Fallacies of Distributed Computing

Distributed architecture styles, while much more powerful in terms of performance, scalability and availability than monolithic architecture styles, have significant trade-offs. One of the groups of issues is known as the fallacies of distributed computing.

A fallacy is something that is believed or assumed to be true but is not. All fallacies when analysed are common sense, even they are things we experiment every day but, for some reason, they are some times forgotten when designing new distributed systems.

Fallacy #1: The Network is Reliable

Ok, with the cloud environments we do not trip over network cables anymore but, while networks have become more reliable over time, the fact is that networks still remain generally unreliable, this being a factor that influences distributed system due to its reliance on the network for communication.

Fallacy #2: Latency is Zero

Let’s face it, the network sometimes goes faster and sometimes slower, is there someone out there it has never seen a streaming film suddenly freezing for a few seconds when the killer is behind the main character? Communication latency on a network is never zero and, it is always bigger than local latencies. When working with distributed systems we need to consider the latency average. And, not only that, we should consider the 95th to 99th percentile too because the values can differ.

Fallacy #3: Bandwidth is Infinite

We are sure about that, right? Explain that to your three flatmates when you are trying to call home and they are, independently, watching their favourite film on a streaming platform. The fact of the system been distributed increases the amount of information that travels through the network and every byte matters. Maybe, a simple request of 200 kilobytes seems small but multiply it for the number of requests made per second and, include all the request among services performed at the same time. This number can grow easily.

Fallacy #4: The Network is Secure

Just two words “cybercriminals everywhere” (no reason to be scared). The surface area for threats and attacks increases by magnitudes when moving from a monolithic to a distributed architecture. We know the need to secure all endpoints, even when communicating among internal services.

Fallacy #5: The Topology Never Changes

Raise your hand if you think IT members never change anything on your network over time. No hands. Good! Routers, hubs, switches, firewalls, networks and appliances used, even cloud networks can suffer changes or need updates and modifications that can affect services communications or latencies on the network.

Fallacy #6: There is Only One Administrator

Have you ask someone from IT to do something and asked later about the progress to a different person in the department to just need to explain your request again because the request was never logged? That happens, a lot, sometimes things get lost, the coordination is not good enough, the communication is not good enough or … you see where I am going.

Fallacy #7: Transport Cost is Zero

If you have an internet connection at home, probably your internet provider sends you a bill from time to time, if it does not, please stop using your neighbours’ Wi-Fi. It is not exactly the same but exemplifies that to be able to communicate certain infrastructure and network topology are necessary. The needs of monolithic applications are substantially different from the needs of distributed systems. servers, firewalls, multiple load balancers, proxies…

Fallacy #8: The Network is Homogeneous

I do not have a more mundane example for this one to make it easy to remember but a real one should be simple enough. A company using multiple cloud services at the same time. All of them are going to work well initially but, not all of them have been exactly built and tested in the same way. It can be differences in the services like latency or reliability, basically, everything named on the previous fallacies.

Reference: “Fundamentals of Software Architecture by Mark Richards and Neal Ford (O’Reilly). Copyright 2020 Mark Richards, Neal Ford, 978-1-492-04345-4″

Fallacies of Distributed Computing

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