In the early days, Heroku only had a single routing node that sat out front. So it wasn't a distributed systems problem at that point. You could argue that Heroku circa 2009 was more of a prototype or a toy than a scalable piece of infrastructure. You couldn't run background workers, or large databases. We weren't even charging money yet.
Implementing a single global queue in a single node is trivial. In fact, this is what Unicorn (and other concurrent backends) do: put a queue within a single node, in this case a dyno. That's how we implemented it in the Heroku router (written in Erlang).
Later on, we scaled out to a few nodes, which meant a few queues. This was close enough to a single queue that it didn't matter much in terms of customer impact.
In late 2010 and early 2011 our growth started to really take off, and that's when we scaled out our router nodes to far more than a handful. And that's when the global queue effectively ceased to exist, even though we hadn't changed a line of code in the router.
The problem with this, of course, is that we didn't give it much attention because we had just launched a new product which made the explicit choice to leave out global queueing. It's this failure to continue full stewardship of our existing product that's the mistake that really hurt customers.
So to answer your question, there was never some crazy-awesome implementation of a distributed global queue that we got rid of. It was a single node's queue, a page of code in Erlang which is not too different from the code that you'll find in Unicorn, Puma, GUnicorn, Jetty, etc.
> So to answer your question, there was never some crazy-awesome implementation of a distributed global queue that we got rid of.
This sentence is really good, and I would humbly suggest you consider hammering it home even more than you have.
I gathered early on that there were inherent scaling issues with the initial router (which makes sense intuitively if you think about Heroku's architecture for more than 10 seconds), but I feel like most of the articles I've seen the past few weeks have this "Heroku took away our shiny toys because they could!" vibe. (Alternative ending: "Heroku took away our shiny toys to expand their market to nodeJS!")