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The Cost of Linearizability

As some replication methods can provide linearizability and others cannot, it is interesting to explore the pros and cons of linearizability in more depth.

We already discussed some use cases for different replication methods in Chapter 5; for example, we saw that multi-leader replication is often a good choice for multidatacenter replication (see “Multi-datacenter operation” on page 168). An example of such a deployment is illustrated in Figure 9-7.

A network interruption forcing a choice between linearizability and availability

Figure 9-7. A network interruption forcing a choice between linearizability and availability.

Consider what happens if there is a network interruption between the two datacenters. Let’s assume that the network within each datacenter is working, and clients can reach the datacenters, but the datacenters cannot connect to each other.

With a multi-leader database, each datacenter can continue operating normally: since writes from one datacenter are asynchronously replicated to the other, the writes are simply queued up and exchanged when network connectivity is restored.

On the other hand, if single-leader replication is used, then the leader must be in one of the datacenters. Any writes and any linearizable reads must be sent to the leader— thus, for any clients connected to a follower datacenter, those read and write requests must be sent synchronously over the network to the leader datacenter.

If the network between datacenters is interrupted in a single-leader setup, clients connected to follower datacenters cannot contact the leader, so they cannot make any writes to the database, nor any linearizable reads. They can still make reads from the follower, but they might be stale (nonlinearizable). If the application requires linear- izable reads and writes, the network interruption causes the application to become unavailable in the datacenters that cannot contact the leader.

If clients can connect directly to the leader datacenter, this is not a problem, since the application continues to work normally there. But clients that can only reach a follower datacenter will experience an outage until the network link is repaired.

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