,
          logtime,
          TYPE,
          LEVEL
   FROM
     ( SELECT log_message,
              logtime,
              TYPE,
              LEVEL,
              row_number() over (partition BY log_message
                                 ORDER BY logtime) AS r
      FROM bazaar_magpie_rook.rook_log
      WHERE cluster_name = 'cluster_name'
        AND DAY = 28
        AND MONTH=06
        AND LEVEL = 'ERROR' ) S
   WHERE S.r = 1 ) t1
LEFT JOIN
  (SELECT log_message,
          COUNT(log_message) AS Frequency
   FROM bazaar_magpie_rook.rook_log
   WHERE cluster_name = 'cluster_name'
     AND DAY = 28
     AND MONTH=06
     AND LEVEL = 'ERROR'
   GROUP BY log_message) t2 ON t1.log_message = t2.log_message
WHERE t1.logtime BETWEEN '2019-06-28 13:05:00' AND '2019-06-28 13:30:00'
ORDER BY t1.logtime
LIMIT 400;

SELECT log_message, logtime, type
FROM bazaar_magpie_rook.rook_log WHERE level = 'ERROR' AND type != 'logsearch_feeder' AND logtime BETWEEN '2019-06-24 09:05:00' AND '2019-06-24
12:30:10'
ORDER BY logtime
LIMIT 1000;

SELECT log_message, COUNT(log_message) AS Frequency
FROM  bazaar_magpie_rook.rook_log
WHERE cluster_name = 'dev-blue-3' AND level = 'ERROR' AND logtime BETWEEN '2019-06-27 13:50:00' AND '2019-06-29 14:30:00'
GROUP BY log_message
ORDER BY COUNT(log_message) DESC
LIMIT 10;

Chaos Data Generation

The chaos data generation process makes up a bulk of this project as well is the most important. It stems from the process of chaos testing to experiment on software and infrastructure in order to understand the systems ability to withstand unexpected or turbulent conditions. This concept of testing was first introduced by Netflix in 2011. The following pseudocode explains how it works.

Submit a normal job through an API on a specific cluster

Create a list of IP addresses for all the testable nodes in that cluster (such as the workers nodes).

Once we have all associated nodes, inject failures into them (stress test memory or network)

While the job is not done

    Let the job run

At this point, the job has either failed or succeeded

Stop all stress tests

Gather the job details such as start time, end time, status, and most importantly its associated stress test type (memory, packet_corruption, etc.). 

Store job details and its report in JSON format

Job Report Example

{
"duration":"45 Minutes",
"nominalTime":"2018-10-27 07:00:00",
"cost":0.7974499089253186,
"downloadLinks":[],
"errorMessage":"Error: Main class [org.apache.oozie.action.hadoop.Hive2Main], exit code [2]",
"startTime":"2019-07-25 18:45:37",
"stopTime":"2019-07-25 19:31:18","failedAction":"hive-action",
"chaos_error":"packet_corruption",
"workflowId":"0001998-190628043141230-oozie-oozi-W",
"status":"KILLED"
}

We followed the same process to generate chaos data on different types of injected failures such as:

  • High Memory Utilization on the Host
  • Packet Corruption
  • Packet Loss
  • High Memory Util on a Container

While there are certainly more errors the model is capable of learning and classifying, for the purpose of prototyping we kept the type of failures to 2-3 categories.

Diagnostic Message Classification

In this section, we explore 2 types of error classification methods, a simple regex and supervised learning.

Short Term Solution with Regex

There are many ways to analyze text for different patterns. One of these ways is called Regular Expression Matching (regex). Regex is “special strings representing a pattern to be matched in search operation”. One use of regex is finding a keyword like “partition”. When a job fails due to missing partitions its error message usually looks something like this “Not all partitions are available even after 16 attempts“. The regex for this specific case would look like \W*((?i)partition(?-i))\W* .

A regex log parser could easily be able to identify this error and do what is necessary to fix the problem. However, the power of regex is very limiting when it comes to analyzing complex log messages and stack traces. When we find a new error, we would have to manually hardcode a new regular expression to pattern match the new error type which is very error-prone and tedious in the long run.

Since the Hadoop eco-system includes many components, there are many combinations of log messages that can be produced; a simple regex parser would be difficult to work here because it can not process general similarities between different sentences. This is where natural language processing helps.

Long Term Solution with Supervised Learning

The idea behind this solution is to use natural language processing to process log messages and supervised learning to learn and classify errors. This model should work well with log data vs. normal language due since machine logs are more structured and low in entropy. You can think of entropy as a measure of how unstructured or random a set of data is. The English language tends to have high entropy relative to machine logs due to its sometimes illogical sentence structure. On the other hand, machine-generated log data is very repetitive which makes it easier to model and classify.

Our model required pre-processing of logs which are called tokenization. Tokenization is the process of taking a set of text and breaking it up into its individual words or tokens. Next, the set of tokens were used to model their relationship in high dimensional space using Word2Vec. Word2Vec is a widely popular model used for learning vector representation of words called, “word embeddings” (word2vec). Finally, we use the vector representation to train a simple logistic regression classifier using the chaos data generated earlier. The diagram below shows a similar training processing from Experience Report: Log Mining using Natural Language Processing and Application to Anomaly Detection by Christophe Bertero, Matthieu Roy, Carla Sauvanaud and Gilles Tredan.



