How DBMS Vendors Admit to an Architectural Limitation: Part 1 – Oracle Exadata

Database vendors don’t usually admit to shortcomings… they protest that they have no shortcomings until the market suggests otherwise… then they make some sort of change that signals an admission. This post will explore three of these admissions: Oracle and the shared-nothing architecture, DB2 on the mainframe and the shared-nothing architecture, and Teradata and in-memory processing.

For years Oracle verbally thrashed Teradata in the market… proclaiming that the shared-nothing architecture was bunk. But in the data warehousing space Teradata acquired a large chunk of the market; and more importantly, they won more business as the size of the data warehouses grew. The reason for this is two-fold: the shared-nothing architecture lets you deliver more I/O bandwidth to the problem… and once you have read the disk it provides scalability to deliver more compute to process complex queries.

Finally Oracle had enough and they delivered Exadata, a storage engine attached to the conventional Oracle RAC that provided shared-nothing I/O bandwidth to the biggest part of the problem… the full file scan of big fact tables. This was an admission that they had been wrong all along.

Exadata was a tack-on… not a fundamental redevelopment of the Oracle database engine. They used the 80/20 rule to quickly get something to market and stem the trickle of Oracle customers who were out of gas on RAC and headed to shared nothing products: Teradata, Netezza, and Greenplum.

This was a very smart move and it worked. Even though the 80/20 approach meant that there were a significant number of queries, the complex queries that needed to process large working sets to execute joins, Exadata solved enough of the problem to keep devout Oracle shops in the church. Only the shops who felt that complex query performance was important enough to warrant the cost of a migration (for an existing DW that had grown up) or the lesser cost of introducing a new technology (for a new DW) would move.

So, while Exadata was a smart move… it is a clear admission that shared-nothing is the right architecture for data warehouses and marts. This admission makes it clear that it is silly to build a warehouse or mart on normal Oracle or on RAC unless you consider your database an inviolable part of a technological creed.

In my opinion selecting a database is an engineering process that does not require orthodoxy… we should be strong enough engineers to pick the better technology and learn it. Being an “Oracle shop” is lazy.

Note that the in-memory technologies provided in Oracle12c are significant… and for warehouses and marts that will fit on a single node, 12c as it matures, will be a fine choice for the orthodox Oracle shop and for others. For bigger data applications you will require Exadata and the limitations that come with it.

This provides a nice transition to the Part 2 post on Teradata and in-memory.

Related Posts

Database Fog Blog
Other References

CPUs and HW for HANA, BLU, Hekaton, and Oracle 12c

CPUs from retired computers waiting for recycl...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This short post is intended to provide a quick warning regarding in-memory columnar and cpu requirements… with a longer post to follow.

When a row is inserted or bulk-loaded into a DBMS, if there are no indexes, the amount of cpu required is very small. The majority of the time is spent committing a transaction is the time to write a log record to persist the data.

When the same record is reformatted into a column the amount of processing required is significantly higher. The data must be parsed into columns, the values must be compressed, dictionaries may be updated, and the breadcrumbs that let the columnar data be regenerated into rows must be laid. Further, if the columnar structure are to be optimized then the data must be ordered… with a sort or some kind of index structure. I have seen academic papers that suggest that for an insert columnar processing may be 100X more than row processing… and you can see why this could be true (I apologize for not finding the reference… I’ll dig it up… as I recall I read it in a post some time back by Daniel Abadi).

Now let’s think about this… several vendors are suggesting that you can deploy their columnar features with no changes required… no new hardware… in-place. But this does not ring true if the new columnar feature requires 100X extra CPU cycles per row… or 50X… or 10X… unless you are running your database on an empty server.

This claim is a shot at SAP who, more honestly, suggests new hardware with high-end processors for their in-memory columnar product… but methinks it is marketing, not architecture, from these other folks.

Who is How Columnar? Exadata, Teradata, and HANA – Part 2: Column Processing

In my last post here I suggested that there were three levels of maturity around column orientation and described the first level, PAX, which provides columnar compression. This apparently is the level Exadata operates at with its Hybrid Columnar Compression.

