Consistency Model – A Survey

Part I - What's Data Consistency Model and Why Should We Care?

Data Consistency Model
- it is a Semantic Contract
between a data storage system and its user. Here, data storage system
may refer to hardware system ( for example : memory sub-system inDSM,
SMP, CMP computers) , or software systems (for example: distributed
file system,
web caching or distributed database).

Essentially, Consistency Model defines what value to return in a read operation.

The most natural semantic for storage system is - "read should return the last
written value". It is intuitive in memory system with uniprocessor
associated, where no concurrent access and no data replication exist.

But when concurrent client access and multiple replica exist, it's not easy to identify what "last write" means, mainly due to the lack of global time clock in parallel/distributed system.

So various data models are proposed to define various data semantic when Contention and Replication exists:
- Data Contention
- In memory sub system of parallel computers, there may be multiple
processors that access the same memory location at the same period of
time, what's the semantic each processor should expect? (different
process access the same data item)
- Data Replication
- In distributed file/database system, each data block is replicated at
multiple places, even access(read/write/modify) requests from the same
client may involve more than one replicas, what's the semantic in
client's perspective? (data item is replicated)
- Both Contention & Replication
: What if multiple clients access replicated data blocks? What if there
is a local cache for each processor in SMP system? (many processes
access replicated data items)

Part II - The Various Models

are many consistency models exist in computer architectures and
distributed storage community. Why people invent so many semantics
between storage and its clients? The reason is the trade off between Strict Semantic VS Available Optimization Space
- strict (also simple and easy to understand, use and implement)
semantic will limit the space that we can use to improve availability
and do performance optimization. So each model has its advantages and

Before describe various models, we should clarify some concepts first:

Program Order

- the order of operations (on data items) that is implied by the order
of program statements(or assembly instructions). It's the issuing order
of operations that are from the same thread/process.

Write Atomicity - write operation performs as no concurrent/overlapped operations can occur. So the meaning of "Atomicity" here differs from that in DBMS field, where "Atomicity" means that all ops in a transaction will be performed or none of them will be performed.

Consistency VS Coherence/Replication,
Consistency focus on the semantic of data store (a set of data item)
for multiple client accessing, while Coherence/Replication only deal
with the semantic (and how to implement it) of a replicated data item
(multiple replica exist) when it is accessed by multiple clients.
Coherence/Replication is just part of the Consistency Model. Coherence / Replication Protocol only describes how to implement part of the semantic of some specific data consistency model.

[Update@07/23: Coherence and Replication
are very similar and deal with the same problem, but the former is used
in hardware system (for example, cache coherence) and the later is used
in software system (for example, in distributed files system and
database system]

Following are various Consistency Model descriptions:

1. Atomic Consistency/Strict Consistency

means that for a particular data item (byte, cache block and file
region etc.), each read will return the latest update. I.E. events are
visible to all clients as they occurs/issues. As we already said, due
to the lack of global time clock in distributed/parallel system, it is
very hard to implement if not impossible.

2. Sequential Consistency

model is defined as - "The result of any execution is the same as if
the operations of all the processors were executed in some sequential
order and the operations of each individual processor appears in this
sequence in the order specified by its program." - Leslie Lamport

This definition implies:
1. Events/Operations from the same process are executed in program order
2. Every client sees the same order of all events/updates, which is a sequential one

- Ensures every body sees the same order, very good for data replication
- Preserves causality

Many interleavings are valid (two independent program with M mem ops
and N mem ops will have (M + N)!/(M!N!) valid interleavings)
- Different runs of a program might act differently
- Execution order may be very different from issuing order

3. Causal Consistency

Events that are causally related must be seen by everybody in the same order. Unrelated ("concurrent") events can be seen in different orders.

The challenge in implementing this model lies in how to identify "causally related" events.

4. Eventual Consistency

no updates take place for a long time (inconsistency window), all
replicas will gradually become the latest version of the value.

this model, if client reads data from different replica, it's hard to
define a clear semantic about the return value. To resolve this
problem, client-centric consistency is introduced. These models focus on the semantic in a single client's perspective.

