Scalability and ZEO

When a web application receives more requests than it can handle over a short period of time, it can become unresponsive. In the worst case, too many concurrent requests to a web application can cause the software which services the application to crash. This can be a problem for any kind of web-based app, not just those which are served by Zope.

The obvious solution to this problem is to use more than one server. When one server becomes overloaded, the others can then hopefully continue to successfully serve requests. By adding additional servers to this kind of configuration, you can "scale" your web application as necessary to meet demand.

Using multiple servers has obvious benefits, but it also poses serious challenges. For example, if you have five servers, then you must ensure that all five server installations are populated with the same information. This is not a very hard task if you have only a few static web pages, but for larger applications with large bodies of rapidly changing information, manually synchronizing the data which drives five separate server installations is almost impossible, even with the "out of the box" features that Zope provides.

A "stock" Zope installation uses the Zope Object Database as its content store, using a "storage" which is named a "FileStorage". This storage type (there are others) keeps all of your Zope data in a single file on your computer's hard drive, typically named Data.fs. This configuration works well until you need to add an additional Zope server to your site to handle increased traffic to your web application. Two Zope servers cannot share this file. The file is "locked" by one Zope server and no other Zope server can access the file. Thus, in a "stock" Zope configuration, it is impossible to add Zope servers which read from the same database in order to "scale" your web application to meet demand.

To solve this problem, Zope Corporation has created another kind of "storage", which operates using a client/server architecture, allowing many Zopes to share the same database information. This product is known as Zope Enterprise Objects, or ZEO.

This chapter gives you a brief overview on installing ZEO, but there are many other options we don't cover.

What is ZEO?

ZEO is a system that allows you to share a Zope Object Database between more than one Zope process. By using ZEO, you may run multiple instances of Zope on a single computer or on multiple computers. Thus, you may spread requests to your web application between Zope servers. You may add more computers as the number of requests grows, allowing your web application to scale. Furthermore, if one Zope server fails or crashes, other servers can still service requests while you fix the broken one. ZEO takes care of making sure each Zope installation uses consistent information from the same Zope Object Database.

ZEO uses a client/server architecture. The Zope processes (shown on multiple computers in the diagram below) are the ZEO Clients. All of the clients connect to one, central ZEO Storage Server, as shown in the image below.

Simple ZEO illustration

Figure 20-1 Simple ZEO illustration


The terminology may be a bit confusing. Typically, you may think of Zope as a server, not a client. But when using ZEO, your Zope processes act as both servers (for web requests) and clients (for data from the ZEO server).

ZEO clients and servers communicate using standard Internet protocols, so they can be in the same room or in different countries. ZEO, in fact, can distribute a Zope site to disparate geographic locations. In this chapter we'll explore some interesting ways you can distribute your ZEO clients.

When you should use ZEO

A ZEO-configured Zope installation has the capability to serve large numbers of requests in short periods of time. If your site is only moderately trafficked and you get no complaints about the responsiveness of the site, you probably don't need ZEO. You may need ZEO if:

  • You've got a single Zope server in production which cannot service application demand within a reasonable amount of time. Zope is a high-performance system, and one Zope can handle millions of hits per day, but there are upper bounds on the capacity of a single Zope server. ZEO allows you to scale your site by adding more hardware on which you may place extra Zope servers to handle excess demand.
  • Your site is critical and requires 24/7 uptime. Using ZEO can help you add redundancy to your server configuration.
  • You want to distribute your site to disparate geographic locations in order to increase response time to remote sites. ZEO allows you to place Zope servers which use the same ZODB in separate geographic locations.
  • You want to "debug" an application which is currently served by a single Zope server from another Zope process. This is a advanced technique useful to Python developers, but is not covered in this book.


Installing, configuring, and maintaining a ZEO-enabled Zope requires some system administration knowledge. Most Zope users will not need ZEO, or may not have the expertise necessary to maintain a distributed server system like ZEO. ZEO is fun, and can be very useful, but before jumping head-first and installing ZEO in your system you should weigh the extra administrative burden ZEO creates against the simplicity of running just a simple, stand-alone Zope.

Installing and Running ZEO

ZEO is no longer distributed separately. This section is an historical artifact.