In this post we will consider the next two levels of maturity: early materialized column processing and late materialized column processing which provide more I/O avoidance and some processing advantages.

In the previous post I suggested a five-column table and depicted each of those columns oriented on disk in separate file structures. This orientation provides the second level of maturity: columnar projection.

Imagine a query that selects only 4 of the five columns in the table leaving out the EmpFirst column. In this case the physical structure that stores EmpFirst does not have to be accessed; 20% less data is read, reducing the I/O overhead by the same amount. Somewhere in the process the magic has to be invoked that returns the columns to a row orientation… but just maybe that overhead costs less than the saving from the reduced I/O?

Better still, imagine a fact table with 100 columns and a query that accesses only 10 of the columns. This is a very common use case. The result is a 9X reduction in the amount of data that has to be read and a 9X reduction in the cost of weaving columns into rows. This is columnar projection and the impact of this far outweighs small advantage offered by PAX (PAX may provide a .1X-.5X, 10%-50%, compression advantage over full columnar tables). This is the advantage that lets most of the columnar databases beat Exadata in a fair fight.

But Teradata and Greenplum stop here. After data is projected and selected the data is decompressed into rows and processed using their conventional row-based database engines. The gains from more maturity are significant.

The true column stores read compressed columnar data into memory and then operate of the columnar data directly. This provides distinct advantages:

  • Since data remains compressed DRAM is used more efficiently
  • Aggregations against a single column access data in contiguous memory improving cache utilization
  • Since data remains compressed processor caches are used more efficiently
  • Since data is stored in bit maps it can be processed as vectors using the super-computing instruction sets available in many CPUs
  • Aggregations can be executed using multiplication instead of table scans
  • Distinct query optimizations are available when columnar dictionaries are available
  • Column structures behave as built-in indexes, eliminating the need for separate index structures

These advantages can provide 10X-50X performance improvements over the previous level of maturity.

Summary

  • Column Compression provides approximately a 4X performance advantage over row compression (10X instead of 2.5X). This is Column Maturity Level 1.
  • Columnar Projection includes the advantages of Column Compression and provides a further 5X-10X performance advantage (if your queries touch 1/5-1/10 of the columns). This is Column Maturity Level 2.
  • Columnar Processing provides a 10X+ performance improvement over just compression and projection. This is Column Maturity Level 3.

Of course your mileage will vary… If your workload tends to touch more than 80% of the columns in your big fact tables then columnar projection will not be useful… and Exadata may win. If your queries do not do much aggregation then columnar processing will be less useful… and a product at Level 2 may win. And of course, this blog has not addressed the complexities of joins and loading and workload management… so please do not consider this as a blanket promotion for Level 3 column stores… but now that you understand the architecture I hope you will be better able to call BS on the marketing…

Included is a table that outlines the maturity level of several products:

Product

Columnar Maturity Level

Notes

Teradata

2

 Columnar tables, Row Engine
Exadata

1

 PAX only
HANA

3

 Full Columnar Support
Greenplum

2

 Columnar tables, Row Engine
DB2

3

 BLU Hybrid
SQL Server

2

 I think… researching…
Vertica

3

 Full Columnar Support
Paraccel

3

 Full Columnar Support
Netezza

n/a

 No Columnar Support
Hadapt

2

 I think… researching…

Who is How Columnar? Exadata, Teradata, and HANA – Part 1: Column Compression

Basic Table

There are three forms of columnar-orientation currently deployed by database systems today. Each builds upon the next. The simplest form uses column-orientation to provide better data compression. The next level of maturity stores columnar data in separate structures to support columnar projection. The most mature implementations support a columnar database engine that performs relational algebra on column-oriented data. Let me explain…

Imagine a simple table with 1M rows… with the schema and the first several rows depicted in Figure 1. Conceptually, a row-orientation deploys data on disk and in-memory as depicted in Figure 2 and a column-orientation deploys data on disk and in-memory as depicted in Figure 3. The actual deployment may be significantly different, as we will see.

