Chapter 24. Distributed Periodic Scheduling with Cron

This chapter describes Google’s implementation of a distributed cron service that serves the vast majority of internal teams that need periodic scheduling of compute jobs. Throughout cron’s existence, we have learned many lessons about how to design and implement what might seem like a basic service. Here, we discuss the problems that distributed crons face and outline some potential solutions.

Cron is a common Unix utility designed to periodically launch arbitrary jobs at user-defined times or intervals. We first analyze the base principles of cron and its most common implementations, and then review how an application such as cron can work in a large, distributed environment in order to increase the reliability of the system against single-machine failures. We describe a distributed cron system that is deployed on a small number of machines, but can launch cron jobs across an entire datacenter in conjunction with a datacenter scheduling system like Borg [Ver15].


Let’s discuss how cron is typically used, in the single machine case, before diving into running it as a cross-datacenter service.


Cron is designed so that the system administrators and common users of the system can specify commands to run, and when these commands run. Cron executes various types of jobs, including garbage collection and periodic data analysis. The most common time specification ...

Get Site Reliability Engineering now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.