Paper Review: Pregel: A System for Large-Scale Graph Processing

Paper Review:


Graph problems are naturally hard to be parallelized and distributed because of all the dependency of the vertices and edges. Pregel offers a intuitive way of handling graph processing by using N machines to handle M vertices separately (M >> N). There is a single master in this system, used for coordination, aggregation and analysis.

I tried a similar approach last semester by using threads to simulate nodes in a clustering problem. I believe it’s a good model for demonstration but expensive in terms of communication and coordination overhead.

Strong points:

  1. The way they divide the work is straightforward and intuitive. All the vertices are acting independently with the message passing interface and coordination. Computation is also divided into multiple steps bounded with barriers, which is a model widely used for parallel programming;
  2. Combiners could be useful to reduce the messages that needs to be buffered and processed, hence decrease the running time for each superstep. It works good with shortest path computing;
  3. It’s flexible in many ways. There are different input methods; also the user-defined handlers could be used when the target vertex doesn’t exist or for topology mutation. These features make Pregel suitable for more graph-related problems;

Weak points:

  1. Load balancing and vertices partitioning in topology are hard to solve. Pregel doesn’t care about the load balancing and simply encapsulate steps between barriers regardless of the execution time for each machine. It’s very likely that some vertices have more computation to do because they have more edges or perform as cluster head in the graph. In that case, the threads running for these vertices are going to take longer in each step. The default hashing vertices partitioning might group nodes with heavy computation jobs together. So some machines are going to finish much faster than the others and waste their time by waiting for the barriers. In Pregel, there is no load-balancing solution before or during the run.
  2. Since the whole system is considered synchronous in terms of each step, what’s the actual use of the outdated checkpoints? Re-computation for recovery doesn’t make too much sense because the logged messages from healthy partitions don’t necessarily contain enough information to fully cover the lost partition. For example, if there is an island of nodes in the graph, which sends and receives no messages to/from other part of the graph before the crash, then how could we re-compute the states of the island nodes from the messages of other vertices after reloading the checkpoints. And as we are on the topic of fault tolerance, I’m not sure how does Pregel backup/recover the master.
  3. The paper doesn’t specify the guarantees for messages. It seems to me that slave machines interacting, reporting to the master and getting ACKed by the master could take awfully long if loss and congestion happens. And if one machine gets delayed, the whole barrier is pushed late as well. I’m wondering about how long would a single machine take to finish the same job in the evaluation and I’m almost certain that it takes shorter than we expected. The system doesn’t scale well partially because of the communication overhead.



Paper Notes:

  1. During every superstep, a user-defined function is executed for each vertex;
  2. Pregel programs are inherently lock-free and no race condition;
  3. Vertices are identifiable with a string and they are assigned with a value to represent the state; edges have source and destination with a user defined value as well;
  4. A vertex can vote to halt when it has done all of its work. However, it could still be revoked by receiving messages. The computation is over when all the vertices are inactive;
  5. Aggregators can be used to global reduction and coordination;
  6. Topology mutations processed in order (removal then addition) and conflicts are resolved with user defined handles.
  7. A single machine is chosen as the master, which is responsible for the coordination of the group;
  8. Periodic ping message is used for failure detection; fault tolerance is achieved through checkpointing

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