Note that I am going to throw out some indicative numbers around compression. I will suggest that applying compression to rows will provide from 1.5X to 3.5X compression with and average of 2.5X… and that applying compression to columns provides from 3X compression to 50X compression with the average around 10X. These are supportable numbers but the compression you see for any specific data set will vary.

A row oriented block

There are two powerful compression techniques that individually or combined provide most of the benefits: dictionary-encoding and run-length encoding. For the purposes of this blog I will describe only dictionary-encoding; and I will do an injustice to that by explaining it only briefly and conceptually… just enough that you get the idea.

Five column oriented blocks

Further compression is possible by encoding runs of similar values to a value plus the number of times it repeats so that the bit stream 0000000000000000 could be represented as 01111 (0 occurs 24 times).

You can now also start to see why column-orientation compresses better that a row-orientation. In the row block above there is little opportunity to encode whole rows in a dictionary… the cardinality of rows in a table is too high (note that this may not be true for a dimension table which is, in-effect, a dictionary). There is some opportunity to encode the bit runs in a row… as noted, you can expect to get 2X-2.5X from row compression for a fact table. Column-orientation allows dictionary encoding to be applied effectively to low cardinality columns… and this accounts for the advantage there.

Col Dict

Dictionary-encoding reduces data to a compressed form by building a map that provides a translation for each cardinal value in the table to a tightly compressed form. For example, if there are indeed only three values possible in the DeptID field above then we might build a dictionary for that column as depicted in Figure 4. You can see… by encoding and storing the data in the minimal number of bits required, significant storage reduction is possible… and the lower the cardinality of a column the smaller the resulting bit representation.

Note that there is no free lunch here. There is a cost to be paid in CPU cycles to compress data and to decompress data… but for a read-optimized data warehouse database compression is cool. Exactly how cool depends on the level of maturity and we will get to that as we go.

It is crucial to remember that column store databases are relational. They ingest rows and emit rows and perform relational algebra in-between. So there has to be some magic that turns tuples into columns and restores them from columns. The integrity of a row has to persist. Again I am going to defer on the details and point you at the references below… but imagine that for each row a bit map is built that, for each column, points to the entry in the column dictionary with the proper value.

There is no free lunch to column store… no free lunch anywhere, it seems. Building this bit map on INSERT is very expensive, and modifying it on UPDATE is fairly expensive. This is why column-orientation is not suitable for OLTP workloads without some extra effort. But the cost is amortized by significant performance gains for READs.

One last concept: since peripheral I/O reads blocks imagine two approaches to column compression: one applies the concepts above to an entire table breaking each table into separate column-oriented files that may be read separately; and one which applies the concepts individually to each large block in a table file. Imagine, in the first case that Figure 2 represents a picture of the first few rows in our 1M-row table. Imagine, in the second case, that Figure 2 represents the rows in one block of data re-oriented into columns.

This second, block-oriented, approach is called PAX, and it is more-or-less the approach used by Exadata. In the PAX approach each block contains its own mini-column store and a dictionary for dictionary encoding with the values in the block. Because the cardinality for columns within a block will often be less than for an entire table there are some distinct advantages to PAX compression. Compression will be higher by more than a little than for full table columnar compression.

When Exadata reads a block from disk it decompresses the data back into rows and performs row-oriented processing to complete the query. This is very cool for Exadata… a great feature. As noted, column compression may be 4X better than row compression on the average. This reduces the storage requirements and reduces the overhead of I/O by 4X… and this is a very significant improvement. But Exadata stops here. It is not a columnar-oriented DBMS and it misses the significant advantages that come from the next two levels of column-orientation… I’ll take these up in the next post.

To be clear, all of the databases that use these more mature techniques: Teradata, HANA, Greenplum, Vertica, Paraccel, DB2, and SQL Server gain from columnar compression even if the PAX approach provides some small advantage as a compression technique.

