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optimizing oracle performance

What happened to “when the application is fast enough to meet users’ requirements?”

On January 5, I received an email called “Video” from my friend and former employee Guðmundur Jósepsson from Iceland. His friends call him Gummi (rhymes with “do me”). Gummi is the guy whose name is set in the ridiculous monospace font on page xxiv of Optimizing Oracle Performance, apparently because O’Reilly’s Linotype Birka font didn’t have the letter eth (ð) in it. Gummi once modestly teased me that this is what he is best known for. But I digress...

His email looked like this:

I Can Help You Trace It

The first product I ever created after leaving Oracle Corporation in 1999 was a 3-day course about optimizing Oracle performance.

My Whole System Is Slow. Now What?

At CMG'09 a couple of weeks ago, I presented "Measuring Response Times of Code on Oracle Systems." The paper for this presentation was a subset of "For Developers: Making Friends with the Oracle Database." In the presentation, I spent a few minutes talking about why to measure response times in Oracle, and then I spent a lot of minutes talking about how. As usual, I focused heavily on the importance of measuring response times of individual business tasks executed by individual end users.

Why We Made Method R

Twenty years ago (well, a month or so more than that), I entered the Oracle ecosystem. I went to work as a consultant for Oracle Corporation in September 1989. Before Oracle, I had been a language designer and compiler developer. I wrote code in lex, yacc, and C for a living. My responsibilities had also included improving other people's C code: making it more reliable, more portable, easier to read, easier to prove, and easier to maintain; and it was my job to teach other people in my department how to do these things themselves. I loved all of these duties.

In 1987, I decided to leave what I loved for a little while, to earn an MBA. Fortunately, at that time, it was possible to earn an MBA in a year. After a year of very difficult work, I had my degree and a new perspective on business. I interviewed with Oracle, and about a week later I had a job with a company that a month prior I had never heard of.

By the mid-1990s, circumstances and my natural gravity had matched to create a career in which I was again a software developer, optimizer, and teacher. By 1998, I was the manager of a group of 85 performance specialists called the System Performance Group (SPG). And I was the leader of the system architecture and system management consulting service line within Oracle Consulting's Global Steering Committee.

My job in the SPG role was to respond to all the system performance-related issues in the USA for Oracle's largest accounts. My job in the Global Steering Committee was to package the success of SPG so that other practices around the world could repeat it. The theory was that if a country manager in, say, Venezuela, wanted his own SPG, then he could use the financial models, budgets, hiring plans, training plans, etc. created by my steering committee group. Just add water.

But there was a problem. My own group of 85 people consisted of two very different types of people. About ten of these 85 people were spectacularly successful optimizers whom I could send anywhere with confidence that they'd thrive at either improving performance or proving that performance improvements weren't possible. The other 75 were very smart, very hard-working people who would grow into the tip of my pyramid over the course of more years, but they weren't there yet.

The problem was, how to you convert good, smart, hard-working people in the base of the SPG pyramid into people in the tip? The practice manager in Venezuela would need to know that. The answer, of course, is supposed to be the Training Plan. Optimally, the Training Plan consists of a curriculum of a few courses, a little on-the-job training, and then, presto: tip of the pyramid. Just add water.

But unfortunately that wasn't the way things worked. What I had been getting instead, within my own elite group, was a process that took many years to convert a smart, hard-working person into a reasonably reliable performance optimizer whom you could send anywhere. Worse yet, the peculiar stresses of the job—like being away from home 80% of the time, and continually visiting angry people each week, having to work for me—caused an outflow of talent that approximately equaled the inflow of people who made it to the tip of the pyramid. The tip of my pyramid never grew beyond roughly 10 people.

The problem, by definition, was the Training Plan. It just wasn't good enough. It wasn't that the instructors of Oracle's internal "tuning" courses were doing a poor job of teaching courses. And it wasn't that the course developers had done a poor job of creating courses. On the contrary, the instructors and course developers were doing excellent work. The problem was that the courses were focusing on the wrong thing. The reason that the courses weren't getting the job done was that the very subject matter that needed teaching hadn't been invented yet.

I expect that the people who write, say, the course called "Braking System Repair for Boeing 777" to have themselves invented the braking system they write about. So, the question was, who should be responsible for inventing the subject matter on how to optimize Oracle? I decided that I wanted that person to be me. I deliberated carefully and decided that my best chance of doing that the way I wanted to do it would be outside of Oracle. So in October 1999, ten years and one week after I joined the company, I left Oracle with the vision of creating a repeatable, teachable method for optimizing Oracle systems.

