Achieve high availability with Azure Cosmos DB

APPLIES TO: NoSQL MongoDB Cassandra Gremlin Table

To build a solution with high-availability, you have to evaluate the reliability characteristics of all its components. Azure Cosmos DB is designed to provide multiple features and configuration options to achieve high availability for all solutions' availability needs.

We'll use the terms RTO (Recovery Time Objective), to indicate the time between the beginning of an outage impacting Azure Cosmos DB and the recovery to full availability, and RPO (Recovery Point Objective), to indicate the time between the last write correctly restored and the time of the beginning of the outage affecting Azure Cosmos DB.

Note

Expected and maximum RPOs and RTOs depend on the kind of outage that Azure Cosmos DB is experiencing. For instance, an outage of a single node will have different expected RTO and RPO than a whole region outage.

This article details the events that can affect Azure Cosmos DB availability and the corresponding Azure Cosmos DB configuration options to achieve the availability characteristics required by your solution.

Replica maintenance

Azure Cosmos DB is a managed multi-tenant service that manages all details of individual compute nodes transparently. Users don't have to worry about any kind of patching and planned maintenance. Azure Cosmos DB guarantees SLAs for availability and P99 latency through all automatic maintenance operations performed by the system.

Refer to the SLAs section for the guaranteed availability SLAs.

Replica outages

Replica outages refer to outages of individual nodes in an Azure Cosmos DB cluster deployed in an Azure region. Azure Cosmos DB automatically mitigates replica outages by guaranteeing at least three replicas of your data in each Azure region for your account within a four replica quorum. This results in RTO = 0 and RPO = 0, for individual node outages, with no application changes or configurations required.

In many Azure regions, it's possible to distribute your Azure Cosmos DB cluster across availability zones, which results increased SLAs, as availability zones are physically separate and provide distinct power source, network, and cooling. See Availability Zones. When an Azure Cosmos DB account is deployed using availability zones, Azure Cosmos DB provides RTO = 0 and RPO = 0 even in a zone outage.

When users deploy in a single Azure region, with no extra user input, Azure Cosmos DB is resilient to node outages. Enabling redundancy across availability zones makes Azure Cosmos DB resilient to zone outages at the cost of increased charges. Both SLAs and price are reported in the SLAs section.

Zone redundancy can only be configured when adding a new region to an Azure Cosmos DB account. For existing regions, zone redundancy can be enabled by removing the region then adding it back with the zone redundancy enabled. For a single region account, this requires adding a region to temporarily fail over to, then removing and adding the desired region with zone redundancy enabled.

By default, an Azure Cosmos DB account doesn't use multiple availability zones. You can enable deployment across multiple availability zones in the following ways:

If your Azure Cosmos DB account is distributed across N Azure regions, there will be N x 4 copies of all your data. For a more detailed overview of data distribution, see Global data distribution under the hood. Having an Azure Cosmos DB account in more than 2 regions improves the availability of your application and provides low latency across the associated regions.

Refer to Global distribution with Azure Cosmos DB- under the hood for more information on how Azure Cosmos DB replicates data in each region.

Region outages

Region outages refer to outages that affect all Azure Cosmos DB nodes in an Azure region, across all availability zones. In the rare cases of region outages, Azure Cosmos DB can be configured to support various outcomes of durability and availability.

Durability

When an Azure Cosmos DB account is deployed in a single region, generally no data loss occurs and data access is restored after Azure Cosmos DB services recovers in the affected region. Data loss may occur only with an unrecoverable disaster in the Azure Cosmos DB region.

To protect against complete data loss that may result from catastrophic disasters in a region, Azure Cosmos DB provides 2 different backup modes:

  • Continuous backups ensure the backup is taken in each region every 100 seconds and provide the ability to restore your data to any desired point in time with second granularity. In each region, the backup is dependent on the data committed in that region.
  • Periodic backups take full backups of all partitions from all containers under your account, with no synchronization across partitions. The minimum backup interval is 1 hour.