It is also worth noting that Teradata does not gain as much as others in this regard. This is not because of poor design, rather it is due to the fact that, to their credit, Teradata implemented a Teradata-specific dictionary-based compression scheme long ago. Columnar compression let others catch up to what Teradata has offered for years.

And before you ask… Netezza offers no columnar orientation… preferring to compress deeply using an FPGA co-processor to decompress… and to reduce I/O using zone maps rather than the using the mid-level column projection techniques in the next blog here.

MPP, IMDB and Moore’s Law

In the post here I listed the units of parallelism (UoP) applied by various products on a single node. Those findings are summarized in the table below.

Product

Version/HW

Cores per Node

UoP per Node

Notes

Teradata EDW 6700H

16

32

Uses hyper-threads.
Greenplum DCA UAP Edition

16

8

Recommends 1 Segment for each 2 cores. Maybe some multi-threading per query so it could be greater than 8 on the average… and could be 16 with hyper-threads… but not more than 32 for sure.
Exadata X3

12

12-24

Maybe only 12… cannot find if they use hyper-threads.
Netezza Striper

16

16

May use hyper-threads but limited by 16 FPGAs.
HANA Any Xeon E7-4800

40

80

Uses hyper-threads.

A UoP is defined as the maximum number of  instructions that can execute in parallel on a single node for a single query. Note that in the comments there was a lively debate where some readers wanted to count threads or processes or slices that were “active” but in a wait state. Since any program can start threads that wait I do not count these as UoP (later we might devise a new measure named units of waiting that would gauge the inefficiency in any given design by measuring the amount of waiting around required to keep the CPUs fed… maybe the measure would be valuable in measuring the inefficiency of the queue at your doctor’s office or at any government agency).

On some CPUs vendors such as Intel allow two threads to execute instructions in-parallel in a core. This is called hyper-threading and, if implemented, it allows for two UoP on a single core. Rather than constantly qualify the statements for the rest of this blog when I refer to cores I mean to imply hyper-threads.

The lively comments in the blog included some discussion of the sort of techniques used by vendors to try and keep the cores in the CPU on each node fed. It is these techniques that lead to more active I/O streams than cores and more threads than cores.

For several years now Intel and the other CPU manufacturers have been building ever more cores into their products. This has allowed them to continue the trend known as Moore’s Law. Multi-core is now a fact of life and even phones, tablets, and personal computers have multi-core chips.

But if you look at the table  you can see that the database products above, even the newly announced products from Teradata and Netezza, are using CPUs with relatively few cores. The high-end Intel processors have 40 cores and the databases, with the exception of HANA, use Intel products with at most 16 cores. Further, Intel will deliver Ivy Bridge processors to the market this year with 120 cores. These vendors know this… yet they have chosen to deliver appliances with the previous generation CPUs. You might ask why?

I believe that there is an architectural reason for this (also a marketing reason covered here).

It is very hard to keep 80 cores fed with data when you have to perform block I/O. It will be nearly impossible to keep the 240 cores coming with Ivy Bridge fed. One solution is to deploy more nodes in a shared-nothing configuration with fewer cores per node… but this will be expensive requiring more power, floorspace, administration, etc. This is the solution taken by most of the vendors above. Another solution is to solve the problem without I/O with an in-memory database (IMDB) architecture. This is the solution taken by SAP with HANA.

Intel, IBM, and the rest will continue to build out using the multi-core approach for the foreseeable future. IMDB products will be able to fully utilize this product. Other products will struggle to take full advantage as we can see already… they will adapt and adjust and do what they can… but ultimately IMDB will win, I think… because there is just no other way to keep up as Moore’s Law continues to drive technology… no other way to feed the CPU engines with data fast enough.

If I am right then you will see more IMDB offerings from more vendors, including from the major vendors in the near future (note that this does not include the announcements of “database in memory” from Oracle which is not by any measure an in-memory database).

This is the underlying reason why Donald Feinberg (and Timo Elliott) are right on here. Every organization will be running in-memory… and soon.

