Database Supercomputing in the Cloud

This post will combine the information in the last two posts to show how the cloud might be used as a database supercomputer at no extra cost. 

To quickly recap: in the post here, you saw a simple model that shows how a cluster dedicated to a single query uses the on-demand resources of cloud computing to provide a 10X-100X performance boost over a multitasking cluster running many queries at once. Note that this model did not account for the start-up time of spinning up a new cluster instance for each query, but we assume that there is still a significant saving for queries that run for several minutes. Further, we believe that queries can be queued and run one at a time on clusters to reduce the start-up costs whenever there is work queued. 

The next post here reminded us of the cost of populating cache from DRAM whenever there is a multitask context switch from one query to the next. You also saw how supercomputing SIMD instructions further accelerate processing. Finally, we discussed how modern columnar databases store data as vectors in a way that allows compressed columnar data to be loaded directly into cache to optimize the use of that memory. 

One last note: all the cores share the L3 cache in a chip. On a 4-CPU processor, this means that you could run 4 parallel processes, all on compressed vectorized data. 

So how might the cloud help here? First, if we dedicate a cluster to query processing where “dedicate” means that the hardware is dedicated to a single queue of queries, then once the query data is loaded in memory and the cache is primed, the performance can be 1000X the speed of an alternative configuration where the hardware is shared both by a multitasking DBMS and that DBMS is sharing the cluster with other cloud workloads dispatched by the cloud operating system. Better still, since in the cloud using fine-grained billing, you pay only for what you use, so this extra performance is nearly free. 

When SAP HANA was introduced, SAP published amazing 1000X benchmarks using in-memory supercomputing instructions. Unfortunately, the technology did not quite exist to deploy queries on-demand on tens or hundreds or thousands of dedicated cloud computers. I imagine that we are not too far from this today. 

The bottom line is that multitasking has never been efficient. When you swap context in and out of cache, you are just wasting resources. It made sense when computing was expensive, and you swapped context to take advantage of the time it took to perform I/O to disk or tape. For analytic workloads where the data is columnar and vectorized, you can fit multiple terabytes of compressed data in memory and stream it to supercomputing instructions quickly.  

I imagine a time when simple, very high performance, single-threaded database processing units, similar in architecture to GPUs, will handle queries in a dedicated manner, fetching vectorized data from products like Apache Arrow, and 1000X speed-up at a very low cost will be the standard. 

Numbers Every Database Professional Should Know

Latency Estimates in a Processor

In this post I will setup the next post by reminding you of these numbers every programmer should know. The picture shows the latency to access data across the three levels of cache in a modern processor, and across the memory bus to DRAM, and then across to an SSD or spinning disk drive. 

These numbers are the key to in-memory database performance. L1 cache is expensive and small. All data and all instructions are fed to the core through the L1 cache and typically the instruction and the data it will operate on are each fetched independently. If the data (or instruction… but I will just talk about the data from here on out) is not found in the small L1 cache the L2 cache is searched. Likewise, if the data is not in the L2 cache the L3 cache is searched and then DRAM. As you can see there is a 200X performance difference between a fetch from L1 cache and a fetch from DRAM. If the data must be fetched from SSD or disk, there is a 1000X penalty. 

Databases work to mitigate the 1000X penalty by pre-fetching data into DRAM. Modern processors mitigate the penalty between cache and DRAM by trying to anticipate the data required and pre-fetching it into L3 cache. This is a gamble and the likelihood of winning the pre-fetch bet varies with your DBMS and with the workload. More simultaneous queries against many tables puts pressure on the memory and lessens the effectiveness of data pre-fetch. 

Databases also mitigate the 1000X penalty by compressing data so that each fetch of a block from disk captures more data. For tabular (not columnar) data each block must be decompressed before it can be used. Decompression steals CPU cycles from query processing but mitigates some of the cost of I/O to disk. Columnar databases fetch compressed data and, if the databases use modern vector processing techniques, they operate directly on the compressed vector data without decompression. This is especially powerful as these vectorized columnar databases can push compressed data into cache and use that memory more effectively. 