ZEO is not distributed with Zope. You may download it from the Products Section of The most recent version of ZEO as of this writing is ZEO 2.0.

There are some prerequisites before you will be successfully able to use ZEO:

  • All of the Zope servers in a ZEO-enabled configuration must run the same version of Zope and ZEO. A ZEO 1.0 client will not work against a ZEO 2.0 server and vice versa. Likewise, older versions of Zope may not work with the latest version of ZEO. The easiest way to meet this prerequisite is to make sure all of your computers use the latest versions of Zope and ZEO.
  • All of your ZEO clients must have the same third party Products installed and they must be the same version. This is necessary, or your third-party objects may behave abnormally or not work at all.
  • If your Zope system requires access to external resources, like mail servers or relational databases, ensure that all of your ZEO clients have access to those resources.
  • Slow or intermittent network connections between clients and server degrade the performance of your ZEO clients. Your ZEO clients should have a good connection to their server.


Installing ZEO requires some manual preparation. To install ZEO, download the latest ZEO package (as of this writing it is at, from the web site and place it in your Zope installation directory. Now, unpack the tarball. On Unix, this can be done with the following command:

      $ tar -zxf ZEO-X.X.tar.gz


On Unix that does not have GNU tar, use the following command:

$ gzip -cd ZEO-X.X.tar.gz | tar -xvf -


On Windows, you can unpack the archive with WinZip.

Now you should have a ZEO-X.X directory on your hard disk. The next few steps install ZEO itself. Before installing ZEO, make sure you back up your Zope system first.

To make use of ZEO, you must install ZEO files into your Zope's top-level directory. This can be done on UNIX or Windows by issuing the following commands (under a shell on UNIX or in a DOS box on Windows):

      $ cd ZEO-X.X
      $ python2.1 install --home=/path/to/your/Zope/top/level/dir


Make sure you use the same Python interpreter which you're using to run Zope to invoke the command. When you're done with this step, you should have a "ZEO" directory inside your Zope's lib/python directory.

Next, you must create a special file in your "top-level" Zope directory named In that file, put the following python code:

      import ZEO.ClientStorage


This will configure your Zope to run as a ZEO client. If you pass ClientStorage a "tuple", as this code does, the tuple must have two elements, a string which contains the hostname or IP address of the ZEO server, and the port that the server is listening on. In this example, we're going to show you how to run both the clients and the servers on the same machine, so the machine name is set to localhost and the port is 7700.

You should now have ZEO properly installed. Try it out by first starting the server. Go to your Zope top level directory in a terminal window or DOS box and type:

      python2.1 lib/python/ZEO/ -p 7700


This will start the ZEO server listening on TCP port 7700 on your computer. Now, in another window, start up Zope like you normally would, with the script:

      $ python -D

      2000-10-04T20:43:11 INFO(0) client Trying to connect to server
      2000-10-04T20:43:11 INFO(0) ClientStorage Connected to storage
      2000-10-04T20:43:12 PROBLEM(100) ZServer Computing default pinky
      2000-10-04T20:43:12 INFO(0) ZServer Medusa (V1.19) started at Wed Oct  4 15:43:12 2000


Notice how in the above example, Zope tells you client Trying to connect to server and then ClientStorage Connected to storage. This means your ZEO client has successfully connected to your ZEO server. Now, you can visit http://localhost:8080/manage (or whatever URL your ZEO client is listening on) and log into Zope as usual.

As you can see, everything looks the same. Go to the Control Panel and click on Database Management. Here, you see that Zope is connected to a ZEO Storage and that its state is connected.

Running ZEO on one computer is a great way to familiarize yourself with ZEO and how it works. Running a single ZEO client does not however, improve the speed of your site, and in fact, it may slow it down just a little. To really get the speed benefits that ZEO provides, you need to run multiple ZEO clients, which is explained in the next section.

How to Run Multiple ZEO Clients

We can expand the capacity of the site by adding additional ZEO clients. For example, let's say you have four computers. One computer named zooserver will be your ZEO server, and the other three computers, named zeoclient1, zeoclient2 and zeoclient3, will be your ZEO clients. Let's assume all of these computers exist within the "" Internet domain.