MPP on HANA, Exadata, Teradata, and Netezza

6 May… There is a good summary of this post and on the comments here.  – Rob

17 April… A single unit of parallelism is a core plus a thread/process to feed it instructions plus a feed of data. The only exception is when the core uses hyper-threading… in which case 2 instructions can execute more-or-less at the same time… then a core provides 2 units of parallelism. All of the other stuff: many threads per core and many data shards/slices per thread are just techniques to keep the core fed. – Rob

16 April… I edited this to correct my loose use of the word “shard”. A shard is a physical slice of data and I was using it to represent a unit of parallelism. – Rob

I made the observation in this post that there is some inefficiency in an architecture that builds parallel streams that communicate on a single node across operating system boundaries… and these inefficiencies can limit the number of parallel streams that can be deployed. Greenplum, for example, no longer recommends deploying a segment instance per core on a single node and as a result not all of the available CPU can be applied to each query.

This blog will outline some other interesting limits on the level of parallelism in several products and on the definition of Massively Parallel Processing (MPP). Note that the level of parallelism is directly associated with performance.

On HANA a thread is built for each core… including a thread for each hyper-thread. As a result HANA will split and process data with 80 units of parallelism on a high-end 40-core Intel server.

Exadata deploys 12 cores per cell/node in the storage subsystem. They deploy 12 disk drives per node. I cannot see it clearly documented how many threads they deploy per disk… but it could not be more than 24 units of parallelism if they use hyper-threading of some sort. It may well be that there are only 12 units of parallelism per node (see here).

Updated April 16: Netezza deploys 8 “slices” per S-Blade… 8 units of parallelism… one for each FPGA core in the Twin times four (2X4) Twinfin architecture (see here). The next generation Netezza Striper will have 16-way parallelism per node with 16 Intel cores and 16 FPGA cores…

Updated April 17: Teradata uses hyper-threading (see here)… so that they will deploy 24 units of parallelism per node on an EDW 6700C (2X6X2) and  32 units of parallelism per node on an EDW 6700H (2X8X2).

You can see the different definitions of the word “massive” in these various parallel processing systems.

Note that the next generation of Xeon processors coming out later this year will have 8X15 processors or 120 cores on a fat node:

  • This will provide HANA with the ability to deploy 240 units of parallelism per node.
  • Netezza will have to find a way to scale up the FPGA cores per S-Blade to keep up. TwinFin will have to become QuadFin or DozenFin. It became HexadecaFin… see above. – Rob
  • Exadata will have to put 120 SSD/disk drive combos in each node instead of 12 if they want to maintain the same parallelism-to-disk ratio with 120 units of parallelism.
  • Teradata will have to find a way to get more I/O bandwidth on the problem if they want to deploy nodes with 120+ units of parallelism per node.

Most likely all but HANA will deploy more nodes with a smaller number of cores and pay the price of more servers, more power, more floor space, and inefficient inter-node network communications.

So stay tuned…

My 2 Cents: Oracle Exadata 1Q2013

English: The logo of Oracle Corporation de:Bil...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since my blogs tend to be in response to some stimulus they may not reflect a holistic view on any particular product. The “My 2 Cents” series will try to provide a broader view…

To help pay the bills please consider this as you read on…

Summary

OK, I hate Oracle marketing (see here and here). They are happy to skirt the edge of the credible too often. But let’s be real… Exadata was a very smart move… even if it a flawed product. The flaws are painful but not fatal… and Oracle can now play in the data warehouse space in places they could not play before. I do not believe that Exadata is a strong competitor as you will see below… it will not win many “fair” POCs… but the fight will be more than close enough to make customers with existing Oracle warehouses pick Exadata once they consider the cost of migration. This is tough… it means that customers are locked in to a relatively weak alternative… and every Oracle customer (and every Teradata customer and every SQL Server customer and every DB2 customer) should consider the long-term costs of vendor lock-in. But each customer has to weigh this for themselves… and this evaluation of the cost of lock-in is about neither architecture nor marketing…

Where They Win

First and foremost Exadata wins when there is an existing data warehouse or data mart on Oracle that will have to be migrated. My recommendation to customers is that they think about this carefully before they engage other vendors. It is a waste of everybody’s time to consider alternatives when in the end no alternative has a chance… and it is a double waste to do a POC when even a big technical win by a competitor cannot win them the business.