When an Azure Cosmos DB account is deployed in multiple regions, data durability depends on the consistency level configured on the account. The following table details, for all consistency levels, the RPO of Azure Cosmos DB account deployed in at least 2 regions.

Consistency level RPO in case of region outage
Session, Consistent Prefix, Eventual < 15 minutes
Bounded Staleness K & T
Strong 0

K = The number of "K" versions (i.e., updates) of an item.

T = The time interval "T" since the last update.

For multi-region accounts, the minimum value of K and T is 100,000 write operations or 300 seconds. This defines the minimum RPO for data when using Bounded Staleness.

Refer to Consistency levels for more information on the differences between consistency levels.

Availability

If your solution requires continuous availability during region outages, Azure Cosmos DB can be configured to replicate your data across multiple regions and to transparently fail over to available regions when required.

Single-region accounts may lose availability following a regional outage. To ensure high availability at all times it's recommended to set up your Azure Cosmos DB account with a single write region and at least a second (read) region and enable Service-Managed failover.

Service-managed failover allows Azure Cosmos DB to fail over the write region of multi-region account, in order to preserve availability at the cost of data loss as per durability section. Regional failovers are detected and handled in the Azure Cosmos DB client. They don't require any changes from the application. Refer to How to manage an Azure Cosmos DB account for the instructions on how to enable multiple read regions and service-managed failover.

Important

It is strongly recommended that you configure the Azure Cosmos DB accounts used for production workloads to enable service-managed failover. This enables Azure Cosmos DB to failover the account databases to available regions automatically. In the absence of this configuration, the account will experience loss of write availability for all the duration of the write region outage, as manual failover will not succeed due to lack of region connectivity.

Multiple write regions

Azure Cosmos DB can be configured to accept writes in multiple regions. This is useful to reduce write latency in geographically distributed applications. When an Azure Cosmos DB account is configured for multiple write regions, strong consistency isn't supported and write conflicts may arise. Refer to Conflict types and resolution policies when using multiple write regions for more information on how to resolve conflicts in multiple write region configurations.

Given the internal Azure Cosmos DB architecture, using multiple write regions doesn't guarantee write availability during a region outage. The best configuration to achieve high availability during a region outage is single write region with service-managed failover.

Conflict-resolution region

When an Azure Cosmos DB account is configured with multi-region writes, one of the regions will act as an arbiter in case of write conflicts. When such conflicts happen, they're routed to this region for consistent resolution.

What to expect during a region outage

Client of single-region accounts will experience loss of read and write availability until service is restored.

Multi-region accounts will experience different behaviors depending on the following table.

Configuration Outage Availability impact Durability impact What to do
Single write region Read region outage All clients will automatically redirect reads to other regions. No read or write availability loss for all configurations, except 2 regions with strong consistency which loses write availability until the service is restored or, if service-managed failover is enabled, the region is marked as failed and a failover occurs. No data loss. During the outage, ensure that there are enough provisioned RUs in the remaining regions to support read traffic.

When the outage is over, re-adjust provisioned RUs as appropriate.

Single write region Write region outage Clients will redirect reads to other regions.

Without service-managed failover, clients will experience write availability loss, until write availability is restored automatically when the outage ends.

With service-managed failover clients will experience write availability loss until the services manages a failover to a new write region selected according to your preferences.

If strong consistency level isn't selected, some data may not have been replicated to the remaining active regions. This depends on the consistency level selected as described in this section. If the affected region suffers permanent data loss, unreplicated data may be lost. During the outage, ensure that there are enough provisioned RUs in the remaining regions to support read traffic.

Do not trigger a manual failover during the outage, as it will not succeed.

When the outage is over, re-adjust provisioned RUs as appropriate. Accounts using API for NoSQLs may also recover the non-replicated data in the failed region from your conflicts feed.

Multiple write regions Any regional outage Possibility of temporary write availability loss, analogously to single write region with service-managed failover. The failover of the conflict-resolution region may also cause a loss of write availability if a high number of conflicting writes happen at the time of the outage. Recently updated data in the failed region may be unavailable in the remaining active regions, depending on the selected consistency level. If the affected region suffers permanent data loss, unreplicated data may be lost. During the outage, ensure that there are enough provisioned RUs in the remaining regions to support additional traffic.