The first step is to run the ZEO server on zooserver. To tell your ZEO server to listen on the tcp socket at port 7700 on the zooserver interface, run the server with the script like this:

      $ python2.1 lib/python/ZEO/ -p 7700


This will start the ZEO server. Now, you can start up your clients by going to each client and configuring each of them by providing them with the following

      import ZEO.ClientStorage


Now, you can start each client's script as shown in the previous section, Installing and Running ZEO. Notice how the host and port for each client is the same, this is so they all connect to the same server. By following this procedure for each of your three clients you will have three different Zope's all serving the same Zope site. You can verify this by going visiting port 8080 on all three of your ZEO client machines.

You probably want to run ZEO on more than one computer so that you can take advantage of the speed increase this gives you. Running more computers means that you can serve more hits per second than with just one computer. Distributing the load of your web site's visitors however does require a bit more work. The next section describes why, and how, you distribute the load of your visitors among many computers.

How to Distribute Load

In the previous example you have a ZEO server named zooServer and three ZEO clients named zeoclient1, zeoclient2, and zeoclient3. The three ZEO clients are connected to the ZEO server and each client is verified to work properly.

Now you have three computers that serve content to your users. The next problem is how to actually spread the incoming web requests evenly among the three ZEO clients. Your users only know about, not zeoclient1, zeoclient2 or zeoclient3. It would be a hassle to tell only some users to use zeoclient1, and others to use zeoclient3, and it wouldn't be very good use of your computing resources. You want to automate, or at least make very easy, the process of evenly distributing requests to your various ZEO clients.

There are a number of solutions to this problem, some easy, some advanced, and some expensive. The next section goes over the more common ways of spreading web requests around various computers using different kinds of technology, some of them based on freely-available or commercial software, and some of them based on special hardware.

User Chooses a Mirror

The easiest way to distribute requests across many web servers is to pick from a list of mirrored sites, each of which is a ZEO client. Using this method requires no extra software or hardware, it just requires the maintenance of a list of mirror servers. By presenting your users with a menu of mirrors, they can use to choose which server to use.

Note that this method of distributing requests is passive (you have no active control over which clients are used) and voluntary (your users need to make a voluntary choice to use another ZEO client). If your users do not use a mirror, then the requests will go to your ZEO client that serves

If you do not have any administrative control over your mirrors, then this can be a pretty easy solution. If your mirrors go off-line, your users can always choose to come back to the master site which you do have administrative control over and choose a different mirror.

On a global level, this method improves performance. Your users can choose to use a server that is geographically closer to them, which probably results in faster access. For example, if your main server was in Portland, Oregon on the west coast of the USA and you had users in London, England, they could choose your London mirror and their request would not have to go half-way across the world and back.

To use this method, create a property in your root folder of type lines named "mirror". On each line of this property, put the URL to your various ZEO clients, as shown in the figure below.

Figure of property with URLs to mirrors

Figure 20-2 Figure of property with URLs to mirrors


Now, add some simple DTML to your site to display a list of your mirrors:

        <h2>Please choose from the following mirrors:
          <dtml-in mirrors>
          <li><a href="&dtml-sequence-item;"><dtml-var


Or, in Script (Python):

        ## Script (Python) "generate_mirror"
        ##bind container=container
        ##bind context=context
        ##bind namespace=
        ##bind script=script
        ##bind subpath=traverse_subpath
        ##parameters=a, b
        print "<h2>Please choose from the following mirrors: <ul>"
        for mirror in container.mirrors:
            print "<li><a href="%s">%s</a>" % (mirror, mirror)
        return printed


This DTML (and Script (Python) equivalent) displays a list of all mirrors your users can choose from. When using this model, it is good to name your computers in ways that assist your users in their choice of mirror. For example, if you spread the load geographically, then choose names of countries for your computer names.

Alternately, if you do not want users voluntarily choosing a mirror, you can have the index_html method of your site issue HTTP redirects. For example, use the following code in your site's index_html method:

        <dtml-call expr="RESPONSE.redirect(_.whrandom.choice(mirror_servers))">


This code will redirect any visitors to to a random mirror server.

