Tech Topics

Here Comes the Cloud

From the get go, elasticsearch has been designed and built for the cloud. From its internal architecture, to how it works in its distributed nature. In the upcoming 0.7 version, the cloud vision has been fully realized.

The Cloud integration revolves around two major components in ElasticSearch: Discovery and Gateway.

Cloud Discovery

One of the main problems with running distributed systems on the cloud is discovery. Products that can do “zero conf” discovery use multicast for it (elasticsearch among them), and in most cloud providers (Amazon AWS or Rackspace) multicast is disabled. The typical way to work around it is to use unicast discovery, which requires setting up a specific list of IPs/Hosts (routers or gossip servers).

Unicast discovery is problematic when used on the cloud. Machines can come and go, and their IP is not static. Cloud providers work around that by providing the ability to have a set of “elastic IPs”. But, at the end, the management of the cloud installation becomes a pain. At least two servers must be associated with an elastic IP and become a special exception case which needs to be managed. This goes completely against “zero conf” discovery and heavily complicates the cloud installation.

ElasticSearch has a new discovery module called “Zen” which was built from the ground up to work well in cloud environments (and integrate well with other elasticsearch modules). The cloud extension to it provides “zero conf” discovery in cloud environments.

In a nutshell, when running on the cloud, the list of machines that are already running on the cloud is available through cloud APIs. This information can be used to perform “zero conf” discovery. This follows the motto that the should be embraced by any system running on the cloud: All Machines are Created Equal.

So, how do you enabled cloud discovery on the cloud? With a few lines of configuration:

    account: <Your Amazon AWS Account Here>
    key: <Your Amazon AWS Secret Key Here>
        type: amazon
    type: cloud

The above configuration enables auto discovery in Amazon AWS. Simply replace amazon with rackspace to work on the Rackspace cloud. There is a long list of compute cloud providers supported, including GoGrid, and Terremark.


ElasticSearch has been designed to do reliable asynchronous long term persistency. This enables several features including the ability for fast local “runtime” storage (including in-memory) while having a long term storage that can be slower. The Gateway concept is described in the Search Engine Time Machine post.

But first, a step back. When designing a system that would be deployed on the cloud, lets take a search engine for example ;) , things come and go. One of those things that come and go are disks. So, local storage, in cloud environments, is considered transient. In Amazon AWS for example, EBS (Elastic Block Store) was introduced to provide a mountable disk that survives restarts. So, we could configure our search engine to store the index on EBS. But, EBS requires periodic snapshotting to S3 (amazon blob store) for “safe” persistency, since EBS can certainly suffer from failures as well. Of course, this means more money spent on your cloud deployment since now one pays for both EBS and S3.

One way to work around this is to persist directly from the local store to S3 by writing some sort of synchronization script / code. But, if the machines fails we will loose all the data up to the point when the script last ran. The next step is to add replication (and sharding for performance) and so on. All of this is provided by elasticsearch out of the box.

Here is how elasticsearch can be configured to store both its cluster metadata (to survive full cluster failure) and indices in the cloud:

    account: <Your Amazon AWS Account Here>
    key: <Your Amazon AWS Secret Key Here>
        type: amazon
    type: cloud
        container: mycontainerhere

The above simple configuration will store things in Amazon S3. Simply change amazon to rackspace to use Rackspace CloudFiles. There is a long list of blobstore providers supported, including Azureblob.

Final Words

As you can see, elasticsearch is now a first class citizen when running on the cloud. I believe that it has actually created a new level of intimate integration of products with the cloud. Both the Discovery and Gateway means that managing an elasticsearch deployment on the cloud is a breeze.

As a side note, I would like to note that cross cloud support is done using jclouds. Highly recommended.


  • We're hiring

    Work for a global, distributed team where finding someone like you is just a Zoom meeting away. Flexible work with impact? Development opportunities from the start?