Concepts and Background

This section introduces key concepts and motivations underpinning the DALiuGE system.


A traditional dataflow computation model does not explicitly place any control or constraints on the order or timing of operations beyond what is inherent in the data dependencies among compute tasks. The removal of explicit scheduling of compute task in the dataflow model has opened up new (e.g. parallelism) opportunities that are previously masked by “artificial” control flow imposed by applications or programmers. A similar example is the make tool, where the programmer focuses on defining each target and its dependencies. The burden of exploring parallelism to efficiently execute many individual compiling tasks in a correct order lies within the responsibility of the make utility.


Following the dataflow model, a computer program can be described by a Directed Graph where the nodes denote compute task, and the edges denote data dependencies between operations. In principle, a dataflow graph consists of edges, nodes (or actors), and tokens. Tokens represent data items and travel across directed edges to be transformed at nodes into other data items (similar to functions). While in theory the dataflow model provides a powerful yet simple formalism to describe parallel computation, early efforts in developing dataflow architecture had to introduce control flow operators (e.g. switch and merge) and data storage mechanism in order to put dataflow models into practice.


In developing DALiuGE, we have extended the “traditional” dataflow model by integrating data lifecycle management, graph execution engine, and cost-optimal resource allocation into a coherent data-activated framework. Concretely, we have made the following changes to the existing dataflow model:

  • Unlike traditional dataflow models that characterise data as “tokens” moving across directed edges between nodes, we instead model data as the node, elevating them as actors who have autonomy to manage their own lifecycles and trigger appropriate “consumer” applications based on their own internal (persistent) states. In our graph model, both application (task) and data nodes are termed as Drops. What are really moving on the edge are Drop Events.

  • While nodes/actors in the traditional dataflow are stateless functions, we express both computation and data nodes as stateful Drops. Statefulness not only allows us to manage Drops through persistent checkpointing, versioning and recovery after restart, etc., but also enables data sharing amongst multiple processing pipelines in situations like re-processing or commensal observations. All the state information is kept in the Drop wrapper, while the payload of the Drops, i.e. pipeline component algorithms and data, remain stateless.

  • We introduced a small number of control flow graph nodes at the logical level such as Scatter, Gather, GroupBy, Loop, etc. These additional control nodes allow pipeline developers to systematically express complex data partitioning and event flow patterns based on various requirements and science processing goals. More importantly, we transform these control nodes into ordinary Drops at the physical level. Thus they are nearly transparent to the underlying graph/dataflow execution engine, which focuses solely on exploring parallelisms orthogonal to these control nodes placed by applications. In this way, the data-activated framework enjoys the best from both worlds - expressivity at the application level and flexibility at the dataflow system level.

  • Finally, we differentiate between two kinds of dataflow graphs - Logical Graph and Physical Graph. While the former provides a higher level of abstraction in a resource-independent manner, the latter represents the actual execution plan consisting of inter-connected Drops mapped onto a given set of hardware resources in order to meet performance requirements at minimum cost (e.g. power consumption). In addition we further distinguish between Logical Graph Templates and Logical Graphs and Physical Graph Templates and Physical Graphs. The template graph in each of the pairs has a number of free parameters, while in the actual graph everything is fully defined. The free parameters of a Logical Graph Template allow changes to the configuration and behaviour of components, but none of those will change the structure and logic of the Logical Graph. Similarly free parameters in Physical Graph Templates will allow allocation of parts of the graph to certain hardware resources to produce the final Physical Graph. The structure of the template is the same as the structure of any Physical Graph derived from the same template. Note however that, while changing some of the parameters of a Logical Graph Template will not change the structure of the derived Logical Graph at all, it can dramatically change the structure of the associated Physical Graph Template and Physical Graph. For example a scatter construct in a Logical Graph Template has exactly the same strcuture for 2 and for 100,000 splits, but the Physical Graph will show either 2 or 100,000 branches.