Monday, July 25, 2011

ScaleDB: Shared-Disk / Shared-Nothing Hybrid

The primary database architectures—shared-disk and shared-nothing—each have their advantages. Shared-disk has functional advantages such as high-availability, elasticity, ease of set-up and maintenance, eliminates partitioning/sharding, eliminates master-slave, etc. The shared-nothing advantages are better performance and lower costs. What if you could offer a database that is a hybrid of the two; one that offers the advantages of both. This sounds too good to be true, but it is fact what ScaleDB has done.

The underlying architecture is shared-disk, but in many situations it can operate like shared-nothing. You see the problems with shared-disk arise from the messaging necessary to (a) ship data among nodes and storage; and (b) synchronize the nodes in the cluster. The trick is to move the messaging outside of the transaction so it doesn’t impact performance. The way to achieve that is to exploit locality. Let me explain.

When using a shared-disk database, if your application or load balancer just randomly sprays the database requests to any node in the cluster, all of the nodes end up sharing all of the data. This involves a lot of data shipping between nodes and messaging to keep track of which node has what data and what they have done to it. This is at the core of the challenge for companies like ours to build shared-disk databases…it ain’t easy. There are many things you can do to optimize performance in such a scenario like local caching, shared cache (we use CAS, Oracle uses CacheFusion), etc. However, the bottom line is that even with these optimizations, random distribution of database requests results in suboptimal database performance for some scenarios.

Once you have solved the worst case scenario of random database requests, you can start optimizing for the intelligent routing of database requests. By this I mean that either the application or the load balancer sends specific database requests to specific nodes in the cluster. Intelligent database request routing results in something we in the shared-database world call locality. The database nodes are able to operate on local data while only updating the rest of the cluster asynchronously. In this scenario, the database nodes, which are still using a shared-disk architecture, operate much more independently, like shared-nothing. As a result, data shipping and messaging are almost completely eliminated, resulting in performance comparable to shared-nothing, while still maintaining the advantages of shared-disk.

The trick is for the database to recognize on-the-fly when the separate nodes can and cannot operate in this independent fashion. This is complicated by the fact that the database must recognize and adapt to locality which can evolve as database usage changes, nodes are added or removed, etc. This is one aspect of the secret sauce that is built into ScaleDB.

Note: Now that we’ve built a shared-disk database that can recognize locality and respond by acting (and performing) like a shared-nothing database, how do we achieve locality? There are many ways to achieve locality. It can be built into the application, or you can rely on a SQL-aware routing/caching solution like those available from Netscaler and Scalarc that handle this for you.


  1. Hi Mike

    I haven't used Oracle RAC myself, but have helped in migrating away from it :-) AFAIK also Oracle RAC in essence does similar optimizations as you describe above: It's a shared disk system, but to get good performance users should think of it as a shared nothing system.

  2. Hi Hingo, RAC doesn't do the same optimizations. But yes they do ask you to separate your databases (and database requests) in order to optimize performance. Tools are now automating that process.