Recommend 11 Uses For the Humble Presents Queue, er, Message Queue (Email)

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It's a little known fact that Santa Clause was an early queue innovator. Faced with the problem of delivering a planet full of presents in one night, Santa, in his hacker's workshop, created a Present Distribution System using thousands of region based priority present queues for continuous delivery by the Rudolphs. Rudolphs? You didn't think there was only one Rudolph did you? Presents are delivered in parallel by a cluster of sleighs, each with redundant reindeer in a master-master configuration. Each Rudolph is a cluster leader and they coordinate work using an early and more magical version of the ZooKeeper protocol.

Programmers have followed Santa's lead and you can find a message queue in nearly every major architecture profile on HighScalability. Historically they may have been introduced after a first generation architecture needed to scale up from their two tier system into something a little more capable (asynchronicity, work dispatch, load buffering, database offloading, etc). If there's anything like a standard structural component, like an arch or beam in architecture for software, it's the message queue. 

An article from, Top 10 Uses For A Message Queue, has nice summary of why message queues are so dang useful:

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