In contrast to the diagram above, since we only trained the classifier on error logs, it was not possible to classify a normal system as it should produce no error logs. Instead, we trained the data on different types of stressed systems. Using the dataset generated by chaos testing, we were able to identify the root cause for each of the error message for each failed job. This allowed us to make our training dataset as shown below. We split our dataset into a simple 70% training and 30% for testing.

Subsequently, each log message was tokenized to create a word vector. All the tokens were inputted into a pre-trained word2vec model which mapped out each word in a vector space, creating a word embedding. Each line was represented as a list of vectors and an average of all the vectors in a log message represents the feature vector in high dimensional space. We then inputted each feature vector and its labels into a classification algorithm such as logistic regression or random forest to create a model that could predict the root cause error from a logline. However, since failure often contains multiple error log messages, it would not be logical to simply reach a root cause conclusion from just a single line of the log from a long error log. A simple way to tackle this problem would be to window the log and input the individual lines from the window into the model and output the final error as the most common error outputted by all the lines in a window. This is a very naive way of breaking apart long error log so more research would have to be done to process error logs without losing the valuable insight of their dependent messages.

Below are a few examples of error log messages and their tokenized version.

Example Raw Log

java.lang.RuntimeException: org.apache.thrift.transport.TSaslTransportException: No data or no sasl data in the stream at org.apache.thrift.transport.TSaslServerTransport$Factory.getTransport(TSaslServerTransport.java:219)
    at org.apache.thrift.server.TThreadPoolServer$WorkerProcess.run(TThreadPoolServer.java:269)
    at java.util.concurrent.ThreadPoolExecutor.runWorker(ThreadPoolExecutor.java:1149)
    at java.util.concurrent.ThreadPoolExecutor$Worker.run(ThreadPoolExecutor.java:624)
    at java.lang.Thread.run(Thread.java:748) [?:1.8.0_191] Caused by: org.apache.thrift.transport.TSaslTransportException: No data or no sasl data in the stream at org.apache.thrift.transport.TSaslTransport.open(TSaslTransport.java:328)
    at org.apache.thrift.transport.TSaslServerTransport.open(TSaslServerTransport.java:41) ~[hive-exec-3.1.0.3.1.0.0-78.jar:3.1.0-SNAPSHOT] at org.apache.thrift.transport.TSaslServerTransport$Factory.getTransport(TSaslServerTransport.java:216)

Tokenized Raw Log

[java,lang,RuntimeException,org,apache,thrift,transport,TSaslTransportException,No,data,no,sasl,data,stream,org,apache,thrift,transport,TSaslServerTransport,Factory,getTransport,TSaslServerTransport,java219]
[org,apache,thrift,server,TThreadPoolExecutor,WorkerProcess,run,TThreadPoolServer,java,269]
...

Results

The model accurately predicted the root cause of failed job with 99.3% accuracy in our test dataset. At an initial glance, the metrics calculated on the test data look very promising. However, we still need to evaluate its efficiency in production to get a more accurate picture. The initial success in this proof of concept warrants further experimentation, testing, and investigation for using NLP to classify errors. 

Training Data 70% (Top 20 Rows)

Test Data Results 30% (Top 20 Rows)

Conclusion

In order to implement this tool in production, data engineers will have to automate certain aspects of the data aggregation and model building pipeline

Self Reporting Errors

A machine learning model is only as good as its data. For this tool to be robust and accurate, any time engineers encounter a new error or an error that the model does not know about, they should report their belief of the root cause so the corresponding errors logs get tagged with the specific root cause error. For instance, when a job fails for a similar reason, the model will be able to diagnose and classify its error type. This can be done through a simple API, form, Hive query that takes in the job id and its assumed root_cause. The idea behind is this that by creating a form, we could manual label log messages and errors in case the classifier fails to correctly diagnose the true problem. 

The self-reported error should take the form of the chaos error to ensure the existing pipeline will work.

Automating Chaos Data Generation

The chaos tests should run on a regular basis in order to keep the model up to date. This could be done by creating a Jenkins job that automatically runs on a regular cadence. Often times, running a stress test will make certain nodes to be unhealthy. It causes our automation to be unable to SSH into the nodes again to stop the stress test such as when the stress test is interfering with connectivity to the node (see the error below). This can be solved by creating a time limit for the stress test, so the script does not have to ssh again once the job has finished. In the long run, as the self-reported errors grow, the model should rely on chaos test generated test less. Chaos tests produce logs for very extreme situations which could be not typical for a normal production environment. 

java.lang.RuntimeException: Unable to setup local port forwarding to 10.8.100.144:22
    at com.bazaarvoice.rook.infra.util.remote.Gateway.connect(Gateway.java:103)
    at com.bazaarvoice.rook.infra.regress.yarn.RootCauseTest.kill_memory_stress_test(RootCauseTest.java:174)

Hackathon 2019

This year’s Bazzarvoice Hackathon coincided with our annual all hands meeting in Austin. Our global offices took time to work on projects that focused on innovation, social integrations, and improved efficiencies. Teams across our departments participated This included: R&D, Product, Customer Services, and Knowledge Base.

Hackathon teams took two days to work on their projects. The following day, teams present their outcomes in a science fair setting while the company voted on the projects.  The top 10 teams then then went on to present to the entire company.

Thanks to all who participated and especially those who organized the various activities. We hope to see many of these projects become new product enhancements.