January 2019

Monthly updates are now actually monthly

The 10th-day thing got old. It was an artifact of when I actually started this monthly thing, but the confusion of writing about half of the past month and half of the current was really odd.

So now updates are published on the last day of the month, at 20 o’clock local.

Monthly updates may not actually be monthly anymore

Two years ago when I did those every month, I did make an effort to get something done every month. Last year it was a bit lackluster. This year, I’m basically throwing in the towel. Updates will happen, but they might not happen every month. Or maybe they will. Habits are hard to break, and I’m not trying to break this one, so we’ll see how it goes.


I think I’m ready to start talking about this.

Armstrong is a project that has been brewing for the past year or so.

The concept comes, as often with new projects, out of frustration and want. Armstrong is a job system. Or a job framework. Maybe a job queue. Task queue. Orchestrator. Scheduler. It is an evolution of Gearman, adding features rather than removing them (there are many extra-minimal job queues out there), and keeping to the patterns that make Gearman strong in my opinion.

There is a laundry list of features, but one I want to describe here is the priority system.

Priorities in Gearman work on the basis of three FIFO queues per worker, where “worker” means a particular type of task that’s handled by a pool of worker clients. Those three queues are high, normal, low. Jobs, by default, go into the normal queue, but you can decide which queue they go to explicitly. The normal queue is only processed when there are no high jobs, and so on. Within a queue, jobs are processed in order.

This leads to patterns and rules being established in userspace to ensure good system behaviour. For example, pushing to the high queue is strictly controlled, so that it remains empty most of the time, except for when something urgent comes through. Otherwise it’s all too easy to need an urgent compute and having its jobs just queue up politely riiiight at the back.

Armstrong’s priorities work on the basis of a single giant dynamic queue, not only for each worker, but for all workers all at once. Priority, at the interface, is expressed in time expectation.

One can say:

  • I don’t care when this job runs, I just want it done sometime.
  • I need this job to run within the hour.
  • These tasks all need to finish within 500 milliseconds.

Armstrong then figures out how to achieve that.

The most obvious option is to re-order the queue based on this timing metric, but that’s not all it can do.

Firstly, as a bit of background, Armstrong keeps records of what jobs ran when, where, for how long, etc. This is for audit, debugging, monitoring. It’s also for making priority and scheduling decisions.

Given a job description, the system can query this record and derive the expected duration of the job, for example by averaging the last few runs. Without you having to say so, it knows how long jobs take, and can re-order the queue based on that. Even better, it knows how long jobs take on different hosts, so it can schedule more efficiently, again without prompting.

Secondly, on an opt-in basis, Armstrong workers may be interruptible. This may be achieved through custom logic, or it can be achieved using kernel interfaces, like SIGSTOP, SIGCONT, or SuspendProcess().

If an urgent job comes through and whatever is currently running will not finish in time, Armstrong interrupts the jobs, schedules and runs the urgent jobs, then un-pauses the jobs.

This combination of granular priority, record querying, and control superpowers makes efficient compute use easy and eliminates hours of setup and discussions.

And through this one feature, you can already see other aspects of the system. More later!

Armstrong is still in development, and no parts of it are yet available.