Exadata can win technically when the data “working set” is small. This allows Exadata to keep the hot data in SSD and in memory and better still, in the RAC layer. This allows Oracle to win POCs where that can suggest a subset of the EDW data is all that is required.

Exadata can win when the queries required, or tested, contain highly selective predicates that can be pushed down in the first steps of the explain plan. Conversely, Exadata bonks when lots of data must be pulled to the RAC layer to perform a join step.

Where They Lose

Everyone who has an Exadata system or who is considering one should view the two videos here. The architectural issues are apparent… and you can then consider the impact for your workload.

As noted above… in an Exadata execution plan the early simple table scans and projection are executed in the storage layer… subsequent steps occur in the RAC layer… if lots of data has to be moved up then the cluster chokes.

There are times when the architectural limitations are just too large and a migration is required to meet the response time requirements for the business. This often happens when Exadata is to support a single application rather than a data warehouse workload… In other words, if the cost of migrating away from Oracle is small, either because the applications to be moved are small or because an automated tool is available to mitigate the cosy or because the migration costs are subsidized by another source, then Exadata can lose even when there is a migration required.

Exadata can be beat on price… unless you count the cost of migration.

In the Market

For the reasons above, Exadata wins for current Oracle customers. There was a honeymoon when Exadata was winning some greenfield deals against other competitors… but these are now more rare.

My Guess at the Future

I think that the basic architecture of Exadata is defensible… having a split configuration is , after all, not completely foreign. Teradata and Greenplum and others use master nodes split from data nodes… and this is where is I predict we’ll see Oracle go. Over time, more execution steps will move to the storage layer and out of the RAC layer and in the end, Exadata will look ever more like a shared-nothing implementation. This just has to be the architectural way forward for Exadata (but don’t expect LE to stand up anytime soon and admit that he was wrong all of these years about the value of a shared-nothing architecture).

Phil has alerted us that there will be some OLTP/BI enhancements coming (see the comments section here)… which stole away a prediction I would have made otherwise.

The bottlenecks pointed out by Kevin Closson (as above and more here) need to be addressed… but to some extent these issues are the result of hardware constraints… and the combination of better hardware configurations and the push-down of more execution steps can mitigate many of the issues.

It will be a while before the Exadata architecture evolves to a point where the product is more competitive… and from now to then I think the World will be as I described it above… Oracle zealots will pick Exadata either as a religious stance or to avoid the cost of a migration… others will mostly go elsewhere…

Coming next… my 2 Cents on Netezza…

Price/Performance of HANA, Exadata, Teradata, and Greenplum

Here is an attempt to build a Price/Performance model for several data warehouse databases.

Added on February 21, 2013: This attempt is very rough… very crude… and a little too ambitious. Please do not take it too literally. In the real world Greenplum and Teradata will match or exceed the price/performance of Exadata… and the fact that the model does not show this exposes the limitations of the approach… but hopefully it will get you thinking… – Rob

For price I used some $$/Terabyte numbers scattered around the internet. They are not perfect but they are close enough to make the model interesting. I used:

Database

$$/TB

HANA

$200,000

Exadata X3

$66,000

Teradata

$66,000

Greenplum

$30,000

Of these numbers the one that may be the furthest off is the HANA number. This is odd since I work for SAP… but I just could not find a good number so I picked a big number to see how the model came out. Please, for any of these numbers provide a comment and I’ll adjust.

For each product I used the high performance product rather than the product with large capacity disks…

I used latency as a stand-in for performance. This is not perfect either… but it is not too bad. I’ll try again some other time and add data transfer time to the model. Note that I did not try to account for advantages and disadvantages that come from the software… so the latency associated with I/O to spool/work  files is not counted… use of indexes and/or column store is not counted… compression is not counted. I’ll account for some of this when I add in transfer times.