When the outage is over, you may re-adjust provisioned RUs as appropriate. If possible, Azure Cosmos DB will automatically recover non-replicated data in the failed region using the configured conflict resolution method for API for NoSQL accounts, and Last Write Wins for accounts using other APIs.

Additional information on read region outages

  • The impacted region is automatically disconnected and will be marked offline. The Azure Cosmos DB SDKs will redirect read calls to the next available region in the preferred region list.

  • If none of the regions in the preferred region list is available, calls automatically fall back to the current write region.

  • No changes are required in your application code to handle read region outage. When the impacted read region is back online it will automatically sync with the current write region and will be available again to serve read requests.

  • Subsequent reads are redirected to the recovered region without requiring any changes to your application code. During both failover and rejoining of a previously failed region, read consistency guarantees continue to be honored by Azure Cosmos DB.

  • Even in a rare and unfortunate event when the Azure region is permanently irrecoverable, there's no data loss if your multi-region Azure Cosmos DB account is configured with Strong consistency. In the rare event of a permanently irrecoverable write region, a multi-region Azure Cosmos DB account has the durability characteristics specified in the Durability section.

Additional information on write region outages

  • During a write region outage, the Azure Cosmos DB account will automatically promote a secondary region to be the new primary write region when automatic (service-managed) failover is configured on the Azure Cosmos DB account. The failover will occur to another region in the order of region priority you've specified.

  • Note that manual failover shouldn't be triggered and will not succeed in presence of an outage of the source or destination region. This is because of a consistency check required by the failover procedure which requires connectivity between the regions.

  • When the previously impacted region is back online, any write data that wasn't replicated when the region failed, is made available through the conflicts feed. Applications can read the conflicts feed, resolve the conflicts based on the application-specific logic, and write the updated data back to the Azure Cosmos DB container as appropriate.

  • Once the previously impacted write region recovers, it becomes automatically available as a read region. You can switch back to the recovered region as the write region. You can switch the regions by using PowerShell, Azure CLI or Azure portal. There is no data or availability loss before, during or after you switch the write region and your application continues to be highly available.

SLAs

The following table summarizes the high availability capability of various account configurations:

KPI Single-region without AZs Single-region with AZs Multi-region, single-region writes without AZs Multi-region, single-region writes with AZs Multi-region, multi-region writes with or without AZs
Write availability SLA 99.99% 99.995% 99.99% 99.995% 99.999%
Read availability SLA 99.99% 99.995% 99.999% 99.999% 99.999%
Zone failures – data loss Data loss No data loss No data loss No data loss No data loss
Zone failures – availability Availability loss No availability loss No availability loss No availability loss No availability loss
Regional outage – data loss Data loss Data loss Dependent on consistency level. See Consistency, availability, and performance tradeoffs for more information. Dependent on consistency level. See Consistency, availability, and performance tradeoffs for more information. Dependent on consistency level. See Consistency, availability, and performance tradeoffs for more information.
Regional outage – availability Availability loss Availability loss No availability loss for read region failure, temporary for write region failure No availability loss for read region failure, temporary for write region failure No read availability loss, temporary write availability loss in the affected region
Price (1) N/A Provisioned RU/s x 1.25 rate Provisioned RU/s x n regions Provisioned RU/s x 1.25 rate x n regions (2) Multi-region write rate x n regions

1 For Serverless accounts request units (RU) are multiplied by a factor of 1.25.

2 1.25 rate only applied to those regions in which AZ is enabled.

Important

Given the internal Azure Cosmos DB architecture, using multiple write regions does not guarantee write availability during a region outage. The best configuration to achieve high availability in case of region outage is single write region with service-managed failover.

Building highly available applications

  • Review the expected behavior of the Azure Cosmos DB SDKs during these events and which are the configurations that affect it.

