Web-based enterprises process events generated by millions of users interacting with their websites. Rich statistical data distilled from combining such interactions in near real-time generates enormous business value. In this paper, we describe the architecture of Photon, a geographically distributed system for joining multiple continuously flowing streams of data in real-time with high scalability and low latency, where the streams may be unordered or delayed. The system fully tolerates infrastructure degradation and datacenter-level outages without any manual intervention. Photon guarantees that there will be no duplicates in the joined output (at-most-once semantics) at any point in time, that most joinable events will be present in the output in real-time (near-exact semantics), and exactly-once semantics eventually.
Photon is deployed within Google Advertising System to join data streams such as web search queries and user clicks on advertisements. It produces joined logs that are used to derive key business metrics, including billing for advertisers. Our production deployment processes millions of events per minute at peak with an average end-to-end latency of less than 10 seconds. We also present challenges and solutions in maintaining large persistent state across geographically distant locations, and highlight the design principles that emerged from our experience.