Using Round-robin DNS to Distribute Load

The Domain Name System, or DNS, is the Internet mechanism that translates computer names (like "") into numeric addresses. This mechanism can map one name to many addresses.

The simplest method for load-balancing is to use round-robin DNS, as illustrated in the figure below.

Load balancing with round-robin DNS.

Figure 20-3 Load balancing with round-robin DNS.


When gets resolved, DNS answers with the address of either zeoclient1, zeoclient2, or zeoclient3 - but in a rotated order every time. For example, one user may resolve and get the address for zeoclient1, and another user may resolve and get the address for zeoclient2. This way your users are spread over the various ZEO clients.

This not a perfect load balancing scheme, because DNS information gets cached by the other nameservers on the Internet. Once a user has resolved to a particular ZEO client, all subsequent requests for that user also go to the same ZEO client. The final result is generally acceptable, because the total sum of the requests are really spread over your various ZEO clients.

One potential problem with this solution is that it can take hours or days for name servers to refresh their cached copy of what they think the address of is. If you are not responsible for the maintenance of your ZEO clients and one fails, then 1/Nth of your users (where N is the number of ZEO clients) will not be able to reach your site until their name server cache refreshes.

Configuring your DNS server to do round-robin name resolution is an advanced technique that is not covered in this book. A good reference on how to do this can be found in the Apache Documentation.

Distributing the load with round-robin DNS is useful, and cheap, but not 100% effective. DNS servers can have strange caching policies, and you are relying on a particular quirk in the way DNS works to distribute the load. The next section describes a more complex, but much more powerful way of distributing load called Layer 4 Switching.

Using Layer 4 Switching to Distribute Load

Layer 4 switching lets one computer transparently hand requests to a farm of computers. This is an advanced technique that is largely beyond the scope of this book, but it is worth pointing out several products that do Layer 4 switching for you.

Layer 4 switching involves a switch that, according to your preferences, chooses from a group of ZEO clients whenever a request comes in, as shown in the figure below.

Illustration of Layer 4 switching

Figure 20-4 Illustration of Layer 4 switching


There are hardware and software Layer 4 switches. There are a number of software solutions, but one in general that stands out is the Linux Virtual Server (LVS). This is an extension to the free Linux operating system that lets you turn a Linux computer into a Layer 4 switch. More information on the LVS can be found on its web site.

There are also a number of hardware solutions that claim higher performance than software based solutions like LVS. Cisco Systems has a hardware router called LocalDirector that works as a Layer 4 switch, and Alteon also makes a popular Layer 4 switch.

Dealing with the Storage Server as A Single Point of Failure

Without ZEO, a single Zope system is a single point of failure. ZEO allows you to spread that point of failure around to many different computers. If one of your ZEO clients fails, other clients can answer requests on the failed clients behalf.

However, in a typical ZEO setup there is still a single point of failure: the ZEO server itself. Without using commercial software, this single point of failure cannot be removed.

One popular method is to accept the single point of failure risk and mitigate that risk as much as possible by using very high-end, reliable equipment for your ZEO server, frequently backing up your data, and using inexpensive, off-the-shelf hardware for your ZEO clients. By investing the bulk of your infrastructure budget on making your ZEO server rock solid (redundant power supplies, RAID, and other fail-safe methods) you can be pretty well assured that your ZEO server will remain up, even if a handful of your inexpensive ZEO clients fail.

Some applications, however, require absolute one-hundred-percent uptime. There is still a chance, with the solution described above, that your ZEO server will fail. If this happens, you want a backup ZEO server to jump in and take over for the failed server right away.

Like Layer 4 switching, there are a number of products, software and hardware, that may help you to create a backup storage server. One popular software solution for Linux is called fake. Fake is a Linux-based utility that can make a backup computer take over for a failed primary computer by "faking out" network addresses. When used in conjunction with monitoring utilities like mon or heartbeat, fake can guarantee almost 100% up-time of your ZEO server and Layer 4 switches. Using fake in this way is beyond the scope of this book.

ZEO also has a commercial "multiple-server" configuration which provides for redundancy at the storage level. Zope Corporation sells a commercial product named Zope Replication Services that provides redundancy in storage server services. It allows a "secondary" storage server to take over for a "primary" server when the primary fails.

