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Technical Perspective: A Perspective on Pivot Tracing

Distributed systems are difficult to manage at the best of times: diagnosis, debugging, capacity planning, and configuration of runtime properties like timeouts or service-level objective (SLO) thresholds, are made more challenging by the extra complexity that arises from distribution. Throw into the mix that a single request will be serviced by multiple independent microservices, and these challenges compose and multiply.

Yet this type of serving environment is completely normal—just about every online service uses a collection of distinct, communicating functions to fulfil each user request. For example, the sale of a single item on a shopping site might involve an authentication service, a bot detection service, an inventory management service, and a payments service, each of which will be sharded N ways and likely using a caching layer in front of (distributed) persistent storage. With distribution comes scale: requests consisting of hundreds, or even thousands, of nested RPCs are not unusual in Web services. Standard mechanisms for batching, pipelining, concurrency, fault tolerance, hedging of requests, load balancing, and other such in-band, dynamic, control systems further exacerbate the difficulties of understanding system behavior.


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