Vectorized data can use the supercomputing instruction set that includes SIMD instructions. SIMD stands for Single Instruction; Multiple Data and these instructions fetch a single instruction from L1 cache and reuse it on the vectorized data over and over with pausing to fetch new instructions. Note that in a modern processor waiting for instructions or data to be fetched from cache or DRAM appears as CPU busy time. When the processor is stalled waiting for data to be fetched from disk the query/job gives up the CPU and dispatches a new query/job. 

Finally, for the longer-running queries associated with analytics and business intelligence (where long-running means a few seconds or more… “long” in CPU instruction time), it is highly likely that the L1 and L2 cache in each core will be flushed and new data will be fetched. It is even likely that all the data in L3 cache will be flushed. In this case most of the goodness associated with compression and vectorization is flushed with it. The vectors must be fetched again from L3 and DRAM. Further, note that when you run in a virtual machine or in the cloud you may think that you are the only user but other virtual machines other containers, or other serverless processes may be flushing you out of memory all the time. 

This is important. Until we swapped out a query for a new one it looked like in-memory vector processing might be 200X-1000X faster than a tabular query; but in an environment where tens or hundreds of queries are running concurrently the pressure on memory keeps flushing the cache and the advantage of vectorized query processing is reduced. Reduced, not eliminated. We would still expect the advantages of compressed data in cache and SIMD supercomputing instructions to provide much more than a 10X speedup. 

As mentioned, this post is a detailed review of material I covered years ago when HANA was introduced. In the next post I will add some new thinking. 

Here is more information on processor architecture and cache usage.

DW Cloud Economics – The Model

This post describe the model used to generate the content from the DW Cloud Economics – A Do Over post incase you want to check the numbers…

First, keep in mind that the numbers in this model are relative and indicative, not absolute. Here are the fixed parameters I used to generate these indicative numbers:

Cost per server per hour: $4.00 This could be any number or any currency and it would not matter.

Runtime per job with no contention: 3 hours This could be any duration and it would not change the relative results. If the number was well below an hour, it would increase the hour-based billing costs.

Jobs per Workload: 6 Again any number works.

Baseline Configuration: 24 Servers

Contention between 6 jobs on 24 Servers: 50% This sets the average amount of time a job will wait for resources. So, a job that runs for 3 hours with no contention will run in 4.5 hours with 50% contention. As the number of servers goes up the contention comes down for a fixed workload.

Baseline Performance: 2000 A completely arbitrary number that allows the model to calculate a relative price/performance. Relative “Performance” is calculated by dividing the Baseline Performance by the actual runtime. This means that a workload that takes 5 hours will yield a performance of 400 and a workload that take 2 hours will yield a performance number of 1000.

There are also a series of calculated values:

Total Servers / Workload is equal to Servers/Job for the Multi-tasking and Serial Execution configurations. It is equal to Servers/Job * Number of Jobs for the dedicated server per job configuration.

Scaleup is the ratio between the number of Total Servers / Workload and the Baseline Configuration. It is used to scale down the runtime and the contention.

Runtime / Job is the number of hours per job with no contention scaled down based on the Scaleup plus the time the Job is waiting due to contention. Contention scales down as the number of servers scales up.

Actual Runtime / Workload is Runtime / Job plus contention. Note that in the Serial Configuration and the Dedicated Server configuration there is no contention.

Paid Runtime / Workload is the Actual Runtime / Workload rounded to the nearest hour for the hourly billing table and equal to the Actual Runtime / Workload for the billing per minute table.

Cost / Workload is the Cost per Server per Hour parameter times the Paid Runtime / Hour value times the Total Servers / Workload value.

Price / Performance is the Cost / Workload divided by the Actual Runtime / Workload times the Baseline Performance parameter divided by the Cost / Workload value as noted above.

DB Cloud Economics – A Do Over

Here is a better model that demonstrates how cloudy databases can provide dramatic performance increases without increasing costs.

Mea culpa… I was going to extend the year-old series of posts on the economics of cloud computing and recognized that I poorly described the simple model I used, and worse, made some mistakes in the model. It was very lame. I’m so sorry… That said, I hope that you will like the extension to the model and the new conclusions.

