77: GreyBeards talk high performance databases with Brian Bulkowski, Founder & CTO, Aerospike

In this episode we discuss high performance databases and the storage needed to get there, with Brian Bulkowski, Founder and CTO of Aerospike. Howard met Brian at an Intel Optane event last summer and thought he’d be a good person to talk with. I couldn’t agree more.

Howard and I both thought Aerospike was an in memory database but we were wrong. Aerospike supports in memory, DAS resident and SAN resident distributed databases.

Database performance is all about the storage (or memory)

When Brian first started Aerospike, they discovered that other enterprise database vendors were using fast path SAS SSDs for backend storage and so that’s where Aerospike started with on storage.

As NVMe SSDs came out, Brian expected higher performance but wasn’t too impressed with what he found out with NVMe SSD’s real performance as compared to SAS SSDs. However lately, the SSD industry has bifurcated into fast, low-capacity (NVMe) SSDs and slow, large capacity (SAS) SSDs. And over time the Linux Kernel (4.4 and above) has sped up NVMe IO stack. So now he has become more of a proponent of NVMe SSDs for high performing database storage.

In addition to SAS and NVMe SSDs, Aerospike supports SAN storage. One recent large customer uses SAN shared storage and loves the performance. Moreover, Aerospike also offers an in memory database option for the ultimate in high performance (low capacity) databases.

Write IO performance

One thing that Aerospike is known for is their high performance under mixed R:W workloads. Brian says just about any database can perform well with an 80:20 R:W IO mix, but at 50:50 R:W, most databases fall over.

Aerospike did detailed studies of SSD performance with high write IO and used SSD native APIs to understand what exactly was going on with SAS SSDs. Today, they understand when SSDs go into garbage collection and and can quiesce IO activity to them during these slowdowns. Similar APIs are available for NVMe SSDs.

Optane memory

The talk eventually turned to Optane DIMMs (3D Crosspoint Memory). With Optane DIMMs, server memory address space will increase from 1TB to 6TB. From Brian’s perspective this is still not enough to host a copy of a typical database but it would suffice to hold cache a  database index. Which is exactly how they are going to use Optane DIMMs.

Optane DIMMs are accessed via PMEM (an Intel open source memory access API) and can specify  caching (L1-L2-L3) characteristics, so that the processor(s) data and instruction caching tiers don’t get flooded with database information. Aerospike has done for in-memory databases in the past, it’s just requires a different API.

As a distributed database, they support data protection for DAS and in memory databases through mirroring, dual redundancy.  But Aerospike was developed as a  distributed database, so data can be sharded, across multiple servers to support higher, parallelized performance.

With Optane DIMMs being 1000X faster than NVMe SSD, the performance bottleneck has now moved back to the network. Given the dual redundancy data protection scheme, any data written on one server would need to be also written (across the network) to another server.

Data consistency in databases

This brought us around to the subject of database consistency.  Brian said Aerospike database consistency for reads was completely parameterized, e.g. one can specify linear (database wide) consistency to session level consistency, with some steps in between. Aerospike is always 100% write consistent but read consistency can be relaxed for better performance.

Howard and I took a deep breath and said data has to be a 100% consistent. Brian disagreed, and in fact, historically relational databases were not fully read consistent. Somehow this felt like a religious discussion and in the end, we determined that database consistency is just another knob to turn if you want high performance.

Brian mentioned that  Aerospike is available in an open source edition which anyone can access and download. He suggested we tell our DBA friends about it, maybe, if we have any…

The podcast runs ~44 minutes. Brian’s been around databases for a long time and seemingly, most of that time has been figuring out the best ways to use storage to gain better performance. He has a great perspective on  NVMe vs. SAS SSD performance as well as (real) memory vs SCM performance, which we all need to understand better as SCM rolls out. Possibly, barring the consistency discussion, Brian was also easy to talk with.  Listen to our podcast to learn more.

Brian Bulkowski, Founder and CTO, Aerospike

Brian is a Founder and the CTO of Aerospike. With almost 30 years in Silicon Valley, his motivation for starting Aerospike was the confluence of what he saw as the rapidly advancing flash storage technology with lower costs that weren’t being fully leveraged by database systems as well as the scaling limitations of sharded MySQL systems and the need for a new distributed database.

He was able to see these needs as both a Lead Engineer at Novell and Chief Architect at Cable Solutions at Liberate – where he built a high-performance, embedded networking stack and high scale broadcast server infrastructure.

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