Real-Time Replication From DynamoDB to MongoDB

Replication From DynamoDB to MongoDBRecently I’ve been faced with an interesting challenge. How can I replicate data, in real-time, from DynamoDB to MongoDB?

Why would I need real-time replication like that? For example:

  • Running on MongoDB different queries relying on different indexes
  • Having on MongoDB more fields or converted fields (you can do it during the replication) so you can use other applications designed for MongoDB
  • Doing a data migration of a large dataset. During the massive copy of the existing documents, the live replication is needed in order to avoid stopping the applications for a long time.

If you need to migrate data from DynamoDB to MongoDB, there are tools and solutions available on the internet, but basically all of them require stopping the application for some time. There are not a lot of solutions for real-time replication, however.

In this article, I’ll show the solution I have implemented to achieve that.

I’ll show you how to deploy a Replicator for a single DynamoDB table. You can scale to more tables by deploying more Replicators the same way.

DynamoDB stores documents using JSON, the same as MongoDB. This simplifies the development of the Replicator’s code, but the documents still need some little adjustments to be fully compatible.

Let’s now create a Proof of Concept to Test Replication From DynamoDB to MongoDB

Note: for the test, we assume you have already an AWS account with proper rights for creating and managing all the features we’ll use. Also, we assume you have the aws CLI (Command Line Interface) installed and you have knowledge of the AWS basics about networking, IAM roles, firewall rules, EC2 creation, and so on. Also, we assume you have already a MongoDB server installed into an EC2 instance.

What We Need

The solution uses the following technologies:

  • A DynamoDB Table: we’ll create a very simple table with just a few fields.
  • DynamoDB Stream: it is an ordered flow of information about changes to items in a DynamoDB table. When you enable a stream on a table, DynamoDB captures information about every modification to data items in the table. Let’s say it is a sort of oplog for MongoDB or binlog for MySQL. Just remember that only the last 24 hours of events are available on the stream. As a consequence of this limitation, the replication process has to catch-up faster than the write on the table.
  • A Lambda function: it is a compute service that lets you run code without provisioning or managing servers. AWS Lambda executes your code only when needed and scales automatically, from a few requests per day to thousands per second. AWS Lambda runs your code on a high-availability compute infrastructure and performs all of the administration of the compute resources, including server and operating system maintenance, capacity provisioning and automatic scaling, code monitoring, and logging. All you need to do is deploying your code in one of the languages that AWS Lambda supports. We’ll use Python for the test, but you can also use NodeJS, Java, .Net, Go, or Ruby.
  • A MongoDB instance: we’ll create a simple MongoDB standalone server on an EC2 machine. The target database could be also a replica set or a sharded cluster with a lot of shards and mongos nodes. For such cases, we’d need only changing the connection string.

The Replication Schema

A DynamoDB stream consists of stream records. Each stream record represents a single data modification in the DynamoDB table to which the stream belongs. Each stream record is assigned a sequence number, reflecting the order in which the record was published to the stream.

Stream records are organized into groups or shards. Each shard acts as a container for multiple stream records. The stream records within a shard are removed automatically after 24 hours.

Any single item of the stream has a type: INSERT, MODIFY or REMOVE, and it can contain the images of the new and old document. An image is the complete JSON document. In the case of INSERT, only the new image is present on the stream. In the case of REMOVE, the old image of the document is available on the stream. In the case of MODIFY, both images can be available on the stream.

The Lambda function is automatically triggered when connected to a source stream like the DynamoDB Stream. As soon as new events are available on the stream, the Lambda function is triggered, AWS creates a container and executes the code associated with the function. The number of events processed by any Lambda container is managed by AWS. We have the capability to set some configuration parameters, but we cannot get complete control of it. AWS manages automatically the scaling of Lambda providing all the resources it needs. In case of a very high write load, we can see hundreds or thousands of Lambda invocations per second.

The Lambda function reads the events from the stream, applies some conversions, and connects to MongoDB to execute the operations:

  • A delete_one in case of REMOVE event
  • An update_one using upsert=true. With upsert=true we can manage at the same time both INSERT and MODIFY operations.