I’ll get to those conclusions in a few short paragraphs and add a new post to explain the model.

If we imagine a workload consisting of 6 “jobs” that would execute on a dedicated cluster of 24 servers in 3 hours each with no contention, we can build a simple model to determine the price performance of the workload for three different configurations:

  1. M1: The usual configuration where all six jobs run together and share the configuration, multitasking and contending for the resources. As the configuration scales up the cost goes up, the runtime goes down, and the contention drops.
  2. M2: A silly model where each job runs serially on the configuration with no contention. As the configuration scales up the costs go up, the runtime goes down.
  3. M3: A model where each job runs independently, simultaneously, on its own cluster with no contention.

If we pay for servers by the hour the model shows that there is an opportunity to deploy many more servers, as many as one per “job”, to reduce the runtime and the cost. Here are the results:

ConfigServers DeployedActual Runtime / Workload (Hours)Paid Runtime / Workload
(Hours)
Cost / WorkloadPrice / Performance
Multitasking244.55$480444
 483.84$768533
 963.44$1,536593
Serial Execution2418.018$1,728111
 489.09$1,728222
 964.54.5$1,920444
Dedicated Server per Job1440.51$5764000
 2880.31$1,1528000
 5760.11$2,30416000
Table 1. Costs with Hourly Billing

Note that the price/performance metric is relative across the models. You can see the dramatic performance and price/performance increases using a configuration where each unit of work gets a dedicated set of resources. But the more dramatic picture is exposed in Table 2.

ConfigurationServers DeployedActual Runtime / Workload (Hours)Paid Runtime / Workload (Hours)Cost / WorkloadPrice / Performance
Multitasking244.54.5$432444
 483.83.8$720533
 963.43.4$1,296593
Serial Execution2418.018.0$1,728111
 489.099.0$1,728222
 964.54.5$1,728444
Dedicated Server per Job1440.50.5$2884000
 2880.30.3$2888000
 5760.10.1$28816000
Table 2. Costs with per Minute Billing

Here the granular billing reduces the total cost with the same dramatic price and price/performance increases. This was the point I was trying to make in my earlier posts. Note that this point, that fine-grained billing can be used to significantly reduce costs, is why deploying work in containers, or better still as serverless transactions, is so cost-effective. It is why deploying virtual machines in the cloud misses the real cost savings. In other words, it is why building cloud-native implementations is so important and why cloud-native databases will quickly overcome databases that cannot get there.

I also was trying to show that work deployed across these configurations, what I call a “job”, can be ETL jobs or single queries or a set of queries or a Spark job. If you have lots of smaller work, it may be best to run them in a multitasking configuration to avoid the cost of tearing down and starting up new configurations. But even here there is a point where the tear down cost can be mitigated across multiple semi-dedicated configurations.

A Segue from ETL to DB

This is a short post to segue to point where I’ve been headed all along. Figure 1 recasts the picture from the last post, showing storage separated from compute from ETL/ELT to a data warehouse. It should be a familiar picture to Snowflake architects who may have implemented multiple DW instances against a single storage layer.

Decoupled Multi Instance DW
Figure 1. Multiple DW Compute Instances Decoupled from Shared Storage

I’ll not give away the next article, other than to say that it derives from the same concepts just discussed.

Since this is so short, I will add a tangent just-for-fun.

Here is a post from seven years ago that anticipates how the cloud impacts DW performance. When you combine this with the economics presented in the last two posts (here and here), suggesting that performance is free, you can begin to see why database tuning is no longer an urgent requirement for a data warehouse.

When you tune, you specialize for a particular workload, and if your workload changes, the tuning wears thin. In other words, I now believe that you should build a robust data warehouse with minimal tuning and use cloud compute to get performance. No tuning lets you add a new workload without adjusting. Tuning makes your database fragile in the face of change.

