The deployment stamp pattern involves deploying multiple independent copies of application components, including data stores. Each individual copy is called a stamp, or sometimes a service unit or scale unit. This approach can improve the scalability of your solution, allow you to deploy instances across multiple regions, and separate your customer data.
Context and problem
When hosting an application in the cloud there are certain considerations to be made. One key thing to keep in mind is the performance and reliability of your application. If you host a single instance of your solution, you might be subject to the following limitations:
- Scale limits. Deploying a single instance of your application may result in natural scaling limits. For example, you may use services that have limits on the number of inbound connections, host names, TCP sockets, or other resources.
- Non-linear scaling or cost. Some of your solution’s components may not scale linearly with the number of requests or the amount of data. Instead, there can be a sudden decrease in performance or increase in cost once a threshold has been met. For example, you may use a database and discover that the marginal cost of adding more capacity (scaling up) becomes prohibitive, and that scaling out is a more cost-effective strategy. Similarly, Azure Front Door has higher per-domain pricing when a high number of custom domains are deployed, and it may be better to spread the custom domains across multiple Front Door instances.
- Separation of customers. You may need to keep certain customers’ data isolated from other customers’ data. Similarly, you may have some customers that require more system resources to service than others, and consider grouping them on different sets of infrastructure.
- Handling single- and multi-tenant instances. You may have some large customers who need their own independent instances of your solution. You may also have a pool of smaller customers who can share a multi-tenant deployment.
- Complex deployment requirements. You may need to deploy updates to your service in a controlled manner, and to deploy to different subsets of your customer base at different times.
- Update frequency. You may have some customers who are tolerant of having frequent updates to your system, while others may be risk-averse and want infrequent updates to the system that services their requests. It may make sense to have these customers deployed to isolated environments.
- Geographical or geopolitical restrictions. To architect for low latency, or to comply with data sovereignty requirements, you may deploy some of your customers into specific regions.
To avoid these issues, consider deploying copies of your solution’s components multiple times. Stamps operate independently of each other and can be deployed and updated independently. A single geographical region may contain a single stamp, or may contain multiple stamps to allow for horizontal scale-out within the region. Stamps contain a subset of your customers.
Deployment stamps can apply whether your solution uses infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS) components, or a mixture of both. Typically IaaS workloads require more intervention to scale, so the pattern may be useful for IaaS-heavy workloads to allow for scaling out.
Stamps can be used to implement deployment rings. If different customers want to receive service updates at different frequencies, they can be grouped onto different stamps, and each stamp could have updates deployed at different cadences.
Because stamps run independently from each other, data is implicitly sharded. Furthermore, a single stamp can make use of further sharding to internally allow for scalability and elasticity within the stamp.
The deployment stamp pattern is used internally by many Azure services, including App Service, Azure Stack, and Azure Storage.
Deployment stamps are related to, but distinct from, geodes. In a deployment stamp architecture, multiple independent instances of your system are deployed and contain a subset of your customers and users. In geodes, all instances can serve requests from any users, but this architecture is often more complex to design and build. You may also consider mixing the two patterns within one solution; the traffic routing approach described below is an example of such a hybrid scenario.
Because of the complexity that is involved in deploying identical copies of the same components, good DevOps practices are critical to ensure success when implementing this pattern. Consider describing your infrastructure as code,
uch as using Azure Resource Manager templates and scripts. With this approach, you can ensure that the deployment of each stamp is predictable. It also reduces the likelihood of human errors such as accidental mismatches in configuration between stamps.
You can deploy updates automatically to all stamps in parallel, in which case you might consider technologies like Resource Manager templates or Azure Deployment Manager to coordinate the deployment of your infrastructure and applications. Alternatively, you may decide to gradually roll out updates to some stamps first, and then progressively to others. Azure Deployment Manager can also manage this type of staged rollout, or you could consider using a release management tool like Azure Pipelines to orchestrate deployments to each stamp.
Carefully consider the topology of the Azure subscriptions and resource groups for your deployments:
Typically a subscription will contain all resources for a single solution, so in general consider using a single subscription for all stamps. However, some Azure services impose subscription-wide quotas, so if you are using this pattern to allow for a high degree of scale-out, you may need to consider deploying stamps across different subscriptions.
Resource groups are generally used to deploy components with the same lifecycle. If you plan to deploy updates to all of your stamps at once, consider using a single resource group to contain all of the components for all of your stamps, and use resource naming conventions and tags to identify the components that belong to each stamp. Alternatively, if you plan to deploy updates to each stamp independently, consider deploying each stamp into its own resource group.
Use load and performance testing to determine the approximate load that a given stamp can accommodate. Load metrics may be based on the number of customers/tenants that a single stamp can accommodate, or metrics from the services that the components within the stamp emit. Ensure that you have sufficient instrumentation to measure when a given stamp is approaching its capacity, and the ability to deploy new stamps quickly to respond to demand.
