Workload Isolation with Queue Sharding


A number of customers have contacted me with a common problem:

We run a multi-tenant system where our users can perform an action which results in a huge number of jobs being enqueued. When this happens, other users see significant delays in their jobs being processed while our Sidekiq cluster works through the backlog for that one user.

The issue is this: if you give 100% of your resources to process that user’s backlog, 100% of your customers will feel the pain of that backlog delay. For years I’ve recommended customers use a simple setup with three queues: critical, default and bulk. If user A throws 100,000 jobs into bulk, processing those jobs would be low priority and perhaps take one or two hours. That backlog will not block critical or default jobs but it will delay any bulk processing by other users.

Generically, this issue is known as workload isolation. AWS, in particular, has published a few articles on how they deal with this problem in their services and they’ve highlighted an interesting technique used to provide isolation between customers.

shuffle sharding example

The key idea is known as shuffle sharding but the technique is not specific to AWS, you can use it today with your Sidekiq cluster. Go read that article, it’s quite good.

Queues and Processes

We’ll use real numbers here to minimize confusion but you can adjust these numbers for your own scale.

Note also that this technique is completely separate from Redis sharding. If you have 4 Redis shards, you have 4 Sidekiq clusters. This queue sharding technique is specific to a single Sidekiq cluster running against a single Redis instance.

We assume that operations which trigger high job volumes will go into a logical bulk queue but in reality your app will enqueue those jobs into eight shards: bulk0 - bulk7.

You have 8 Sidekiq processes and each process will process critical, default and 2 bulk shards.

shards = 8
shards.times do |idx|
  other = idx.succ % shards
  "bundle exec sidekiq -q critical -q default -q bulk#{idx} -q bulk#{other}"

Now each user’s operation should dynamically target a bulk shard. If you have a random ID for the overall operation, you can do something as simple as:

q = "bulk#{operationID % 8}"
100_000.times do |idx|
  # push 100,000 jobs to a bulk shard

Other bulk user operations should randomly select a shard also. They have a 1 in 8 chance of selecting the same shard but most of the time the operations will be isolated from each other. Net result: if a user operation creates a large number of bulk jobs, this will only affect 12% of other operations rather than 100% as we were seeing at the beginning. The trade off is that only two Sidekiq processes will be processing any one bulk shard.

Want faster processing? Spread the jobs across two random shards. You get 100% more processes but only increase your odds from 12% to 25% that you will disrupt anyone.

That trade off is the crux: you might want more processes or fewer shards to get that backlog processed quicker. 32 processes and 8 shards will get you 4 processes for a queue. 16 processes with 4 shards will also get you 4 processes for a queue but will mean that 1/4 of operations will clash instead of 1/8. Only you can judge what’s appropriate for your app and budget.


By sharding the bulk queue, we isolate our Sidekiq resources into buckets so that any one bulk user operation can’t monopolize all resources. Ultimately this is a trade off because it also naturally limits the thoroughput of those operations: they can’t use the full set of resources in production to finish quicker. High priority operations still have the option to utilize more than one bulk shard or target the default queue in order to blast through a backlog with 100% of your resources.