More on Cloud Data Elasticity

The last post (here) demonstrated how scalability in the cloud provides the ability to reduce runtimes from days or hours to minutes without raising the cost. We used a batch ETL service running three ETL scripts as an example. We then showed how the same use of scalability could allow us to break the batch ETL service into discrete jobs and remove contention between the three scripts to further improve throughput and reduce costs.

There is a great deal more to say about how the cloud changes our thinking about applying resources to our big data workloads. I promised to get to a discussion of database work, but that will have to wait another week. Sorry. Let’s carry on.

In the scenario where we ran the three jobs together, we assumed that all three ran in the same amount of time and so we shut down the ETL service when all three scripts completed. We shut down the servers when they were all complete to stop billing at the $1152 price point. It is more likely that each script would take more-or-less time than another.

When we run each script in its own set of servers, we can stop billing as each job ends. If one of the jobs takes only 2.5 hours to complete, and your cloud provider will allow you to bill minute, not hour increments, then the cost of that single job drops from $288 to $240. Over a year, these savings add up, and you can ask for a raise.

So, we have added a third point: by using scalability, and by scheduling discrete workloads on dedicated cloud servers, you can scale performance and significantly reduce costs.

You have no doubt noticed that the scenarios describe scalability without any impact on the data. We assume that compute can scale independently of storage, and re-sharding of the data is not required. Every database has special sauce for managing data across storage. All we assume here is that the file scan of data, be they rows or columns, occurs in compute nodes after the data is read from storage. In a future post, we will see how modern storage systems impact this assumption without changing the economics benefits described here. Figure 1 is a classic, really too simple, depiction of this separation.

Simple Storage Separate from Compute
Figure 1. Compute Separate from Storage

The database logic here is straightforward. When compute and storage are tied, the query planner knows precisely and in advance how many parallel nodes are in play, and the system can spread data across those nodes in every step that requires data distribution. The number of nodes is fixed for both storage (processing IO) and compute. Figure 2 shows a system with storage and logic connected.

Couple Storage
Figure 2. Classic Shared-nothing Connected Storage and Compute

In a system with storage and compute separated, the query planner has to ask how many nodes are available for data distribution. I am using the term “database” here, but any parallel data processing system that shards data with a processing plan has some form of this logic.

In the ETL scenarios, data flows from the storage layer into a compute layer dynamically allocated at the start of the workload. The planner learns the configuration when the system starts up.

Shared Nodes
Figure 3. Multi-processing Compute Nodes

Figure 3 depicts the case where all three ETL scripts run together on a six-node cluster. Figure 4 shows each ETL script running on a dedicated cluster. Note that, just-for-fun, I have adjusted the configurations in Figure 4 to show that in the dedicated system case, it is possible to size systems differently if there is an advantage to do so. In a later post, I’ll discuss why this could be important (as right now, it may seem that in every case, you would want 10,000 severs to complete every job in 10 seconds).

Dedicated Compute Nodes
Figure 4. Dedicated Compute Nodes with Separated Storage

A couple of closing remarks. First, I cannot imagine why anyone would not run ETL scripts on a scalable cloud platform. The ability to scale up to reduce runtimes at no extra cost is remarkable (and I’m not sure that I have ever used that word in one of my blogs). Next, I cannot see why anyone who could run ETL in the cloud would not run each script in a dedicated cloudy configuration. If the issue is that your ETL product is not cloud-native does not separate from compute, then get a product that does (or use a cloud database and ELT).

Finally, here is a post from five years ago that anticipates the separation of storage from compute.

Next time: I’ll take this down a notch to talk about workloads smaller than an ETL batch job and consider how to run big data queries in the cloud.

Refactoring Databases P2.75: REST and ORB Thoughts

I’m riffing on database design and modeling in an agile methodology. In the previous post here I suggested that we might cheat a little and design database schemas 2-4 weeks in advance of their use… further, I suggested that to maximize agility we should limit the design to a conceptual schema. In this post I’m going to limit the scope little more by considering the use of a database in a restful application.

I am not going to fully define the REST architecture here… but if you are a systems architect you should know this inside and out… what I will say is that sometimes, in order to build a RESTful application, you will find yourself using the database to store the application state. What I want to say here is that when the application stores state in a database that must persist across boundaries in your business process… but that is not required to persist across business processes… then you do not need to model this. Let the programmers do their worst. In this case database tables play the role of working storage (a very old term that dates me… at least I did not say “Data Division”)… and programmers need to be completely free to add and subtract data elements in their programs as required.

I also have a question for the architects out there…

When programmers touch relational data they typically go through one or more abstractions: maybe they call an XML-based RESTful web service… or maybe they write the service themselves and in the service call an ORB-thingie like Hibernate. I’ve seen terrible schema signs that result from programmers building to an object model without looking at the resulting relational model out of the other end. So… when we assign data architects to build a relational schema to underlie an object-oriented programming language… should we architect up the stack and deliver the relational schema, the ORB layer, and/or the RESTful CRUD services for the objects? We are starting down that path… but I thought that I would ask…

Refactoring Databases P2.5: Scoping the Cheats

One of the side-effects of the little cheat posted here is that, if we are going to design early we have to decide what we will design early… and this question has two complications. First, we have to ask ourselves how detailed do we design before the result becomes un-agile? Next, we have to ask ourselves if we should design up the stack a little? My opinions will be doggedly blogged in this post.

I will offer two ends of a spectrum to suggest a way to manage the scope of your advance design cheat. Let me remind you that the cheat suggests that you look at the user stories that will be sprinted on next and devise the schema required from those stories… and maybe refactor the existing schema a little (more in the next post) no more than that.

On one side we may develop a complete design with every detail specified: subject areas, tables, columns, data types, and domains. The advantage here is that the code developers have a spec to code to and these could increase velocity. But the down side is that developers will be working with users to adjust the code in real-time. If the schema does not fit the adjustments then you may be refactoring the new stuff and velocity may decrease.

The other side of the spectrum would have database designers just build a skeleton; a conceptual schema with subject areas, tables and primary keys for each table. This provides a framework that corrals the developers without fencing them in so tight that they cannot express agility.

Remember that the object here is to reduce refactoring without reducing agility…

IMO the conceptual model approach is best. Let’s raise free range software engineers who can eat bugs in the wild rather than be penned in. The conceptual model delimits the range… a detailed schema defines a pen.

There is one more closely related topic for the next post… how do we manage transient objects in a restful application?

Refactoring Databases P2: Cheating a Little

In this post I am going to suggest doing a little design a little upfront and violating the purity of agility in the process. I think that you will see the sense.

To be fair, I do not think that what I am going to say in this post is particularly original… But in my admittedly weak survey of agile methods I did not find these ideas clearly stated… So apologies up front to those who figured this out before me… And to those readers who know this already. In other words, I am assuming that enough of you database geeks are like me, just becoming agile literate, and may find this useful.

In my prior post here I suggested that refactoring, re-working previous stuff due to the lack of design, was the price we pay to avoid over-engineering in an agile project. Now I am going to suggest that some design could eliminate some refactoring to the overall benefit of the project. In particular, I am going to suggest a little database design in advance as a little cheat.

Generally an agile project progresses by picking a set of user stories from a prioritized backlog of stories and tackling development of code for those stories in a series of short, two-week, sprints.

Since design happens in real-time during the sprints it can be uncoordinated… And code or schemas designed this way are refactored in subsequent sprints. Depending on how uncoordinated the schemas become the refactoring can require a significant effort. If the coders are not data folks… And worse, they are abstracted away from the schema via an ORM layer, the schema can become very silly.

Here is what we are trying to do at the Social Security Administration.

In the best case we would build a conceptual data model before the first sprint. This conceptual model would only define the 5-10 major entities in the system… Something highly likely to stand up over time. Sprint teams would then have the ability to agile define new objects within this conceptual framework… And require permission only when new concepts are required.

Then, and this is a better case, we have data modelers working 1-2 sprints ahead of the coders so that there is a fairly detailed model to pin data to. This better case requires the prioritized backlog to be set 1-2 sprints in advance… A reasonable, but not certain, assumption.