  • To ensure high write and read availability, configure your Azure Cosmos DB account to span at least two regions and three, if using strong consistency. Remember that the best configuration to achieve high availability for a region outage is single write region with service-managed failover. To learn more, see Tutorial: Set up Azure Cosmos DB global distribution using the API for NoSQL.

  • For multi-region Azure Cosmos DB accounts that are configured with a single-write region, enable service-managed failover by using Azure CLI or Azure portal. After you enable service-managed failover, whenever there's a regional disaster, Azure Cosmos DB will fail over your account without any user inputs.

  • Even if your Azure Cosmos DB account is highly available, your application may not be correctly designed to remain highly available. To test the end-to-end high availability of your application, as a part of your application testing or disaster recovery (DR) drills, temporarily disable service-managed failover for the account, invoke the manual failover by using PowerShell, Azure CLI or Azure portal, then monitor your application's failover. Once complete, you can fail back over to the primary region and restore service-managed failover for the account.

Important

Do not invoke manual failover during an Azure Cosmos DB outage on either the source or destination regions, as it requires regions connectivity to maintain data consistency and it will not succeed.

  • Within a globally distributed database environment, there's a direct relationship between the consistency level and data durability in the presence of a region-wide outage. As you develop your business continuity plan, you need to understand the maximum acceptable time before the application fully recovers after a disruptive event. The time required for an application to fully recover is known as recovery time objective (RTO). You also need to understand the maximum period of recent data updates the application can tolerate losing when recovering after a disruptive event. The time period of updates that you might afford to lose is known as recovery point objective (RPO). To see the RPO and RTO for Azure Cosmos DB, see Consistency levels and data durability

What to expect during an Azure Cosmos DB region outage

For single-region accounts, clients will experience loss of read and write availability.

Multi-region accounts will experience different behaviors depending on the following table.

Write regions Service-Managed failover What to expect What to do
Single write region Not enabled In case of outage in a read region when not using strong consistency, all clients will redirect to other regions. No read or write availability loss. No data loss. When using strong consistency, read region outage can impact write availability if fewer than two read regions remaining.

In case of an outage in the write region, clients will experience write availability loss. If strong consistency level isn't selected, some data may not have been replicated to the remaining active regions. This depends on the consistency level selected as described in this section. If the affected region suffers permanent data loss, unreplicated data may be lost.

Azure Cosmos DB will restore write availability automatically when the outage ends.

During the outage, ensure that there are enough provisioned RUs in the remaining regions to support read traffic.

Do not trigger a manual failover during the outage, as it will not succeed.

When the outage is over, re-adjust provisioned RUs as appropriate.

Single write region Enabled In case of outage in a read region when not using strong consistency, all clients will redirect to other regions. No read or write availability loss. No data loss. When using strong consistency, read region outage can impact write availability if fewer than two read regions remaining.

In case of an outage in the write region, clients will experience write availability loss until Azure Cosmos DB automatically elects a new region as the new write region according to your preferences. If strong consistency level isn't selected, some data may not have been replicated to the remaining active regions. This depends on the consistency level selected as described in this section. If the affected region suffers permanent data loss, unreplicated data may be lost.

During the outage, ensure that there are enough provisioned RUs in the remaining regions to support read traffic.

Do not trigger a manual failover during the outage, as it will not succeed.

When the outage is over, you may move the write region back to the original region, and re-adjust provisioned RUs as appropriate. Accounts using API for NoSQLs may also recover the non-replicated data in the failed region from your conflicts feed.

Multiple write regions Not applicable Recently updated data in the failed region may be unavailable in the remaining active regions. Eventual, consistent prefix, and session consistency levels guarantee a staleness of <15mins. Bounded staleness guarantees less than K updates or T seconds, depending on the configuration. If the affected region suffers permanent data loss, unreplicated data may be lost. During the outage, ensure that there are enough provisioned RUs in the remaining regions to support additional traffic.

When the outage is over, you may re-adjust provisioned RUs as appropriate. If possible, Azure Cosmos DB will automatically recover non-replicated data in the failed region using the configured conflict resolution method for API for NoSQL accounts, and Last Write Wins for accounts using other APIs.

Next steps

Next you can read the following articles: