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Chapter: Distributed Systems : Communication in Distributed System

System architectures

Client-server: This is the architecture that is most often cited when distributed systems are discussed. It is historically the most important and remains the most widely employed.

System architectures


Client-server: This is the architecture that is most often cited when distributed systems are discussed. It is historically the most important and remains the most widely employed. Figure 2.3 illustrates the simple structure in which processes take on the roles of being clients or servers. In particular, client processes interact with individual server processes in potentially separate host computers in order to access the shared resources that they manage.


Servers may in turn be clients of other servers, as the figure indicates. For example, a web server is often a client of a local file server that manages the files in which the web pages are stored. Web servers and most other Internet services are clients of the DNS service, which translates Internet domain names to network addresses.


Another web-related example concerns search engines, which enable users to look up summaries of information available on web pages at sites throughout the Internet. These summaries are made by programs called web crawlers, which run in the background at a search engine site using HTTP requests to access web servers throughout the Internet. Thus a search engine is both a server and a client: it responds to queries from browser clients and it runs web crawlers that act as clients of other web servers. In this example, the server tasks (responding to user queries) and the crawler tasks (making requests to other web servers) are entirely independent; there is little need to synchronize them and they may run concurrently. In fact, a typical search engine would normally include many


concurrent threads of execution, some serving its clients and others running web crawlers. In Exercise 2.5, the reader is invited to consider the only synchronization issue that does arise for a concurrent search engine of the type outlined here.


Peer-to-peer: In this architecture all of the processes involved in a task or activity play similar roles, interacting cooperatively as peers without any distinction between client and server processes or the computers on which they run. In practical terms, all participating processes run the same program and offer the same set of interfaces to each


other. While the client-server model offers a direct and relatively simple approach to the sharing of data and other resources, it scales poorly.



A distributed application based on peer processes


A number of placement strategies have evolved in response to this problem, but none of them addresses the fundamental issue – the need to distribute shared resources much more widely in order to share the computing and communication loads incurred in accessing them amongst a much larger number of computers and network links. The key insight that led to the development of peer-to-peer systems is that the network and computing resources owned by the users of a service could also be put to use to support that service. This has the useful consequence that the resources available to run the service grow with the number of users.


Models of systems share some fundamental properties. In particular, all of them are composed of processes that communicate with one another by sending messages over a computer network. All of the models share the design requirements of achieving the performance and reliability characteristics of processes and networks and ensuring the security of the resources in the system.


About their characteristics and the failures and security risks they might exhibit. In general, such a fundamental model should contain only the essential ingredients that need to consider in order to understand and reason about some aspects of a system’s behaviour. The purpose of such a model is:


To make explicit all the relevant assumptions about the systems we are modelling.


To make generalizations concerning what is possible or impossible, given those assumptions. The generalizations may take the form of general-purpose algorithms or desirable properties that are guaranteed. The guarantees are


dependent on logical analysis and, where appropriate, mathematical proof.



The aspects of distributed systems that we wish to capture in our fundamental models are intended to help us to discuss and reason about:


Interaction: Computation occurs within processes; the processes interact by passing messages, resulting in communication (information flow) and coordination (synchronization and ordering of activities) between processes. In the analysis and design of distributed systems we are concerned especially with these interactions. The interaction model must reflect the facts that communication takes place with delays that are often of considerable duration, and that the accuracy with which independent processes can be coordinated is limited by these delays and by the difficulty of maintaining the same notion of time across all the computers in a distributed system.


Failure: The correct operation of a distributed system is threatened whenever a fault occurs in any of the computers on which it runs (including software faults) or in the network that connects them. Our model defines and classifies the faults. This provides a basis for the analysis of their potential effects and for the design of systems that are able to tolerate faults of each type while continuing to run correctly.


Security: The modular nature of distributed systems and their openness exposes them to attack by both external and internal agents. Our security model defines and classifies the forms that such attacks may take, providing a basis for the analysis of threats to a system and for the design of systems that are able to resist them.


Interaction model


Fundamentally distributed systems are composed of many processes, interacting in complex ways. For example:


·        Multiple server processes may cooperate with one another to provide a service; the examples mentioned above were the Domain Name System, which partitions and replicates its data at servers throughout the Internet, and Sun’s Network Information Service, which keeps replicated copies of password files at several servers in a local area network.


·        A set of peer processes may cooperate with one another to achieve a common goal: for example, a voice conferencing system that distributes streams of audio data in a similar manner, but with strict real-time constraints.



Most programmers will be familiar with the concept of an algorithm – a sequence of


steps to be taken in order to perform a desired computation. Simple programs are controlled by algorithms in which the steps are strictly sequential. The behaviour of the program and the state of the program’s variables is determined by them. Such a program is executed as a single process. Distributed systems composed of multiple processes such as those outlined above are more complex. Their behaviour and state can be described by a distributed algorithm – a definition of the steps to be taken by each of the processes of which the system is composed, including the transmission of messages between them. Messages are transmitted between processes to transfer information between them and to coordinate their activity.


Two significant factors affecting interacting processes in a distributed system:

·        Communication performance is often a limiting characteristic.

·        It is impossible to maintain a single global notion of time.


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