Making Active MQ (JBoss A-MQ) Scale

Hiram Chirino who is one of the authors of Apache’s Active MQ gave a talk at the last month’s Camel One gathering in Boston that coincided with Red Hat Summit. This is a summary of his talk on making Active MQ scale 6.18.2013.


Active MQ is designed for Machine to Machine, push-style messaging and enables vertical scaling through high performance as well as horizontal scaling through clustering and partitioning. Hiram gave a number of scaling tips for Active MQ, which applies to Red Hat’s stand alone enterprise offering JBoss A-MQ and also  JBoss Fuse since Active MQ is embedded.

Vertical Scaling

To start, vertical scaling, or allowing a single Active MQ broker to serve more traffic than before, can be improved with a few parameters:

  • Set the configuration for using a dedicated task runner to false.
  • Set the destination policy setting for optimizing dispatch to true.
  • Use the NIO transport on the broker
  • Reduce the thread size on the JVM via the Xss option

If using version 5.6 of Active MQ, then non-blocking callbacks for ACK-ing receipt of JMS messages are available which can improve performance by incurring fewer thread waits.

If using version 5.8, a new backing store is available, called Level DB instead of Kaha DB which offers higher performance in nearly all cases.

Horizontal Scaling

Scaling out is usally a little more tricky than scaling up. In Active MQ, there are two primary methods for scaling out horizontally in your messaging architecture:

  1. Use client side partitioning by having multiple brokers, each for a set of clients.
  2. Link brokers together in a cluster configuration.

The second method is the out of box “easy button”, but it is important to note that it does NOT make Active MQ faster. Instead, in some cases it is slower because it may add a network hop between brokers to reach a particular connected client path.

The first method is more difficult to configure and maintain as clients scale out, so it is best used where the messaging topology matches with the broker partitioning scheme. This occurs when clients are naturally separated by geography or business purpose and producers know which client group should receive a particular message and can select the broker accordingly.

High Availability

Even with Horizontal Scaling practices, it is still possible to lose a broker and, particularly when using partioning, the associated set of clients. This is where a High Availability configuration comes into play – to allow clients to continue receiving messages when their primary broker fails.

HA configurations often use a failover URI type, written as failover://(address1,address2,...)but high availability can also be acheived by clustering at the database level (which is still a single point of failure, only now at the DB instead of the message broker). Alternately shared filesystems can be used and, in the case of Apache MQ 5.9, a replicated Level DB using Zookeeper for automatic leader election.

The Zookeeper case is an interesting one, as it is also the officially supported tool embedded within Fuse Fabric as the service registry. When a fabric URI is used, the client can dynamically discover and resolve slave instances of brokers from the directory.

It is important to consider the system load when using Zookeeper, as Zookeeper does not respond well in cases of CPU contention and this can impact leader election. Keeping Zookeeper hosted separately from the Active MQ broker helps with this, and you need at least 3 Zookeeper instances to achieve High Availability through Zookeeper, and at least 5 to have high reliability.

Demo Time

Hiram made use of Tmux to automatically echo his commands across multiple terminals, live in front of the audience. This speeds up the demo quite a bit, looks awesome, and lends credibility to him as a presenter for using a cool tool.

The demo went well, showing brokers going down and the clients recovering without losing messages.

Closing Thoughts

A lot of features are new in the 5.9 version of Active MQ, but won’t make it into RedHat enterprise offerings until early next year. Red Hat JBoss A-MQ and Red Hat JBoss Fuse sees Active MQ as upstream code and takes some time to certify it for enterprise level support.

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