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Entries in Exadata (11)


Using SSD for a temp tablespace on Exadata

I seem to be getting a lot of surprising performance results lately on our X-2 quarter rack Exadata system, which is good – the result you don’t expect is the one that teaches you something new.

This time, I was looking at using a temporary tablespace based on flash disks rather than spinning disks.  In the past – using Fusion IO PCI cards, I found that using flash for temp tablespace was very effective in reducing the overhead of multi-pass sorts:


See (http://guyharrison.squarespace.com/ssdguide/04-evaluating-the-options-for-exploiting-ssd.html)

However, when I repeated these tests for Exadata, I got very disappointing results.  SSD based temp tablespace actually lead to marginally worse performance:


Looking in depth at a particular point (the 500K SORT_AREA_SIZE point), we can see that although the SSD based temp tablespace has marginally better read times, it involves a significantly higher write overhead:


I can understand the higher read overhead (at least partially).  It’s Yet Another time when sequential write operations to an SSD device have provided disappointing performance.  However, it’s strange to see such poor read performance.  How can a spinning disk serve blocks up at effectively the same latency an SSD?

So I dumped all the direct path read waits from a 10046 trace and plotted them logarithmically:


We can see in this chart, that the SDD based tablespace suffers from a small “spike” of high latencies between 600-1000 us (eg .6-1 ms).  These are extremely high latencies for an SSD !  What could be causing them?  Garbage collection being caused by the almost writes to the temp tablespaces?  There was negliglbe concurrent activity on the system and the table concerned had flash cache disabled so for now that is my #1 theory. 

For that matter, why are the HDD reads times so low?  An average disk read latency of 500 us for a spinning disk is unreasonably low, is the storage cell somehow buffering temporary tablespace IO?  

As always I’m wondering if there’s someone with more expertise in Exadata internals who could shed some light on all of this!


Can the Exadata Smart Flash Cache slow smart scans?

I’ve been doing some work on the Exadata Smart Flash Cache recently and came across a situation in which setting CELL_FLASH_CACHE to KEEP will significantly slow down smart scans on a table.

If we create a table with default settings, then the Exadata Smart Flash Cache (ESFC) will not be involved in smart scans, since by default only small IOs get cached.  If we want the ESFC to be involved, we need to set the CELL_FLASH_CACHE to KEEP.  Of course, we don’t expect immediate improvements, since we expect that the next smart scan will need to populate the cache before subsequent scans can benefit. 

HOWEVER, what I’m seeing in practice is that the next smart scan following an ALTER TABLE … STORAGE(CELL_FLASH_CACHE KEEP) is significantly degraded, while subsequent scans get a performance boost.  Here’s an example of what I observe:



The big increase in CELL IO time is in an increase in both the number and latency of cell smart table scans.  The wait stats for the first scan with a default setting looked like this:

Elapsed times include waiting on following events:
  Event waited on                             Times   Max. Wait  Total Waited
  ----------------------------------------   Waited  ----------  ------------
  gc cr disk read                                 1        0.00          0.00
  cell single block physical read                 2        0.01          0.01
  row cache lock                                  2        0.00          0.00
  gc cr grant 2-way                               1        0.00          0.00
  SQL*Net message to client                    1021        0.00          0.00
  reliable message                                1        0.00          0.00
  enq: KO - fast object checkpoint                2        0.00          0.00
  cell smart table scan                        9322        0.14          7.60
  SQL*Net message from client                  1021        0.00          0.02

For the first scan with KEEP cache it looked like this:

Elapsed times include waiting on following events:
  Event waited on                             Times   Max. Wait  Total Waited
  ----------------------------------------   Waited  ----------  ------------
  SQL*Net message to client                    1021        0.00          0.00
  reliable message                                1        0.00          0.00
  enq: KO - fast object checkpoint                2        0.00          0.00
  cell smart table scan                       14904        1.21         33.37
  SQL*Net message from client                  1021        0.00          0.02

Looking at the raw trace file didn’t help – it just shows a bunch of lines like this, with only a small number (3 in this case) of unique cellhash values… I couldn’t see a pattern:

WAIT #… : nam='cell smart table scan' ela= 678 cellhash#=398250101 p2=0 p3=0 obj#=139207 tim= …

I’m at a loss to understand why there would be such a high penalty for the initial smart scan with CELL_FLASH_CACHE KEEP setting.  You expect some overhead from constructing and storing the result set blocks in the cache, but an IO penalty of 200=300% seems way too high.   Anybody seen anything like this or have a clear explanation?

