Sql – Architecting a Work Item Processing System with Modified FIFO Semantics in Windows


I’m building a system that generates “work items” that are queued up for back-end processing. I recently completed a system that had the same requirements and came up with an architecture that I don’t feel is optimal and was hoping for some advice for this new system.

Work items are queued up centrally and need to be processed in an essentially FIFO order. If this were the only requirement, then I would probably favor an MSMQ or SQL Server Service Broker solution. However, in reality, I need to select work items in a modified FIFO order. A work item has several attributes, and they need to be assigned in FIFO order where certain combinations of attribute values exist.

As an example, a work item may have the following attributes: Office, Priority, Group Number and Sequence Number (within group). When multiple items are queued for the same Group Number, they are guaranteed to be queued in Sequence Number order and will have the same priority.

There are several back-end processes (currently implemented as Windows Services) that pull work times in modified FIFO order given certain configuration parameters for the given service. The service running Washington, DC is configured to process only work items for DC, while the service in NY may be configured to process both NY and DC items (mainly to increase overall throughput). In addition to this type of selectivity, higher priority items should be processed first, and items that contain the same “Group Number” must be processed in Sequence Number order. So if the NY service is working on a DC item in group 100 with sequence 1, I don’t want the DC service to pull off DC item in group 100 sequence 2 because sequence 1 is not yet complete. Items in other groups should remain eligible for processing.

In the last system, I implemented the queues with SQL tables. I created stored procedures to submit items and, more importantly, to “assign” items to the Windows Services that were responsible for processing them. The assignment stored procedures contain the selection logic I described above. Each Windows Service would call the assignment stored procedure, passing it the parameters that were unique to that instance of the service (e.g. the eligible offices). This assignment stored procedure stamps the work item as assigned (in process) and when the work is complete, a final stored procedure is called to remove the item from the “queue” (table).

This solution does have some advantages in that I can quickly examine the state of these “queues” by a simple SQL select statement. I’m also able to manipulate the queues easily (e.g. I can bump priorities with a simple SQL update statement). However, on the downside, I occasionally have to deal with deadlocks on these queue tables and have the burden of writing these stored procedures (which gets tedious after a while).

Somehow I think that either MSMQ (with or without WCS) or Service Broker should be able to provide a more elegant solution. Rolling my own queuing/work-item-processing system just feels wrong. But as far as I know, these technologies don’t offer the flexibility that I need in the assignment process. I am hoping that I am wrong. Any advice would be welcome.

Best Solution

It seems to me that your concept of an atomic unit of work is a Group. So I would suggest that you only queue up a message that identified a Group Id, and then your worker will have to go to a table that maps Group Id to 1 or more Work Items.

You can handle your other problems by using more than one queue - NY-High, NY-Low, DC-High, DC-Low, etc.

In all honesty, though, I think you are better served to fix your deadlock issues in your current architecture. You should be reading the TOP 1 message from your queue table with Update Lock and Read Past hints, ordered by your priority logic and whatever filter criteria you want (Office/Location). Then you process your 1 message, change it's status or move it to another table. You should be able to call that stored procedure in parallel without a deadlock issue.

Related Question