When Lambda finishes computing a batch of events, the container is not immediately destroyed. In fact, a container can be reused by other incoming Lambda invocations. This is an optimization that can help in case of a massive load. As a consequence, you can see thousands of Lambda invocations but fewer running instances.

The following picture summarizes the idea of the solution.

Replication From DynamoDB to MongoDB

 

Note: for the sake of simplicity we are using a MongoDB server on an EC2 machine on AWS. But you can eventually replicate to a MongoDB deployed elsewhere, on another cloud platform like Google Cloud for example, or in your on-premise data center. Just remember in this case to open firewall rules, setting up ssh tunnels to encrypt connections or do whatever is needed to enable proper connectivity to the remote MongoDB ports. This is not covered on this article.

Create a DynamoDB Table

Be sure you have aws CLI installed and your credentials stored in the file ~/.aws/credentials.

 

Create a DynamoDB table named mytable.

We’ll store very simple documents with 3 fields:

  • id: a unique integer number we use as the primary key
  • name: a string containing a person’s name
  • created_at: a numeric field containing the item’s creation Unix epoch

 

Create the Execution Role for Lambda

A Lambda function requires a role with specific policies in order to be executed and accessing other AWS resources.

In the IAM dashboard you can create the role lambda-dynamodb-role and assign to it the policies you can see in the following picture:

Execution Role for Lambda

 

The Python Code of the Function

Let’s create the following file with the name replicator.py. This will be the code executed by Lambda at each invocation.

Analysis of the code:

  • Line 14: at the time you create a Lambda function, you specify a handler, which is a function in your code, that AWS Lambda can invoke when the service executes your code. AWS Lambda uses the event parameter to pass in event data to the handler. AWS Lambda uses the context parameter to provide runtime information to your handler
  • Lines 16-24: we have decided to set env variables on the Lambda creation. This can give you more flexibility if you need to deploy multiple Lambda functions for many DynamoDB Streams.
  • Line 28: we create explicitly a session to execute all the writes of the Lambda invocation. This way we can minimize the impact on MongoDB resources in particular in the case of very high load. Since sessions have been introduced on MongoDB 3.6, if you are using an older version drop this line together with line 69 and drop session=session in update_one and delete_one
  • Line 30: for loop to scan one by one all the items of the batch
  • Line 32: the sub-document dynamodb contains the data about the primary key and the full new image of the document (in case of INSERT), the full old image of the document (in case of REMOVE) or both new and old images (in case of MODIFY)
  • Line 34: check the operation type
  • Lines 36-37: extraction of the new image of the document. We need to use the json.loads() function in order to convert the JSON document into a valid one for MongoDB
  • Line 40: the DynamoDB documents don’t have the _id field as the primary key. This is needed by MongoDB instead. In this case, we would like to use the existing primary key id and create the new field _id.
  • Lines 42-48: if you need to do any kind of conversion on the data during the replication you can put your custom code here. In the example, we add a new age field if it is missing on source document and we convert the created_at field from epoch to ISODate. You can do more transformations if you want. Or you can comment these lines if you don’t need any conversion.
  • Lines 50-55: execution of update_one to insert or update the document on MongoDB. In case of an error, the error string is written on the logs
  • Lines 57-67: execution of delete_one if the operation is REMOVE
  • Lines 73-85: here is the end of the function. We need to return a status code to Lambda. We have decided to return the status code 500 in case not all the events have been processed correctly. The status code 200 (success) is returned only if all the records have been processed correctly. Looking at error messages on the logs you may decide what to do with missing replication events.

Further notes:

  • In case your target MongoDB is a sharded cluster instead of a standalone or a replica set, you need to include also a condition on the shard key into update_one and delete_one
  • The print() results are written into the logs you can access from CloudWatch

As a reference, see below how an event of the DynamoDB Stream looks like:

 

Deploy the Lambda Function

The best way to deploy the Lambda function is by creating a deployment package. Since the function depends on libraries other than the SDK for Python (Boto3, already available on AWS container) we have to install them to a local directory with pip and include them in the deployment package.

