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The Quest for Fresher Stream Summaries

Sep 16 2021 - By Mitchell Lloyd

The Creator Analytics team owns the dashboards that show streamers metrics about their channel’s performance (like average viewers, follows, subscriptions) and other insights they can use to adjust their streaming activity and grow their communities. 

In this post we’ll focus on a migration from a legacy batch processing system to streaming analytics for generating creators’ stream summaries. This change hit production in April 2020.

Before this change, creators waited up to 1.5 hours after streaming to receive the Stream Summary email or see stats on their Stream Summary page. Today, we send 99.99% of creators emails within 20 minutes after they stop streaming and creators can view up-to-the-minute stats about their streams. More importantly, we eliminated ongoing reports of incorrect, overlapping, and missing stream summaries that plagued the legacy batch process.

These features used a custom Go service to orchestrate a sequence of queries every 45 minutes. We gained familiarity with the legacy systems and the domain as we migrated this batch orchestration to Airflow, an open-source job scheduler. This migration helped us tease out the dependencies between queries, parallelizing more work.

This screenshot shows all of the batch tasks used to generate creator’s metrics after the move to Airflow.

The previous orchestration system ran all of its queries every 45 minutes and, in the event that the process exceeded 45 minutes, two runs could overlap and overload the database. When backfilling, developers followed instructions to temporarily edit code, shutdown ongoing queries, and initiate a process from their laptops. Switching to Airflow allowed us to run our batch queries every 30 minutes! Each run would wait for the previous one to finish before starting to query the database and, using Airflow’s resource pools to control parallelism, we could now backfill data with a few clicks.

However, the create_sessions query remained buggy. These bugs mostly affected streamers with long sessions, causing overlapping or missing stream summaries. We worked with data scientists to address these problems but weren’t able to make progress. The 100 lines of SQL for this query contained complicated windowing logic that we couldn’t reason through and used a table with 250 integers (named “Integers”) in an unrecognizable order.

At the end of 2019, Twitch’s data infrastructure team was shutting down the system that powered our analytics batch process. Switching from this sunsetting system to the primary Twitch data lake would add 30 minutes to 1.5 hours of delay to our existing analytics process. This gave us the business case we needed to prioritize a streaming solution for creator analytics. Our team looked for open-source tools that could address our needs and settled on Druid to aggregate metrics from Kinesis (a topic for another blog post) and Flink to generate stream sessions.

So what’s a stream session anyway? For each minute that a creator’s broadcasting software sends data to Twitch, our ingest system emits a minute_broadcast tracking event for their channel. The rules for creating a stream session are:

  1. When a minute_broadcast event first arrives, begin a session for that channel.
  2. When minute_broadcast events stop for 15 minutes, end the session for that channel.
  3. If a session exceeds 24 hours, begin breaking sessions into 24 hour segments starting at UTC midnight.

The resulting session records contain channel IDs and the start and end time of streams. 

{
   "channel_id": "123456",
   "start_time": "2021-03-05 14:13:00",
   "end_time": "2021-03-05 18:20:00",
   "id": "123456:2021-03-05 14:13:00"
}

Using Flink allowed us to ditch our SQL query in favor of a more flexible programming language (Java). Flink’s session window abstraction is a perfect fit for short stream sessions delineated by 15 minute gaps, but our 24 hour stream rule requires a custom trigger to fire when streams cross the 24 hour mark and a custom ProcessWindow function to decide when to begin 24 hour segmentation. Although these rules are nuanced, unit tests allowed us to demonstrate the job’s behavior in many scenarios and ship a solution that we knew eliminated the bugs from our legacy SQL job.

Having spent two years triaging issues with long stream sessions, we wanted to make sure that the process for generating new stream sessions was idempotent. In the event of an upstream failure with missing or incorrect data, we wanted to regenerate a day of stream sessions without any manual clean up work. We use Airflow to unload data from our data lake to S3 and then trigger a finite Flink job to generate the sessions. This daily job runs code that is nearly identical to the streaming job except that it consumes CSV files from S3 rather than compressed JSON via Kinesis.

Ultimately, our sessions end up in a DynamoDB table partitioned by ChannelID, so we needed to add a global secondary index to the table to let us query all of the sessions starting on a particular day. This allows us to reconcile newly generated sessions against the existing sessions and delete any invalid sessions during backfill. Because we want to make sure this process works reliably and isn’t just an emergency fallback procedure, we run this backfill once a day as soon as the data lake has enough data to cover a day of stream sessions.

Looking Back

Moving from a batch to streaming process for stream sessions is a big win for our creators who can review metrics while their stream is fresh in their minds and our engineers who no longer have to deal with manual backfills and bugs.

However, this streaming setup is more complicated than running a batch process. Along the way we needed to tune our Kinesis streams and deal with memory leaks in our Flink job. We now manage a Zookeeper cluster and maintain custom infrastructure for deployment. Going forward, we plan to migrate our streaming and backfill jobs to Kinesis Analytics (AWS-managed Flink), to lower our maintenance cost.

This project taught our team some new tricks and lessons:

This project added a critical piece of our stream-based analytics infrastructure. Stay tuned as we share more components of this system and our learnings along the way in the future.


We’re building the future of live entertainment, and we’d do it even better with you. Head to our career site to learn more about what it is like to work at Twitch and how you can join our quest to empower live communities on the internet!

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