The Deployment Stamp pattern works well if each stamp is addressed independently. For example, if Contoso deploys the same API application across multiple stamps, they might consider using DNS to route traffic to the relevant stamp:
unit1.aus.myapi.contoso.com routes traffic to stamp
unit1 within an Australian region.
unit2.aus.myapi.contoso.com routes traffic to stamp
unit2 within an Australian region.
unit1.eu.myapi.contoso.com routes traffic to stamp
unit1 within a European region.
Clients are then responsible for connecting to the correct stamp.
If a single ingress point for all traffic is required, a traffic routing service may be used to resolve the stamp for a given request, customer, or tenant. The traffic routing service either directs the client to the relevant URL for the stamp (for example, using an HTTP 302 response status code), or may act as a reverse proxy and forward the traffic to the relevant stamp without the client being aware.
A centralized traffic routing service can be a complex component to design, especially when a solution runs across multiple regions. Consider deploying the traffic routing service into multiple regions (potentially including every region that stamps are deployed into), and then ensuring the data store (mapping tenants to stamps) is synchronized. The traffic routing component may itself by an instance of the geode pattern.
For example, Azure API Management could be deployed to act in the traffic routing service role. It can determine the appropriate stamp for a request by looking up data in a Cosmos DB collection storing the mapping between tenants and stamps. API Management can then dynamically set the back-end URL to the relevant stamp’s API service.
To enable geo-distribution of requests and geo-redundancy of the traffic routing service, API Management can be deployed across multiple regions, or Azure Front Door can be used to direct traffic to the closest instance. Front Door can be configured with a backend pool, enabling requests to be directed to the closest available API Management instance. The global distribution features of Cosmos DB can be used to keep the mapping information updated across each region.
If a traffic routing service is included in your solution, consider whether it acts as a gateway and could therefore perform gateway offloading for services such as token validation, throttling, and authorization.
Issues and considerations
You should consider the following points when deciding how to implement this pattern:
- Deployment process. When deploying multiple stamps, it is highly advisable to have automated and fully repeatable deployment processes. Consider using Resource Manager templates or Terraform templates to declaratively define the stamp.
- Cross-stamp operations. When your solution is deployed independently across multiple stamps, questions like “how many customers do we have across all of our stamps?” can become more complex to answer. Queries may need to be executed against each stamp and the results aggregated. Alternatively, consider having all of the stamps publish data into a centralized data warehouse for consolidated reporting.
- Determining scale-out policies. Stamps have a finite capacity, which might be defined using a proxy metric such as the number of tenants that can be deployed to the stamp. It is important to monitor the available capacity and used capacity for each stamp, and to proactively deploy additional stamps to allow for new tenants to be directed to them.
- Cost. The Deployment Stamp pattern involves deploying multiple copies of your infrastructure component, which will likely involve a substantial increase in the cost of operating your solution.
- Moving between stamps. As each stamp is deployed and operated independently, moving tenants between stamps can be difficult. Your application would need custom logic to transmit the information about a given customer to a different stamp, and then to remove the tenant’s information from the original stamp. This process may require a backplane for communication between stamps, further increasing the complexity of the overall solution.
- Traffic routing. As described above, routing traffic to the correct stamp for a given request can require an additional component to resolve tenants to stamps. This component, in turn, may need to be made highly available.
- Shared components. You may have some components that can be shared across stamps. For example, if you have a shared single-page app for all tenants, consider deploying that into one region and using Azure CDN to replicate it globally.
This pattern is useful when you have:
- Natural limits on scalability. For example, if some components cannot or should not scale beyond a certain number of customers or requests, consider scaling out using stamps.
- A requirement to separate certain tenants from others. If you have customers that cannot be deployed into a multi-tenant stamp with other customers due to security concerns, they can be deployed onto their own isolated stamp.
- A need to have some tenants on different versions of your solution at the same time.
- Multi-region applications where each tenant’s data and traffic should be directed to a specific region.
- A desire to achieve resiliency during outages. As stamps are independent of one another, if an outage affects a single stamp then the tenants deployed to other stamps should not be affected. This isolation helps to contain the ‘blast radius’ of an incident or outage.
This pattern is not suitable for:
- Simple solutions that do not need to scale to a high degree.
- Systems that can be easily scaled out or up within a single instance, such as by increasing the size of the application layer or by increasing the reserved capacity for databases and the storage tier.
- Solutions in which data should be replicated across all deployed instances. Consider the geode pattern for this scenario.
- Solutions in which only some components need to be scaled, but not others. For example, consider whether your solution could be scaled by sharding the datastore rather than deploying a new copy of all of the solution components.