Install libraries in a new, project-local package directory with pip’s –target option.

 

Create a ZIP archive of the dependencies

 

Add your function code to the archive

 

Create the function

 

Notes:

  • We have created the environment variables that will be used by the function to configure the connection to MongoDB. Be sure that MongoDB is configured having bindIp set to the private IP of the server, otherwise, Lambda won’t be able to connect.
  • Specify on –vpc-config the same subnet ids and security group for the EC2 instance where MongoDB is running.
  • Specify the role id you have created before (you can copy it from the IAM dashboard).
  • The default timeout of Lambda is three seconds. After that time the function gets errors and finishes. We have increased it to 10 seconds. Consider tuning higher if you see there will be a lot of items for any Lambda invocation and/or the execution time is close to that limit. All these details can be retrieved from the CloudWatch logs.

Now the Lambda function is deployed and we can start using it.

In case of errors during Lambda invocation or in case of timeout expiration, the function will be retried many times using the same batch of events until it succeeds. Just remember that after six hours (default, but it’s tunable) the batch is completely lost. Also, remember that the DynamoDB Stream provides data only for the last 24 hours.

Instead, in case of application errors during Lambda’s code execution, the function is not retried. In our case, we decided to write documents that generated errors on CloudWatch’s logs. You can also configure Lambda to send messages to SNS or writing a file on S3 if you prefer.

 

Enable the DynamoDB Stream

Enabling the stream is trivial. It’s just a matter of creating a trigger on the Lambda dashboard.

The following pictures show how to configure the trigger. First, click on “Add trigger”:

Enable the DynamoDB Stream

 

Select “DynamoDB” from the list:

 

Select the table from the “DynamoDB table” menu:

Click on the “Add” button at the bottom. That’s all. At this point, the Lambda function will start triggering as soon as the first batch of events will be saved on the stream. If the table doesn’t have already a stream it is automatically created.

 

Insert Values on DynamoDB and Check Replication

Finally, we have the Replicator up and running. Let’s check if it works for real.

Let’s manually insert some documents on the DynamoDB table.

 

Check on the DynamoDB dashboard that they have been correctly inserted and look at some documents.

DynamoDB dashboard

 

Now, let’s connect to MongoDB and check if the documents have been replicated or not.

Great, it works. Also, notice that the creation of _id and the other custom conversions worked as well. We added the new field age and changed the epoch value to ISODate.

If you set everything correctly, you should be able to achieve the same result.

 

Useful Monitoring Graphs

On the Lambda dashboard, you can inspect how your function is working.

Looking at the “Monitoring” tab you can see the following graphs. What you see in the pictures has been taken from a real environment, with some relevant write load:

Useful Monitoring Graphs

  • Invocations: number of invocations per second. It’s around 200.
  • Duration: the invocation’s execution duration. The average is acceptable, it’s around 150 milliseconds. We just have some spikes not more than 630 milliseconds.
  • Error count and success rate (%): the green line represents success, it should be always 100%. The red line represents errors occurred, it should be most of the time zero. In case of errors look at the logs.
  • Throttles: in case you hit AWS limitations and Lambda functions cannot be triggered, you can see how many functions have been throttled. Optimum is always close to zero. Remember that in case of throttling the functions will be retried by AWS on the same batch of data until it succeeds.
  • IteratorAge: this represents the replication delay. It is the difference in milliseconds between when the last record in a batch was recorded and when Lambda reads the record. The average latency is a little more than 1 second despite a single spike up to 22 seconds. Anyway, it’s ok. Depending on the real workload you can see more fluctuations. The more important thing is that the graph shouldn’t be an increasing line; in such a case it means the Replicator won’t be able to catch-up as quickly as possible.
  • Concurrent executions: as we discussed, the Lambda container can be reused for multiple invocations. Here you can see that, despite more than 200 invocations per second, only 2 containers are used. The number of concurrent executions depends on the real write workload on DynamoDB and on how many events Lambda processes during a single invocation.

 

Limitations and Warnings

Here are some limitations and warnings you should be aware of.

