Monday, October 5, 2009

Simple Task Management

In distributed systems, tasks are often performed in parallel with one another. In these types of distributed systems, the task is an important abstraction. There are likely to be thousands or millions of task instances at any given time distributed amongst nodes. In order to achieve concurrency, it is important that these tasks be of reasonable size. Otherwise, there exist large non-interruptible regions that cannot execute in parallel with other tasks.

Another essential abstraction in a task manager design is the manager itself. Call it a task runner if that sounds better, the idea is that it is responsible for running tasks. Not just blindly running tasks either but maintaining order amongst all the tasks that are competing for attention. Tasks also need to be disposed of when they have completed running or are otherwise unable to run.

Implementing this type of distributed task management is hard. There are many ways to go about implementing something this complex and concurrent. My suggestion is to first design the most simplistic task management system conceivable. Then make inferences from it. An extremely simple structure of a task management system is illustrated below.

The Task class is specialized by the Search and Sort classes. This means that Search and Sort are types of tasks. The Runner class is associated with the Task class because it is responsible for running tasks as the name suggests. The Runner instance maintains a queue of tasks to run. Below is an example illustrating how a controller would create a task and ask the runner to execute it.

There is room in this simple design for concurrent events that will push tasks onto the Runner task queue. The Runner instance could also execute the tasks in parallel. The idea is to get the simple design right before even considering concurrency.