ZEO Server Details

The final piece of the puzzle is where the ZEO server stores its information. If your primary ZEO server fails, how can your backup ZEO server ensure it has the most recent information that was contained in the primary server?

Before explaining the details of how the ZEO server works, it is worth understanding some details about how Zope storages work in general.

Zope does not save any of its object or information directly to disk. Instead, Zope uses a storage component that takes care of all the details of where objects should be saved.

This is a very flexible model, because Zope no longer needs to be concerned about opening files, or reading and writing from databases, or sending data across a network (in the case of ZEO). Each particular storage takes care of that task on Zope's behalf.

For example, a plain, stand-alone Zope system can be illustrated in the figure below.

Zope connected to a filestorage

Figure 20-5 Zope connected to a filestorage


You can see there is one Zope application which plugs into a FileStorage. This storage, as its name implies, saves all of its information to a file on the computer's filesystem.

When using ZEO, you simple replace the FileStorage with a ClientStorage, as illustrated in the figure below.

Zope with a Client Storage and Storage server

Figure 20-6 Zope with a Client Storage and Storage server


Instead of saving objects to a file, a ClientStorage sends objects over a network connection to a Storage Server. As you can see in the illustration, the Storage Server uses a FileStorage to save that information to a file on the ZEO server's filesystem. In a "stock" ZEO setup, this storage file is in the same place as it would be were you not running ZEO (within your Zope directory's var directory named 'Data.fs').

ZEO Caveats

For the most part, running ZEO is exactly like running Zope by itself, but there are a few issues to keep in mind.

First, it takes longer for information to be written to the Zope object database. This does not slow down your ability to use Zope (because Zope does not block you during this write operation) but it does increase your chances of getting a ConflictError. Conflict errors happen when two ZEO clients try to write to the same object at the same time. One of the ZEO clients wins the conflict and continues on normally. The other ZEO client loses the conflict and has to try again.

Conflict errors should be as infrequent as possible because they could slow down your system. While it's normal to have a few conflict errors (due to the concurrent nature of Zope) it is abnormal to have many conflict errors. The pathological case is when more than one ZEO client tries to write to the same object over and over again very quickly. In this case, there will be lots of conflict errors, and therefore lots of retries. If a ZEO client tries to write to the database three times and gets three conflict errors in a row, then the request is aborted and the data is not written.

Because ZEO takes longer to write this information, the chances of getting a ConflictError are higher than if you are not running ZEO. Because of this, ZEO is more write sensitive than running Zope without ZEO. You may have to keep this in mind when you are designing your network or application. As a rule of thumb, more and more frequent writes to the database increase your chances of getting a ConflictError. However, faster and more reliable network connections and computers lower your chances of getting a ConflictError. By taking these two factors into account, conflict errors can be mostly avoided.

Finally, as of this writing, there is no built in encryption or authentication between ZEO servers and clients. This means that you must be very careful about who you expose your ZEO servers to. If you leave your ZEO servers open to the whole Internet, then anyone can connect to your ZEO server and write data into your database.

This is not an unsolvable problem however, because you can use other tools, like firewalls, to protect your ZEO servers. If you are running a ZEO client/server connection over an unsecure network and you want guarantee that your information is kept private, you can use tools like OpenSSH and stunnel to set up secure, encrypted communication channels between your ZEO clients and servers. How these tools work and how to set them up is beyond the scope of this book, but both packages are adequately documented on their web sites. For more information on firewalls, with Linux in particular, we recommend the book "Linux Firewalls" by Robert Ziegler, which is published by New Riders.


In this chapter we looked at ZEO, and how ZEO can substantially increases the capacity of your website. In addition to running ZEO on one computer to get familiarized, we looked at running ZEO on many computers, and various techniques for spreading the load of your visitors among those many computers.

ZEO is not a "magic bullet" solution, and like other system designed to work with many computers, it adds another level of complexity to your web site. This complexity pays off however when you need to serve up lots of dynamic content to your audience.

Last modified: 2008/03/28 09:59:40.906000 GMT-4 by brian.r.brinegar.1
Created: 2006/08/09 12:59:0.837000 GMT-4 by brian.r.brinegar.1.



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