Number of Concurrent Lambda Functions

It’s difficult controlling the number of invocations of Lambda and the number of concurrently running instances. The number of instances triggered depends mostly on the DynamoDB write load and the frequency of writes in the short period. AWS tries to trigger an invocation as soon as it gets new events in the stream, but at the same time, it tries to manage more events at once.

In most of the cases, by default, you cannot run more than 1000 concurrent Lambda functions in total. It’s a limitation by design in AWS. If you have a very busy environment to replicate you can hit this limitation. If it is not possible decreasing the number of concurrent functions changing some parameters like the “maximum block size” or “chunk window”, it is worth considering asking AWS to increase that limit to more than 1000.

Hint: before asking AWS to increase the limit, you can consider setting differently the “Reserve Concurrency” settings. You can reserve a certain number of concurrent execution by setting this parameter on the dashboard. Just remember that you cannot reserve more than 1000 for all your Lambda functions. If you set to “Use unreserved account concurrency” AWS will manage automatically the running functions depending on the incoming traffic on the streams.

MongoDB Write Capability

DynamoDB can handle really an impressive number of writes. DynamoDB can scale automatically to a very large scale in order to manage all the incoming writes. Basically you can use an unlimited capability provided by AWS.

If you have very busy tables in DynamoDB it could simply happen that your MongoDB cluster is not able to write at the same speed as DynamoDB. In this situation, the Replicator won’t be able to catch-up.

There’s no magic here. If you need to catch-up faster, you just need to provide a faster MongoDB instance. For replicating a large dataset, most likely you need to evaluate a sharded MongoDB cluster instead of a single replica set. Add as many shards as you need in order to be able to run more writes than DynamoDB.

Replication Latency

Looking at the IteratorAge graph in the monitoring tab on the Lambda dashboard, you can see what is the difference in milliseconds between when the last record in a batch was recorded and when Lambda reads the record. From this graph, you can understand if your Replicator is able to catch-up or not. If you see a constantly increasing line it means the Replicator will never catch-up. The two main reasons for the increasing latency are:

  • MongoDB is overloaded and can run fewer writes than DynamoDB; in this case, consider having a larger sharded cluster.
  • You are hitting the concurrent Lambda functions limitation; consider increasing the limit or tune differently the “Reserve concurrency” setting.
  • You are replicating on a remote MongoDB and the latency is mainly due to the network and/or the eventually encrypted connections. Even in this case increasing the number of shards in the target cluster can help

Analyzing CloudWatch Logs

All the print() commands in the code write on CloudWatch’s logs. When you need to debug your function, you have to take a look at those logs. Unfortunately managing very large log files using the AWS dashboard is a difficult task. I suggest to download them locally and use grep to find out the errors. Also, remember that on CloudWatch you will have one log file for any Lambda container. You could have thousands or millions of files. It could be really a hard task managing them.

Here you have a helper bash script you can use to download all the logs you need into a single text file. You just need to specify the name of the function and the time range.

The following example shows how to download the logs for mytable function starting from 4 hours ago until 2 hours ago.

Eventually, Consider the Caching Option

In case you cannot connect very fast to MongoDB from Lambda, or in case of network latency, you may consider having a caching mechanism in the middle. For example, you can write from Lambda into a flat file instead of writing directly into MongoDB. Then you can deploy a very simple consumer script to read sequentially that file and write into MongoDB using one connection only. This way the Lambda function is simpler and could run faster. At the same time, you can reduce the pressure on MongoDB connections.

 

Conclusion

Real-time replication from DynamoDB to MongoDB using Lambda functions works and it’s quite reliable. Unfortunately, this solution is not very easy to tune in cases of very large deployments with a lot of writes. You could spend some time playing with Lambda settings, with MongoDB settings, or caching alternatives to find out the optimum solution.

If you have a lot of DynamoDB tables you have to create multiple Lambda functions. It is possible to create a single function to manage multiple triggers and replicate multiple tables at once, but the risk is having a more complicated code. Error debugging will be more difficult. Based on what I’ve experienced it is better to have a single function for any single table.

If you have implemented an alternative solution, let us know!

Useful link to related article:

Tuning MongoDB for Bulk Loads

 

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