Test script is here, and formatted tkprof here


Redo on SSD: effect of redo size (Exadata)

Of all the claims I make about SSD for Oracle databases, the one that generates the most debate is that placing redo logs on SSD is not likely to be effective.  I’ve published data to that effect in particular see  Using SSD for redo on Exadata - pt 2 and 04 Evaluating the options for Exploiting SSD.

I get a lot of push back on these findings – often on theoretical grounds from Flash vendors (“our SSD use advanced caching and garbage collection that support high rates of sequential IO”) or from people who say that they’ve used flash for redo and it “worked fine”.

Unfortunately, every single test I do comparing performance of redo on flash and HDD shows redo with little or no advantage and in some cases with a clear disadvantage.    

One argument for flash SSD that I’ve heard is that while for the small transactions I use for testing  flash might not have the advantage but for “big” redo writes – such as those associated with LOB updates – flash SSD would work better.  The idea is that the overhead of garbage collection and free page pool processing is less with big writes since you don’t hit the same flash SSD pages in rapid succession as you would with smaller writes.    On the other hand a reader who knows more about flash than I do (flashdba.com) recently commented:  “in foreground garbage collection a larger write will require more pages to be erased, so actually will suffer from even more performance issues.”

It’s taken me a while to get around to testing this, but I tried on our Exadata X-2 recently with a test that generates a variable amount of redo and then commits.  The relationship between the size of the redo and redo log sync time is shown below



I’m now putting on my flame retardant underwear in anticipation of some dispute over this data….   but,  this suggests that while SSD and HDD (at least on Exadata) are about at parity for small writes, flash degrades much more steeply than HDD as the size of the redo entry increases.  Regardless of whether the redo is on flash or HDD, there’s a break at the 1MB point which corresponds to log buffer flush threshold.  When a redo entry is only slightly bigger than 1MB then the chances are high that some of  it will have been flushed already – see Redo log sync time vs redo size for a discussion of this phenomenon.

The SSD redo files were on an ASM disk group carved out of the Exadata flash disks - see Configuring Exadata flash as grid disk to see how I created these.  Also the redo logs were created with 4K blocksize as outlined in Using SSD for redo on Exadata - pt 2.   The database was in NoarchiveLog mode.  Smart flash logging was disabled.  As far as I can determine, there was no other significant activity on the flash disks (the grid disks were supporting all the database tablespaces, so if anything the SSD had the advantage). 

Why are we seeing such a sharp dropoff in performance for the SSD as the redo write increases in size?   Well one explanation was given by  flashdba in this comment thread.  It has to do with understanding what happens when a write IO which modifies an existing block hits a flash SSD.   I tried to communicate my limited understanding of this process in Fundamentals of Flash SSD Technology.   Instead of erasing the existing page, the flash controller will pull a page off a “free list” of pages and mark the old page as invalid.   Later on, the garbage collection routines will reorganize the data and free up invalid pages.  In this case, it’s possible that no free blocks were available because garbage collection fell behind during the write intensive workload.  The more blocks written by LGWR, the more SSD pages had to be erased during these un-optimized writes and therefore the larger the redo log write the worse the performance of the SSD.

Any other theories and/or observations?  

I hope soon to have a Dell system with Dell express flash so as I can repeat these tests on a non-exadata system.  The F20 cards used in my X-2 are not state of the art, so it’s possible that different results could be obtained with a more recent flash card, or with a less contrived workload.

However, yet again I’m gathering data that suggests that using flash for redo logs is not worthwhile.  I’d love to argue the point but even better than argument would be some hard data in either direction….


Exadata Write-back cache and free buffer waits

Prior to storage server software version (associated with Exadata X3), Exadata Smart Flash Cache was a “write-through” cache, meaning that write operations are applied both to the cache and to the underlying disk devices, but are not signalled as complete until the IO to the disk has completed.

Starting with of the Exadata storage software[1], Exadata Smart Flash Cache may act as a write-back cache. This means that a write operation is made to the cache initially and de-staged to grid disks at a later time. This can be effective in improving the performance of an Exadata system that is subject to IO write bottlenecks on the Oracle datafiles.

Writes to datafile generally happen as a background task in Oracle, and most of the time we don’t actually “wait” on these IOs. That being the case, what advantage can we expect if these writes are optimized? To understand the possible advantages of the write-back cache let’s review the nature of datafile write IO in Oracle and the symptoms that occur when write IO becomes the bottleneck.