I did try to account for cache hits when there is SSD cache in the configuration… but I did not give HANA credit for the work done to get most data from the processor caches instead of from DRAM.

For network latency I just assumed one round trip for each product…

For latencies I used the picture below:

The exception is that for products that use PCIe to access SSDs I cut the latency by 1/3 based on some input from a vendor. I could not find details on the latency for Teradata’s Bynet so I assumed that it is comparable with Infiniband and the newest 10GigE switches.

Here is what I came up with:

Database

Total Latency(ns) Price/Performance

Delta

HANA

90

1,800

HANA (2 nodes)

1190

23,800

13x

Exadata X3

2,054,523

13,559,854

7533x

Teradata

4,121,190

27,199,854

15111x

Greenplum

10,001,190

30,003,570

16669x

I suppose that if a model seems to reflect reality then it is useful?

HANA has the lowest latency because it is in-memory. When there are two nodes a penalty is paid for crossing the network… this makes sense.

Exadata does well because the X3 product has SSD cache and I assumed an 80% hit ratio.

Teradata does a little worse because I assumed a lower hit ratio (they have less SSD per TB of data).

Greenplum does worse as they do all I/O against disks.

Note the penalty paid whenever you have to go to disk.

Let me say again… this model ignores lots of software features that would affect performance… but it is pretty interesting as a start…

NoCOUG Referral

I would like to point you to two articles in the latest Northern California Oracle Users Group (NoCOUG) Journal here.

The first is an interview of Kevin Closson here. The interview is long and will take some time to get through… so set aside 30 minutes… it will be worth it as Kevin discusses Exadata, shared-nothingness, and other topics related to database hardware architecture.

The second article I would like to suggest (by the way there are several other excellent articles) is by Dr. Bert Scalzo. He reminds us that our job as engineers is to build the most cost-effective solution… not to build the perfect solution. He suggests that hardware should be treated as a dynamic resource that can be provisioned easily to solve performance problems.

I have argued that in a shared-nothing, scalable, architecture it is often cheaper to add another $20,000 fat server than to spend $100,000 of staff time to tune around a performance problem. This is especially true when the tuning involves building indexes and materialized views or pre-aggregated tables that make your warehouse fragile and more difficult to tune the next time. See here

Back to Kevin’s interview and to tie the two articles together… Kevin suggests that as long as data flows into the CPUs fast enough then there is no reason to pick a shared-nothing architecture over a shared-everything architecture. He insists on symmetry and rightfully points out that a shared-everything system can be symmetrical. But it is more difficult to maintain symmetry as you scale up a shared-everything system… and easy scale is what is required to treat hardware as a dynamic resource. So… I remain convinced that shared-nothing is the way to go…

Co-processing and Exadata

In my first blog (here) I discussed the implications of using co-processors to offload CPU. The point was that with multi-core processors it made more sense to add generalized processing hardware that could be applied to all parts of the query process than to add specialized processors that dealt with only part of the problem.

Kevin Closson has produced two videos that critically evaluate the architecture of Exadata and I strongly suggest that you view them here before you go on with this post… They are enlightening, irreverent, and make the long post I’ve been drafting on Exadata lightweight and unnecessary.

If you have seen Kevin’s post you understand that Exadata is asymmetric and unbalanced. But his post extends and generalizes my discussion of co-processing in a nice way. Co-processing is asymmetric by definition. The co-processor is not busy after it has executed on its part of the problem.

In fact, Oracle has approximately mirrored the Netezza architecture with Exadata but used commercial processors instead of FPGAs to offload I/O and predicate processing. The result is the same in both cases… underutilized processing capability. The difference is that Netezza wastes some power on relatively inexpensive FPGA processors while Exadata wastes general and expensive CPU resources that might actually be applied usefully elsewhere. And Netezza splits the processing within a shared-nothing architecture while Exadata mixes architectures adding to the inefficiency.