Finally, we are hoping to provide developers with more than just a data model… What we really want is to provide an object model with basic CRUD methods in advance. This provides developers with a very strong starting point for their sprints and let’s the data/object architecture to evolve in a more methodological manner.

Let me be clear that this is a slippery slope. I am suggesting that data folks can work 2-4 weeks ahead of the coders and still be very agile. Old school enterprise data modelers will argue… Why not be way ahead and prescribe adherence to an enterprise model. You all will have to manage this slope as you see fit.

We are seeing improvement in the velocity and quality of the code coming from our agile projects… And in agile… code is king. In the new world an enterprise data model evolves evolve based on multiple application models and enterprise data modelers need to find a way to influence, not dictate, data architecture in an agile manner.

A Short DW DBMS Market History: HANA, Oracle, DB2, Netezza, Teradata, & Greenplum

Here is a quick review of tens years of data warehouse database competition… and a peek ahead…

Maybe ten years ago Netezza shook up the DW DBMS market with a parallel database machine that could compete with Teradata.

About six years ago Greenplum entered the market with a commodity-based product that was competitive… and then added column store to make it a price/performance winner.

A couple of years later Oracle entered with Exadata… a product competitive enough to keep the Oracle faithful on an Oracle product… but nothing really special otherwise.

Teradata eventually added a columnar feature that matched Greenplum… and Greenplum focussed away from the data warehouse space. Netezza could not match the power of columnar and could not get there so they fell away.

At this point Teradata was more-or-less back on top… although Greenplum and the other chipped away based on price. In addition, Hadoop entered the market and ate away at Teradata’s dominance in the Big Data space. The impact of Hadoop is well documented in this blog.

Three-to-four years ago SAP introduced HANA and the whole market gasped. HANA was delivering 1000X performance using columnar formats, memory to eliminate I/O, and bare-metal techniques that effectively loaded data into the processor in full cache lines.

Unfortunately, SAP did not take advantage of their significant lead in the general database markets. They focussed on their large installed base of customers… pricing HANA in a way that generated revenue but did not allow for much growth in market share. Maybe this was smart… maybe not… I was not privy to the debate.

Now Oracle has responded with in-memory columnar capability and IBM has introduced BLU. We might argue over which implementation is best… but clearly whatever lead SAP HANA held is greatly diminished. Further, HANA pricing makes it a very tough sell outside of its implementation inside the SAP Business Suite.

Teradata has provided a memory-based cache under its columnar capabilities… but this is not at the same level of sophistication as the HANA, 12c, BLU technologies which compute directly against compressed columnar data.

Hadoop is catching up slowly and we should expect that barring some giant advance from the commercial space that they will reach parity in the next 5 years or so (the will claim parity sooner… but if we require all of the capabilities offered to be present there is just no way to produce mature software any faster than 5 years).

Interestingly there is one player who seems to be advancing the state of the art. Greenplum has rolled out a best-in-class optimizer with Orca… and now has acquired Quickstep which may provide the state-of-the-art in bare metal columnar computing. When these come together Greenplum could once again bounce to the top of the performance, and the price/performance, stack. In addition, Greenplum has skinnied down and is running on an open source business model. They are very Hadoop-friendly.

It will be interesting to see if this open-source business model provides the revenue to drive advanced development… there is not really a “community” behind Greenplum development. It will also be interesting to see if the skinny business model will allow for the deployment of an enterprise-level sales force… but it just might. If Pivotal combines this new technology with a focus on the large EDW market… they may become a bigger player.

Note that was sort of dumb-luck that I posted about how Hadoop might impact revenues of big database players like Teradata right before Teradata posted a loss… but do not over think this and jump to the conclusion that Teradata is dying. They are the leader in their large space. They have great technology and they more-or-less keep up with the competition. But skinnier companies can afford to charge less and Teradata, who grew up in the days of big enterprise software, will have to skinny down like Greenplum. It will be much harder for Teradata than it was for Greenplum… and both companies will struggle with profitability for a while. But it is these technology and market dynamics that give us all something to think about, blog about, and talk about over beers…