Monotonic Reads
- If a process reads the value of an object, any successive read
operations on that object by that process will always return the same
or more recent value.

Monotonic Writes - A write operation by a process on a data item x is completed before any successive write operation on x by the same process.

Read Your Writes
- The effect of a write operation by a process on data item x will
always be seen by a successive read operation on x by the same process.
A closely related model is "Session Consistency". In this model, Read Your Write semantic only works within a session context and not cross session boundary.

Write Follow Reads
- Any successive write operation by a process on a data item x will be
performed on a replica of x that is up-to-date with the value most
recently read by that process.

5. Weak Consistency

A storage system is said to support weak consistency if:

  1. All synchronization operations are seen by all processors in the same sequentially order.
  2. All
    data operations may be seen in different order on different processors.
    (But order of ops on the same data item is preserved)
  3. The set of both read and write operations in between different synchronization operations is the same in each processor.

An alternative definition is as:

  1. Accesses to synchronization variables are sequentially consistent.
  2. No access to a synchronization variable is allowed to be performed until all previous writes have completed everywhere.
  3. No
    data access (read or write) is allowed to be performed until all
    previous accesses to synchronization variables have been performed.

This model is weaker than sequential consistency model, since no order
assumption can be made on data operations between consecutive
synchronization operations.

The weak consistency leverage the
fact that - between consecutive sync operations, no other process can
use the data being written. So it's safe to reorder write operations on
different mem locations. But the order of operations on the same
location must be preserved to ensure a reasonable memory semantic.

6. Release Consistency

Release consistency is an extension of weak consistency that exploits the information about acquire, release, and nonsynchronization accesses.

  1. Before an ordinary LOAD or STORE access is allowed to perform with respect to any other processor, all previous acquire accesses must be performed, and
  2. Before a release
    access is allowed to perform with respect to any other processor. all
    previous ordinary LOAD and STORE accesses must be performed, and
  3. Special accesses are processor consistent with respect to one another.

In Release Consistency Model, all write operations by a certain node are seen by the other nodes after the former releases the object and before the latter acquire it, but a node must call acquire to get up-to-date values.

There are two kinds of coherence protocols that implement release consistency:
- eager, where all coherence actions are performed on release operations, and
- lazy, where all coherence actions are delayed until after a subsequent acquire

7. Entry Consistency

Like all variants of Release Consistency, it requires the programmer to use acquire and release at the start and end of each critical section, respectively. However, entry
consistency requires each ordinary shared variable to be associated
with some synchronization variable such as a lock or barrier

- An acquire access of a synchronization variable S is not allowed to perform with respect to process Pi until all updates to the guarded shared data Ds have been performed with respect to process Pi.

- Before an exclusive mode access to a synchronization variable S by processor Pi is allowed to perform with respect to Pi, no other processor may hold S in non-exclusive mode.

- After an exclusive mode access to S has been performed, any processor's next non-exclusive mode access to S may not be performed until it is performed with respect to the owner of S.

8. Processor Consistency

- Writes done by a single processor are received by all other processors in the order in which they were issued, but
- Writes from different processors may be seen in a different order by different processors

motivation behind this model is to better reflect the reality of
networks in which the latency between different nodes can be different.

This model is also known as FIFO Consistency and Pipeline Random Access Memory Consistency.

Notes on Nex Steps:
1. Why People Invent Each Model?
2. What's Good and What's Bad for Each Model?

[1] Wiki on Consistency Model
[2] Summary on Consistency Model by CTO@Amazon
[3] Shared Memory Consistency Models: A Tutorial
[4] Memory Consistency Models
[5] Notes On Consistency
[6] Entry Consistency, Midway : Shared Memory Parallel Programming with Entry Consistency for Distributed Memory Multiprocessors
[7] Release Consistency, Memory Consistency and Event Ordering in Scalable Shared-Memory Multiprocessors
[8] Weak Consistency, Memory Access Buffering in Multiprocessors
[9] Memory Ordering in Modern Microprocessors (Part I, Part II)
[10] Wiki on Cache Coherence

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