Ten years later, this is still the vision for my company, Method R Corporation. We exist not to make your system faster. We exist to make you faster at making all your systems faster. Our work is far from done, but here is what we have done:

  • Written white papers and other articles that explain Method R to you at no cost.
  • Written a book called Optimizing Oracle Performance, where you can learn Method R at a low cost.
  • Created a Method R course (on which the book is based), to teach you how to diagnose and repair response time problems in Oracle-based systems.
  • Spoken at hundreds of public and private events where we help people understand performance and how to manage it.
  • Provided consulting services to make people awesome at making their systems faster and more efficient.
  • Created the first response time profiling software ever for Oracle software applications, to let you analyze hundreds of megabytes of data without drudgery.
  • Created a free instrumentation library so that you can instrument the response times of Oracle-based software that you write.
  • Created software tools to help you be awesome at extracting every drop of information that your Oracle system is willing to give you about your response times.
  • Created a software tool that enables you to record the response time of every business task that runs on your system so you can effortlessly manage end-user performance.

As I said, our work is far from done. It's work that really, really matters to us, and it's work we love doing. I expect it to be a journey that will last long into the future. I hope that our journey will intersect with yours from time to time, and that you will enjoy it when it does.

On the Importance of Diagnosing Before Resolving

Today a reader posted a question I like at our Method R website. It's about the story I tell in the article called, "Can you explain Method R so even my boss could understand it?" The story is about sending your son on a shopping trip, and it takes him too long to complete the errand. The point is that an excellent way to fix any kind of performance problem is to profile the response time for the properly chosen task, which is the basis for Method R (both the method and the company).

Here is the profile that details where the boy's time went during his errand:

Subtask minutes % Executions
------------------ ------- ---- ----------
Talk with friends 37 62% 3
Choose item 10 17% 5
Walk to/from store 8 13% 2
Pay cashier 5 8% 1
------------------ ------- ---- ----------
Total 60 100%

I went on to describe that the big leverage in this profile is the elimination of the subtask called "Talk with friends," which will reduce response time by 62%.

The interesting question that a reader posted is this:

Not sure this is always the right approach. For example, lets imagine the son has to pick 50 items
Talk 3 times 37 minutes
Choose item 50 times 45 minutes
Walk 2 times 8 minutes
Pay 1 time 5 minutes
Working on "choose item" is maybe not the right thing to do...

Let's explore it. Here's what the profile would look like if this were to happen:

Subtask minutes % Executions
------- ------- ---- ----------
Choose 45 47% 50
Talk 37 39% 3
Walk 8 8% 2
Pay 5 5% 1
------- ------- ---- ----------
Total 95 100%

The point of the inquiry is this:

The right answer in this case, too, is to begin with eliminating Talk from the profile. That's because, even though it's not ranked at the very top of the profile, Talk is completely unnecessary to the real goal (grocery shopping). It's a time-waster that simply shouldn't be in the profile. At all. But with Cary's method of addressing the profile from the top downward, you would instead focus on the "Choose" line, which is the wrong thing.

In chapters 1 through 4 of our book about Method R for Oracle, I explained the method much more thoroughly than I did in the very brief article. In my brevity, I skipped past an important point. Here's a summary of the Method R steps for diagnosing and resolving performance problems using a profile:

  1. (Diagnosis phase) For each subtask (row in the profile), visiting subtasks in order of descending duration...
    1. Can you eliminate any executions without sacrificing required function?
    2. Can you improve (reduce) individual execution latency?
  2. (Resolution phase) Choose the candidate solution with the best net value (that is, the greatest value of benefit minus cost).

Here's a narrative of executing the steps of the diagnostic phase, one at a time, upon the new profile, which—again—is this:

Subtask minutes % Executions
------- ------- ---- ----------
Choose 45 47% 50
Talk 37 39% 3
Walk 8 8% 2
Pay 5 5% 1
------- ------- ---- ----------
Total 95 100%
  1. Execution elimination for the Choose subtask: If you really need all 50 items, then no, you can't eliminate any Choose executions.
  2. Latency optimization for the Choose subtask: Perhaps you could optimize the mean latency (which is .9 minutes per item). My wife does this. For example, she knows better where the items in the store are, so she spends less time searching for them. (I, on the other hand, can get lost in my own shower.) If, for example, you could reduce mean latency to, say, .8 minutes per item by giving your boy a map, then you could save (.9 – .8) × 50 = 5 minutes (5%). (Note that we don't execute the solution yet; we're just diagnosing right now.)
  3. Execution elimination for the Talk subtask: Hmm, seems to me like if your true goal is fast grocery shopping, then you don't need your boy executing any of these 3 Talk events. Proposed time savings: 37 minutes (39%).
  4. Latency optimization for the Talk subtask: Since you can eliminate all Talk calls, no need to bother thinking about latency reduction. ...Unless you're prey to some external constraint (like social advancement, say, in attempt to maximize your probability of having rich and beautiful grandchildren someday), in which case you should think about latency reduction instead of execution elimination.
  5. Execution elimination for the Walk subtask: Well, the boy has to get there, and he has to get back, so this "executions=2" figure looks optimal. (Those Oracle applications we often see that process one row per network I/O call would have 50 Walk executions, one for each Choose call.)
  6. Latency optimization for the Walk subtask: Walking takes 4 minutes each way. Driving might take less time, but then again, it might actually take even more. Will driving introduce new dependent subtasks? Warm Up? Park? De-ice? Even driving doesn't eliminate all the walking... Plus, there's not a lot of leverage in optimizing Walk, because it accounts for only 8% of total response time to begin with, so it's not worth a whole lot of bother trying to shave it down by some marginal proportion, especially since inserting a car into your life (or letting your boy drive yours) is no trivial matter.
  7. Execution elimination for the Pay subtask: The execution count on Pay is already optimized down to the legally required minimum. No real opportunity for improvement here without some kind of radical architecture change.
  8. Latency optimization for the Pay subtask: It takes 5 minutes to Pay? That seems a bit much. So you should look at the payment process. Or should you? Even if you totally eliminate Pay from the profile, it's only going to save 5% of your time. But, if every minute counts, then yes, you look at it. ...Especially if there might be an easy way to improve it. If the benefit comes at practically no cost, then you'll take it, even if the benefit is only small. So, imagine that you find out that the reason Pay was so slow is that it was executed by writing a check, which required waiting for store manager approval. Using cash or a credit/debit card might improve response time by, say, 4 minutes (4%).

Now you're done assessing the effects of (1) execution elimination and (2) latency reduction for each line in the profile. That ends the diagnostic phase of the method. The next step is the resolution phase: to determine which of these candidate solutions is the best. Given the analysis I've walked you through, I'd rank the candidate solutions in this order:

  1. Eliminate all 3 executions of Talk. That'll save 37 minutes (39%), and it's easy to implement; you don't have to buy a car, apply for a credit card, train the boy how to shop faster, or change the architecture of how shopping works. You can simply discard the "requirement" to chat, or you can specify that it be performed only during non-errand time windows.
  2. Optimize Pay latency by using cash or a card, if it's easy enough to give your boy access to cash or a card. That will save 4 minutes, which—by the way—will be a more important proportion of the total errand time after you eliminate all the Talk executions.
  3. Finally, consider optimizing Choose latency. Maybe giving your son a map of the store will help. Maybe you should print your grocery list more neatly so he can read it without having to ask for help. Maybe by simply sending him to the store more often, he'll get faster as his familiarity with the place improves.

That's it.

So the point I want to highlight is this:

I'm not saying you should stick to the top line of your profile until you've absolutely conquered it.

It is important to pass completely through your profile to construct your set of candidate solutions. Then, on a separate pass, you evaluate those candidate solutions to determine which ones you want to implement, and in what order. That first full pass is key. You have to do it for Method R to be reliable for solving any performance problem.

The Most Common Performance Problem I See

At the Percona Performance Conference in Santa Clara this week, the first question an audience member asked our panel was, "What is the most common performance problem you see in the field?"

I figured, being an Oracle guy at a MySQL conference, this might be my only chance to answer something, so I went for the mic. Here is my answer.

The most common performance problem I see is people who think there's a most-common performance problem that they should be looking for, instead of measuring to find out what their actual performance problem actually is.

It's a meta answer, but it's a meta problem. The biggest performance problems I see, and the ones I see most often, are not problems with machines or software. They're problems with people who don't have a reliable process of identifying the right thing to work on in the first place.

That's why the definition of Method R doesn't mention Oracle, or databases, or even computers. It's why Optimizing Oracle Performance spends the first 69 pages talking about red rocks and informed consent and Eli Goldratt instead of Oracle, or databases, or even computers.