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These are main concepts and components of both Apache Ignite and GridGain. Taking a moment to familiarize yourself with these can help ease you through coming up to speed with the product.

In-memory Computing

With in-memory computing, processing happens in RAM instead of on disk, utilizing the faster performance inherent in memory architecture. For (much) more about GridGain’s memory architecture, see Memory Architecture.

Clustering, Servers and Clients

GridGain defines two types of nodes — servers and clients.

A server node is the base computational and data storage unit in GridGain. Typically, you start a single server node per machine or container and it will scale vertically by utilizing all of the CPU, RAM, and other resources available unless specified differently. Those resources are pooled and become available to GridGain applications once the server node joins a cluster of other server nodes.

GridGain Deployment

A cluster is a group of server nodes interconnected together in order to provide shared resources like RAM and CPU to your applications.

Operations executed by applications (key-value queries, SQL, computations, etc.) are directed to and performed by server nodes. If you need more computational power or data storage, scale out your cluster by adding more server nodes to it.

Client nodes are your connection endpoints and gateways from the application layer to the cluster of server nodes. You always embed a client into your application code and execute required APIs. The clients shield all the complexity of GridGain’s distributed nature from application developers who will see the cluster as a single unit. It’s as simple as connecting to an RDBMS via a JDBC driver or Spring Data framework.

For more information about clustering, see Clustering.

Thick vs. Thin Clients

GridGain clients come in several different flavors, each with various capabilities. JDBC and ODBC drivers are useful for SQL-only applications and SQL-based tools. HTTP REST client is useful to communicate with cluster over HTTP and HTTPS. Thick and thin clients go beyond SQL capabilities and support many more APIs. Finally, ORM frameworks like Spring Data or Hibernate are also integrated with GridGain and can be used as an access point to your cluster.

Let’s review the difference between thick and thin clients by comparing their capabilities.

Thick clients (client nodes) join the cluster via an internal protocol, receive all of the cluster-wide updates such as topology changes, are aware of data distribution, and can direct a query/operation to a server node that owns a required data set. Plus, thick clients support all of the GridGain APIs.

Thin clients (lightweight clients) connect to the cluster via binary protocol with a well-defined message format. This type of client supports a more limited set of APIs but in return:

  • Makes it easy to enable programming language support for GridGain and Ignite. Java, .NET, C++, Python, Node.JS, and PHP are supported out of the box.

  • Doesn’t have any dependencies on JVM. For instance, .NET and C++ thick clients have a richer feature set but start and use JVM internally.

  • Requires at least one port opened on the cluster end. Note that more ports need to be opened if partition-awareness is used for a thin client.

Refer to this section to decide which type of client works better for you.

Cache vs. Table

You can notice that both terms "cache" and "table" are used in relation to the structure that holds data sets in Apache Ignite and GridGain. And both terms are valid because the concepts of a SQL table and a key-value cache are two equivalent representations of the same (internal) data structure. You can model your applications and, consequently, access the data using either the key-value APIs or SQL statements, or both.

Check this documentation section for a thorough explanation, but here let us share more insights on why two terms were coined in GridGain instead of one. It was driven solely by product evolution. Originally (a long time before Apache Ignite and Apache Spark), GridGain was used as a computation platform that supported map-reduce paradigm at scale and in memory (known as Ignite/GridGain Compute Grid nowadays). Later, it became obvious that GridGain storage capabilities have to be embedded into GridGain to avoid expensive data movement/loading into the cluster before the compute engine can kick off tasks execution. The concept of in-memory caches was defined and GridGain turned into a distributed in-memory cache that supported both the key-value and previously existing Compute Grid APIs. Before donating the original code to ASF under the new project known as Apache Ignite, GridGain supported the first SQL commands that extended existing capabilities of key-value caches. Later, Apache Ignite community extended SQL support introducing classical DDL and DML commands pulling in the concept of relational tables. This led to co-existence of two terms and two different data modelling approaches in GridGain and Ignite.

Will this situation last forever? Certainly not. As part of the product evolution, both Apache Ignite community and GridGain are working on a next version of the APIs that will amalgamate the concepts of caches and tables. Follow Apache Ignite 3.0 related discussions on Ignite dev list for more details.

Multi-Tiered Storage

GridGain is based on distributed multi-tiered architecture that combines the performance and scale of in-memory computing together with the disk durability and strong consistency in one system.

When native persistence is turned on, GridGain functions as a system of records, where most of the processing happens in memory on cached data, but the superset of data and indexes is persisted to disk.

Alternatively, GridGain can persist changes to an underlying database like an RDBMS or NoSQL accelerating your existing infrastructure and architectures. This enables the in-memory data grid (IMDG) use case, which is covered below.

Partitioning and Replication

Data partitioning is a method of subdividing large sets of data into smaller chunks and distributing them between all server nodes in a balanced manner.

In the partitioned mode, all partitions are split equally between all server nodes. This mode is the most scalable distributed cache mode and allows you to store as much data as will fit in the total memory (RAM and disk) available across all nodes. Essentially, the more nodes you have, the more data you can store.

In the replicated mode, all the data (every partition) is replicated to every node in the cluster. This mode provides the utmost availability of data as it is available on every node. However, every data update must be propagated to all other nodes, which can impact performance and scalability.

Note that you can use both modes by having partitioned as well as replicated caches/tables in your cluster. For instance, the replicated mode is advantageous for dictionary-like tables that are relatively small, not updated frequently but used in many operations like SQL queries with JOINs.

For more information about partitioning and replication, see Data Partitioning page.

Affinity Colocation and Colocated Computations

The amount of data (and data sources) companies have is constantly increasing and is rapidly becoming too big to store on a single machine, and too big to move over the network. The only way left to scale is horizontally. GridGain accomplishes this by partitioning data across nodes as well as supporting built-in affinity mechanisms for related data colocation.

For example, within the DDL used to define the schema, you can declare affinity keys such as foreign keys that specify which data should be colocated together across two tables. Partitioning the data of two tables by the foreign key ensures joins can happen on each node with minimal network traffic.

Once the data is colocated, not only complex SQL queries with JOINs will perform much better but advanced tasks and compute logic you want to perform over a specific data set will be sent to the nodes where the required data is located and only the results of the computations are sent back.

Refer to Affinity Colocation and Colocating Computations with Data articles for more details.

GridGain as an In-Memory Data Grid

GridGain’s unique multi-tiered storage architecture allows for two primary use cases. The first one is the in-memory data grid (IMDG) where GridGain slides in between your application layer and an external database enabling in-memory computing for existing solutions in the most straightforward way.

Refer to this section for more details.

GridGain as a System of Record

The second use case is where GridGain is used as a classical system of record. It both caches data in RAM and persists it in a built-in transactional persistent storage.

In this use case, all of the data is stored on disk and as much as will fit is loaded into RAM. This allows for a much larger data set as the data that does not fit in memory is still available. For example, if your data set is large enough that only 10% of it can fit in memory, 100% of the data will be stored on disk and 10% is cached in memory for performance. This configuration, where the data set is stored in bulk on disk, is called Ignite persistence (or native persistence).

Refer to this section for more details.