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KDnuggets Home » News » 2016 » Jun » Software » BigDebug: Debugging Primitives for Interactive Big Data Processing in Spark ( 16:n23 )

BigDebug: Debugging Primitives for Interactive Big Data Processing in Spark

An overview of a recent paper outlining BigDebug, which provides real-time interactive debugging support for Data-Intensive Scalable Computing (DISC) systems, or more particularly, Apache Spark.


A traditional breakpoint pauses the entire application execution at the breakpoint. For a Spark program, this would manifest as each executor processing its data until it reached the breakpoint in the DAG, and then pausing to wait for user input. BigDebug doesn’t do this, since it results in reduced throughput and wasted resources across the cluster. Instead, simulated breakpoints allow the user to inspect intermediate results at a breakpoint, and to resume execution from that point even though the program is still running in the background. BigDebug supports this by spawning a new process when a breakpoint is hit, which records the transformation lineage at the breakpoint.

When a user requests intermediate results from the simulated breakpoint, BIGDEBUG then recomputes the intermediate results and caches the results. If a user queries data between transformations such as flatmap and map within the same stage, BIGDEBUG forces materialization of intermediate results by inserting a breakpoint and watchpoint (described next) API call on the RDD object to collect the intermediate results.

If the user then resumes computation, BigDebug will jump to the computation that has been proceeding in the background. For step over support, a new workflow begins from the nearest possible materialization point.

The user can also apply a temporary fix at a breakpoint, saving the time and costs of restarting the whole job from the beginning:

To save the cost of re-run, BIGDEBUG allows a user to replace any code in the succeeding RDDs after the breakpoint. If a user wants to modify code, BIGDEBUG applies the fix from the last materialization point rather than the beginning of the program to reuse previously computed results. Assuming that a breakpoint is in place, a user submits a new function (i.e., a data transformation operator) at the driver. The function is then compiled using Scala’s NSC library and shipped to each worker to override the call to the original function, when the respective RDD is executed.


On-demand watchpoints can be created with a user-supplied guard function. The guard function acts as a filter and a watchpoint will retrieve all matching records. It is possible to update the guard function to refine it while the program is executing. The NSC library is used to compile the guard at the driver node, and then it is shipped to all executors.

Latency alerts


In big data processing, it is important to identify which records are causing delay. Spark reports a running time only at the level of tasks, making it difficult to identify individual straggler records—records responsible for slow processing. To localize performance anomalies at the record level, BIGDEBUG wraps each operator with a latency monitor. For each record at each transformation, BIGDEBUG computes the time taken to process each record, keeps track of a moving average, and sends to the monitor, if the time is greater than k standard deviations above the moving average where default k is 2.

Breakpoints, watchpoints, and latency alerts are all implemented as instrumented Spark programs under the covers, which make calls to the BigDebug API.



The following charts show the results of an evaluation of BigDebug’s scalability and overheads (click for larger view):


We can see that (a) even with maximum instrumentation (breakpoints and watchpoints on every line) the running time of BigDebug grows steadily in proportion to the base Spark runtime even as data sizes grow to 1TB; (b) the worst case overhead for this maximal instrumentation is 2.5x for word count – with latency measurement disabled it is 1.34x; (c) BigDebug does not affect the scale-out property of Spark; (d) simulated breakpoints have almost 0 overhead when used to pause and then resume; (e) on-demand watchpoint overhead varies with the amount of data captured, for 500MB of transferred data, it is 18%; (f) the combined overheads for tracing, crash monitoring, and watchpoints are in the 30-40% range. This can be reduced by selective use of individual features.

Bio: Adrian Colyer was CTO of SpringSource, then CTO for Apps at VMware and subsequently Pivotal. He is now a Venture Partner at Accel Partners in London, working with early stage and startup companies across Europe. If you’re working on an interesting technology-related business he would love to hear from you: you can reach him at acolyer at accel dot com.

Original. Reposted with permission.


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