New Storage Providers for Azure Durable Functions

Published 05-26-2021 09:00 AM 7,425 Views
Microsoft

This week at Microsoft’s annual Build conference we made two announcements related to Azure Durable Functions: Two new backend storage providers, and the GA of Durable Functions for PowerShell. In this post, we’ll go into more details about the new storage providers and what they mean for Durable Functions developers.

 

New Storage Providers

 

Azure Durable Functions now supports two new backend storage providers for storing durable runtime state, “Netherite” and Microsoft SQL Server (including full support for Azure SQL Database). These new storage options allow you to run at higher scale, with greater price-performance efficiency, and more portability compared to the default Azure Storage configuration. Any of these three storage providers can now be configured without making any code changes to your existing apps.

 

To learn more, read the Durable Functions storage providers documentation, which also contains a side-by-side comparison of all three supported storage providers.

 

Durable Functions enables you to write long-running, reliable, event-driven, and stateful logic on the serverless Azure Functions platform using every day imperative code. Since its GA release in 2018, the Durable Functions extension transparently saved execution state into an Azure Storage account, ensuring that functions could recover automatically from any infrastructure failure. The convenience and ubiquity of Azure Storage accounts made it easy to get up-and-running in production with Durable Functions apps in a matter of minutes.

 

Limitations of the Azure Storage provider

 

Azure Storage is and will continue to be the default storage provider for Durable Functions. It uses queues, tables, and blobs to persist orchestration and entity state. It also uses blobs and blob leases to manage partitions across a distributed set of nodes. While the Azure Storage provider is the most convenient and lowest-cost option for persisting runtime state, it also has some notable limitations that may prevent it from being usable in certain scenarios.

 

  • Azure Storage has limits on the number of transactions per second for a storage account, limiting the maximum scalability of a Durable Function app.
  • Azure Storage has strict data size limits for queue messages and Azure Table entities, requiring slow and expensive workarounds when handling large payloads.
  • Azure Storage costs can be hard to predict since they are per-transaction and have very limited support for batching.
  • Azure Storage can’t easily support certain enterprise business continuity requirements, such as backup/restore and disaster recovery without data loss.
  • Azure Storage can’t be used outside of the Azure cloud.

After speaking with customers who were impacted by some of these limitations, it became clear to us that we needed to invest in alternative storage providers to ensure the needs of all Durable Functions customers could be met.

 

Fortunately, the architecture of Durable Functions and the underlying Durable Task Framework made it simple for us to enable swapping out backend storage providers without requiring customers to make any code changes. Starting in Durable Functions v2.4.3, we allow you to swap providers by adding a new extension and making a simple configuration change in your host.json file.

 

durable-functions-layers.PNG

 

Introducing “Netherite” for maximum orchestration throughput

 

If you’re a fan of Minecraft, you’ll recognize that “Netherite” is the name of a rare material that is more durable than diamond, can float in lava, and cannot burn. The Netherite storage provider aspires to have similar qualities, but in the context of Durable Functions. It was designed and developed in collaboration with Microsoft Research. It combines the high-throughput messaging capabilities of Azure Event Hubs with the FASTER database technology on top of Azure Page Blobs. The design of Netherite enables significantly higher-throughput processing of orchestrations and entities compared to other Durable storage providers. In some benchmark scenarios, throughput was shown to increase by more than an order of magnitude when compared to the default Azure Storage provider!

 

netherite-performance.PNG

 

The orchestrator used in the above test is a simple function-chaining sample with 5 activity calls running on the Azure Functions Elastic Premium plan:

 

hello-sequences.PNG

 

The significant increase in throughput shown in the above chart can be achieved using a single Azure Event Hubs throughput unit (1 TU), costing approximately $22/month USD (~€18) on the Standard plan (at the time of writing). Much of this performance gain can be attributed to advanced techniques, such as asynchronous snapshotting and speculative communication, as described in the Serverless Workflows with Durable Functions and Netherite research paper.

 

For more information and getting-started instructions for the Netherite provider, see the Netherite documentation.

 

Microsoft SQL for maximum control and portability

 

While the Netherite provider was designed for maximum throughput, the Microsoft SQL (MSSQL) provider for Durable Functions was designed for the needs of the enterprise, including the ability to decouple from the Azure cloud.

 

Microsoft SQL can run anywhere, including on-premises servers, Edge devices, Linux Docker containers, on the Azure SQL Database serverless tier, and even on competitor cloud providers like AWS and GCP. This means you can run Durable Functions anywhere that Azure Functions can run, including your own Azure Arc-enabled Kubernetes clusters. In fact, the Azure Functions Core Tools and the Azure Arc App Service extension have been updated to support automatically configuring Durable Function apps on a Kubernetes cluster with the MSSQL KEDA scaler for elastic scale-out.

 

durable-sql-multi-platform.PNG

 

In addition to portability, you also get many other benefits of using Azure SQL database or Microsoft SQL for storing runtime state, including its long-established support for backup/restore, business continuity (high availability and disaster recovery), and data encryption.

 

The design of the Microsoft SQL storage provider for Durable Functions also makes it easy to integrate with existing SQL-based applications. When your function app starts up, it automatically provisions a set of tables, SQL functions, and stored procedures in the target database within a “dt” schema (“dt” stands for Durable Tasks). You can easily monitor your orchestrations and entities by running SELECT queries against these tables. You can also start new orchestrations using T-SQL and invoking the dt.CreateInstance stored procedure. This is especially useful if you want to extend an existing line-of-business application that already use SQL Server or Azure SQL Database by incorporating database triggers.

 

For more information and getting-started instructions for the Microsoft SQL provider, see the Durable Task SQL Provider documentation.

 

Concluding thoughts

 

We’re really excited about the new possibilities for customers building solutions using Durable Functions. With the availability of the two new storage backends, we hope to see new types of serverless apps get built which may not have been possible before. To be clear, the default Azure Storage provider option isn’t going anywhere, and we’ll continue to promote it as the easiest and lowest cost option for Durable Functions. Customers simply have new options which weren’t previously available.

 

So which one should you choose? I made a simple graphic to help you decide.

 

durable-backends-choose.PNG

 

You can find a more comprehensive comparison of the three storage providers here.

 

As always, the development for Durable Functions happens in the open on GitHub and the new backends are no exception. You can find the Netherite provider at microsoft/durabletask-netherite and the Microsoft SQL provider at microsoft/durabletask-mssql. We encourage you to open issues in these repos and contribute PRs if you have ideas for how we can make them better (we’ve already accepted a few external contributions). Also, don’t forget to give us a :glowing_star: and subscribe for notifications of new releases using the “Watch” button.

1 Comment
Senior Member

Interesting, nice work! but looking at the durabletask-netherite, it appears it would only be supported with the in-process .NET 3.1 provider, not with any other language. Will it be made available as an extension or something or is there any guidance to using it with python/powershell/.net 5.0?

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