When a block in the buffer cache is modified, it is the responsibility of the database writer (DBWR) to write these “dirty” blocks to disk. The DBWR does this continuously and uses asynchronous IO processing, so generally sessions do not have to wait for the IO to occur – the only time sessions wait directly on write IO is when a redo log sync occurs following a COMMIT.

However, should all the buffers in the buffer cache become dirty then a session may wait when it wants to bring a block into the cache – resulting in a “free buffer wait”.


Free buffer waits can occur in update-intensive workloads when the IO bandwidth of the Oracle sessions reading into the cache exceeds the IO bandwidth of the database writer. Because the database writer uses asynchronous parallelized write IO, and because all processes concerned are accessing the same files, free buffer waits usually happen when the IO subsystem can service reads faster than it can service writes.

There exists just such an imbalance between reads and write latency in Exadata X2 – the Exadata Smart Flash Cache accelerates reads by a factor of perhaps 4-10 times, while offering no comparable advantage for writes. As a result, a very busy Exadata X2 system could become bottlenecked on free buffer waits. The Exadata Smart Flash Cache write-back cache provides acceleration to datafile writes as well as reads and therefore reduces the chance of free buffer wait bottlenecks.

The figure below  illustrates the effectiveness of the write-back cache for workloads that encounter free buffer waits. The workload used to generate this data was heavily write-intensive with very little read IO overhead (all the necessary read data was in cache). As a result, it experienced a very high degree of free buffer waits and some associated buffer busy waits. Enabling the write-back cache completely eliminated the free buffer waits by effectively accelerating the write IO bandwidth of the database writer. As a result, throughput increased four fold.


However, don’t be misled into thinking that the write-back cache will be a silver bullet for any workload.  Workloads that are experiencing free buffer waits are likely to see this sort of performance gain. Workloads where the dominant waits are for CPU, read IO, global cache co-ordination, log writes and so on will be unlikely to see any substantial benefit from the write-back cache.   

[1] is recommended as the minimum version for this feature as it contains fixes to significant issues discovered in the initial release.


Exadata Smart Flash Logging–Outliers

In my last post, I looked at the effect of the Exadata smart flash logging.  Overall,  there seemed to be a slight negative effect on median redo log sync times.  This chart (slightly different from the last post because of different load and configuration of the system), shows how there’s a “hump” of redo log syncs that take slightly longer when the flash logging is enabled:


But of course, the flash logging feature was designed to improve performance not of the “average” redo log sync, but of the “outliers”. 

In my tests, I had 40 concurrent processes writing redo as fast as they could.  Occasionally this would result in some really long wait times.  For instance, in this trace you see an outlier of 291,780 microseconds (the biggest outlier in my tests BTW) within an otherwise unremarkable set of waits:

WAIT #47124064145648: nam='log file sync' ela= 1043 buffer#=101808 sync scn=1266588527 p3=0 obj#=-1 tim=1347583167588250
WAIT #47124064145648: nam='log file sync' ela= 2394 buffer#=130714 sync scn=1266588560 p3=0 obj#=-1 tim=1347583167590888
WAIT #47124064145648: nam='log file sync' ela= 932 buffer#=101989 sync scn=1266588598 p3=0 obj#=-1 tim=1347583167592057
WAIT #47124064145648: nam='log file sync' ela= 291780 buffer#=102074 sync scn=1266588637 p3=0 obj#=-1 tim=1347583167884090
WAIT #47124064145648: nam='log file sync' ela= 671 buffer#=102196 sync scn=1266588697 p3=0 obj#=-1 tim=1347583167885294
WAIT #47124064145648: nam='log file sync' ela= 957 buffer#=102294 sync scn=1266588730 p3=0 obj#=-1 tim=1347583167886575

To see if the flash logging feature was successful in removing these outliers, I extracted the top 10,000 waits from each of the roughly 8,000,000 waits I recorded in each category.  Here’s a plot (non-logarithmic) of those waits:


So – the flash log feature was effective in eliminating or at least reducing very extreme outlying redo log sync times.    Most redo log sync operations will experience no improvement or maybe even a slight degradation. But for the small number of log syncs that would have experienced a really excessive delay, the feature works as advertised – it reduces the chance of really excessive log file syncs. 

In my opinion, this effect doesn't imply that the flash can process a redo log write faster than the magnetic disks - in fact probably the opposite is true.  But given two desitinations to choose from, we avoid really long delays that occur when one of the destinations only is overloaded.