How Clusterless Works

Declarative Model

Clusterless relies on a JSON formatted project declaration so that it knows what and where to deploy the application stack.

A project has one or more placements, and zero or more datasets, resources, boundaries, and arcs.

A placement describes where the project should be deployed, the coordinates are:

  • provider - the name of the target cloud provider (e.g. aws)

  • account - the account id

  • region - the region in which to make the deployment (e.g. us-east-2)

  • stage - optionally, the prefix namespace to deploy within an account (e.g. PROD or TEST )

A dataset is a named and versioned collection of data objects reachable by URIs.

Resources are things that should be provisioned for use, like an AWS S3 bucket.

Boundaries are Clusterless provided capabilities that integrate and make available data as a dataset from outside sources to arcs that work with that data.

Arcs manage custom or standard workloads that consume and produce data. They listen for changes in upstream datasets and publish events when updating the datasets they contribute to. Arcs are named and versioned.

Cloud Blueprints

Clusterless, when given a project declaration, constructs blueprint of the data stack for the given cloud provider and deploys it by translating it to the model the underlying deployment tool relies on.

In the case of AWS, the AWS CDK is used under the hood to generate AWS Cloudformation files, which in turn are pushed to Cloudformation for deployment. Because of this, the AWS CDK must be installed prior to using the cls command line tool.

Clusterless relies on native primitives in the target cloud to provide its capabilities. But sometimes custom services need to be deployed to fill in the gaps. For example, the built in s3CopyArc, when declared and deployed, pushes AWS Lambda code to AWS and configures it to listen for events from upstream datasets.


Clusterless standardizes storage and format of a few different metadata types.

All the metadata managed by Clusterless in a given provider is stored in a common location, using a consistent naming scheme. In AWS, metadata is stored in AWS S3 buckets. This allows both machines and people to look at the data by simply browsing a bucket.

Datasets have a name and version, but also have a location and a state. Within that location, there are chunks of data that all arrived within a common interval (5 or 15 minute periods). And this chunk of data may be complete, partial, empty, or removed. This data is kept in a manifest file and there is one manifest file for every chunk of data.

Arcs have a name and version, but also have a state. An arc starts when a new chunk of data arrives, and completes when it is done processing. But it’s more complicated, thus arcs have the states running, complete, partial, or missing.

Details about the state models can be read in the ADR arc-state-and-data-metadata.

Monotonic Ticks of the Clock

Data becomes available in chunks, and these chunks are timeboxed within an arrival interval.

On the simple side, a new object may be uploaded every hour or so to an S3 bucket. If the intervals maintained are an hour in duration, one file would arrive every hour, or hourly. And the chunks would be labeled 2023-01-01-03 for January 1, 3am, in 2023.

On the complex side, files could be made available at a rate of hundreds every minute. A reasonable interval to maintain chunks would be 5 minutes, or in twelfths. So a twelfth of an hour in a day could have thousands of files to be processed. Such a label could take the form 20230101PT5M050.

Labeling intervals is important. It marks the time of arrival, or the time of observation by the ingress boundary.

For heavy load systems, or properly chosen interval durations, there shouldn’t be any intervals missing that can’t be accounted for. This provides a means to audit a given dataset. This is accomplished by using the label value as either a partition value in the storage key of the data (e.g. /lot=20230101PT5M050/data.json), or as a component of the object name (e.g. data-20230101PT5M050-1684984366.json ).

Details about intervals supported by Clusterless can be read in the ADR machine-and-human-friendly-interval-ids.