Running a Distributed Cluster

Multiple sequins nodes can run as a cluster, to distribute load and disk usage, and to provide redundancy against single node failure.

To avoid the complexity this usually entails, sequins is designed in a way that optimizes for implementation simplicity over flexibility. Sequins will automatically and transparently divvy up and replicate your data, but this comes with two important caveats:

  • Sequins sharding is static. A cluster will reshard a database once at startup, and once whenever a new version is available.

  • New nodes will happily overreplicate partitions, but if a node disappears the cluster will never automatically re-replicate partitions (you can, however, replace the node).

Sequins requires a running Zookeeper cluster for coordination, but not to serve requests (see Zookeeper Failure for more information on how this dependency works, and what the failure modes are).

Setting up

You'll need the following properties in sequins.conf on all the nodes in the cluster, at a minimum:

  • sharding.enabled: This should be set to true.

  • zk.servers: This should be the address(es) of the zookeeper quorum, eg ["zk1:2181"]

There's lots of other ways to tweak your distributed setup; see the Configuration Reference for details.

Then start up the nodes. Because sharding is static, sequins will wait for the list of peers to stabilize before proceeding; you should start the nodes at roughly the same time, or some partitions will be overreplicated.

That's it! Once the data is ingested, you can query any node in the cluster for any key; peers will transparently proxy to eachother.

Node Failure

By default, sequins has a sharding.replication setting of 2. That means that in the face of a single node going down, the cluster should still be able to respond to all requests1.

However, as mentioned earlier, sequins sharding is static; it will not automatically correct the underreplication that results from a node disappearing. If a node is permanently down, this can leave you in a precarious position.

Sequins provides a mechanism to deal with this in the form of the shard_id configuration property. The shard_id, unlike hostname, does not have to be unique per node. If you spin up a node with the same shard_id, it will replicate the exact same partitions. You can use this to replace an exploded node, or to spin up a new node in advance of decommissioning an old one.

1. Of course, it's still important for clients to retry requests (and have timeouts).

Zookeeper Failure

Sequins depends on Zookeeper for the coordination of sharding, but only ever asynchronously. That means that if Zookeeper becomes unavailable,

  • New nodes will refuse to start up.

  • Sequins will not download new databases or versions of databases.

  • In the case of a split, where some nodes can talk to Zookeeper and others can not, the partition map may become stale, and you may receive different versions of a given database from different nodes.

Crucially, however, Zookeeper going down should never impact an existing cluster's ability to service requests.

Version upgrades

Sequins uses Zookeeper to check which nodes have which partitions. It will upgrade to a new version when that version is minimally replicated—when every partition is available somewhere in the cluster.

Note that this occurs before the version is fully replicated, and possibly even before the local node has any partitions.


During the window between an upgrade and full replication, Sequins is more vulnerable to node failure. You can mitigate this vulnerability by setting sharding.min_replication, so that Sequins waits for a certain amount of redundancy before triggering the upgrade.

However, a high min_replication will also make upgrades take longer. In particular, if min_replication is the same as replication, a successful upgrade requires every single node to be up and running.

Recommended settings for a stable cluster are therefore 1 < min_replication < replication <= count(shard_id).

Version consistency

Nodes in a sequins cluster will make a best-effort attempt to upgrade a given database at more or less the same time. It is, of course, physically impossible to ensure that individual nodes upgrade exactly at the same time, and you should not rely on this property.

Individual nodes will also attempt to be individually consistent. If you query a node in sequence, you should only ever see the version monotonically increase; in other words, once a node has upgraded to a new version of a given database, it should never return values from an older version, even if that request was proxied to another node. This, however, is also best-effort, and can fail in the case of extended coordination failure (because of a Zookeeper outage or something else).

In these cases, Sequins will always optimize for availability, and choose to return a value from a different version if that is the only value available. Sequins returns an X-Sequins-Version header on responses if you need to track what version you're getting.

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