Failure & Recovery

Riak was built to withstand—or at the very least reduce the severity of—many types of system failure. Nonetheless, bugs are a reality, hardware does break, and occasionally Riak itself will fail. Here, we’ll list some steps that can be taken to minimize the harm caused by a general cluster failure.


When a failure occurs, collect as much information as possible. Check monitoring systems, backup log and configuration files if they are available, including system logs like dmesg and syslog. Make sure that the other nodes in the Riak cluster are still operating normally and are not affected by a wider problem like a virtualization or network outage. Try to determine the cause of the problem from the data you have collected.

Data Loss

Many failures incur no data loss or minimal loss that can be repaired automatically, without intervention. Outage of a single node does not necessarily cause data loss, as other replicas of every key are available elsewhere in the cluster. Once the node is detected as down, other nodes in the cluster will take over its responsibilities temporarily and transmit the updated data to it when it eventually returns to service (also called hinted handoff).

More severe data loss scenarios usually relate to hardware failure. If data is lost, several options are available for restoring it.

  1. Restore from backup — A daily backup of Riak nodes can be helpful. The data in this backup may be stale depending on the time at which the node failed, but it can be used to partially restore data from lost storage volumes. If running in a RAID configuration, rebuilding the array may also be possible.
  2. Restore from multi-cluster replication — If replication is enabled between two or more clusters, the missing data will gradually be restored via realtime replication and fullsync replication. A fullsync operation can also be triggered manually via the riak-repl command.
  3. Restore using intra-cluster repair — Riak versions 1.2 and greater include a repair feature which will restore lost partitions with data from other replicas. Currently, this must be invoked manually using the Riak console and should be performed with guidance from a Basho Client Services Engineer.

Once data has been restored, normal operations should continue. If multiple nodes completely lose their data, consultation and assistance from Basho are strongly recommended.

Data Corruption

Data at rest on disk can become corrupted by hardware failure or other events. Generally, the Riak storage backends are designed to handle cases of corruption in individual files or entries within files, and can repair them automatically or simply ignore the corrupted parts. Otherwise, clusters can recover from data corruption in roughly the same way that they recover from data loss.


Sometimes, Riak will exit when it runs out of available RAM. While this does not necessarily cause data loss, it may indicate that the cluster needs to be scaled out. If free capacity is low on the rest of the cluster while the node is out, other nodes may also be at risk, so monitor carefully.

Replacing the node with one that has greater RAM capacity may temporarily alleviate the problem, but out-of-memory (OOM) issues tend to be an indication that the cluster is under-provisioned.

High Latency / Request Timeout

High latencies and timeouts can be caused by slow disks or networks or an overloaded node. Check iostat and vmstat or your monitoring system to determine the state of resource usage. If I/O utilization is high but throughput is low, this may indicate that the node is responsible for too much data and growing the cluster may be necessary. Additional RAM may also improve latency because more of the active dataset will be cached by the operating system.

Sometimes extreme latency spikes can be caused by sibling explosion. This condition occurs when the client application does not resolve conflicts properly or in a timely fashion. In that scenario, the size of the value on disk grows in proportion to the number of siblings, causing longer disk service times and slower network responses.

Sibling explosion can be detected by examining the node_get_fsm_siblings and node_get_fsm_objsize statistics from the riak-admin status command. To recover from sibling explosion, the application should be throttled and the resolution policy might need to be invoked manually on offending keys.

A Basho CSE can assist in manually finding large values, i.e. those that potentially have a sibling explosion problem, in the storage backend.

MapReduce requests typically involve multiple I/O operations and are thus the most likely to time out. From the perspective of the client application, the success of MapReduce requests can be improved by reducing the number of inputs, supplying a longer request timeout, and reducing the usage of secondary indexes. Heavily loaded clusters may experience more MapReduce timeouts simply because many other requests are being serviced as well. Adding nodes to the cluster can reduce MapReduce failure in the long term by spreading load and increasing available CPU and IOPS.

Cluster Recovery From Backups

See Changing Cluster Information for instructions on cluster recovery.

If you are a licensed Riak Enterprise or CS customer and require assistance or further advice with a cluster recovery, please file a ticket with the Basho Helpdesk.