April 14, 2008

MySQL Conference ’08, Day 0: DRBD & Real World Scaling

Posted in Conferences tagged , at 11:06 pm by mj

Today was tutorial/workshop day. It’s good to be back. This year, the Santa Clara Convention Center is undergoing a bit of construction, and so the large green yard has been torn up. Too bad. Having lunch on that lawn on a nice Bay Area afternoon is hard to beat. Instead, we’re limited to the pool area (still nice), or an indoor area.

My morning tutorial was Florian Haas and Philipp Reisner’s Hands-on Introduction to High-availability MySQL and DRBD.

It’s hard to read any MySQL blogs and not have heard about DRBD in some capacity, but somehow I’ve totally missed picking up any details about it. This really was a good introduction, with a combination overview of what DRBD is and what it’s good for, and walking through multiple examples of configuring and operating DRBD (including failure scenarios).

There were two big take-aways for me.

First, DRBD replicates block devices, and operates beneath the file system. The downside to this is only one server can mount the file system at a time. Thus, DRBD is only useful in “hot standby” scenarios. This was a little disappointing to me.

Second, failing over to the standby is not a task for DRBD, but for a cluster manager like Heartbeat. During a failover, the cluster manager mounts the file system on the (newly promoted) master, fsck’s the file system, and then starts DRBD. This is potentially slow for a large file system, and thus is not guaranteed to have near-zero downtime during the transition.

Overall, it was a good presentation, and the way they played off each other kind of reminded me of some of Peter and Heikik’s presentations. (This is a good thing.)

My afternoon tutorial was Ask Bjørn Hansen’s Real World Web: Performance & Scalability, MySQL Edition.

Overall, this was a good, energetic presentation. Ask wants people to “think scalable”–which means thinking critically about all advice, and making decisions from actual numbers instead of assumptions.

He gave an excellent overview of the myriad scaling options that have emerged in the last decade. Horizontal scaling, shared nothing architectures, page vs fragment vs data vs query caching, memcached, intelligent cache invalidation, partitioning, master-slave replication, master-master replication, summary tables, and so on.

I think by the end of the week, Ask’s tutorial will be remembered as one of the better ones. I think it would have been better if he had gone slower, kept his focus on scaling (he sort of lost focus and spent the last hour talking about version control and code reviews and so on–important, but not strictly scalability topics), and tied his advice back to actual teams implementing that advice. Who’s using master-master replication, and why, and at what scale are they operating?

There were a couple of “unconventional” bits of advice in his presentation that are worth considering.

First, he advocates against RAID 5. If you need that level of redundancy, better to use RAID 6 because it allows faster and less read-intensive recovery of a single failed disk, and because it can withstand 3 failures instead of only 2. Makes sense, but all the teams whose presentations I’ve seen or read have gone with RAID 5 or RAID 10 depending on need. Is anybody using RAID 6?

Second, he advocates against persistent database connections, or at least reconsidering them. This isn’t completely unheard of. Flickr, for example, re-establishes a DB connection on each request. It’s acceptable because MySQL is fast at establishing connections, and in a master-master sharded architecture like Flickr’s you’re only dealing with one or two database connections per request anyway. I think it’s safer to say “if you’re following other best practices, don’t put any extra effort into database connection pooling until you’ve proven it’s a bottleneck.”

Finally, and something we hear too little of, he says it’s OK to use the “scale up” strategy for a while. It’s refreshing to hear somebody say this, because too often we’re so focused on “getting it right” from the ground floor that we forget that, say, “scaling out with cheap commodity hardware” for YouTube means purchasing hundreds of servers that are each four times more expensive than most of us can afford in the first year of our site’s existence.

Anyway, this was a good start.

The MySQL conference is still the best in terms of having power strips everywhere and generally good wireless coverage. Unfortunately, there were a couple of times today when the network became unusably slow. I hope this is not a sign of problems the rest of the week.

I got to briefly speak with several people, including a guy from iPhotoStock and a guy from Adzilla. I’m not good at striking up conversations with people, so I try to use conferences as a place to practice my terrible socialization skills. So far, it seems to have gone all right. And that there are so many people from outside the Bay Area–and a ton of Canadians–makes the conference even more worthwhile.

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April 13, 2008

Attending the MySQL Conference This Week

Posted in Conferences tagged , , at 10:21 pm by mj

To the (at least) eight of you whom I owe e-mails or phone calls (or more…), I apologize. The past three weeks, I’ve been commuting from SF to Seattle (Virgin America rocks!), and the week before I was in Cleveland. It’s been an exciting time, but it hasn’t left much room for other things.

Anyway, today–after finishing my taxes–I finally sat down with the MySQL conference program and drafted out my schedule.

Unfortunately, O’Reilly does not provide a way to share my personal schedule with anybody, which is disappointing. (Um, hello?)

My primary interests really run in two directions: hard-core scaling and performance metrics and strategies, and details about how other teams have solved their problems.

As long as I remind myself of that focus, I can minimize conflicts between sessions. Although, there are still several.

Last year’s conference was excellent. This year’s conference seems geared in a different direction, but still excellent. I hope to learn and think a lot, and get out of my comfort zone a bit.

I haven’t yet seen any of the BoF sessions scheduled, but I intend on attending a couple this year.

If you’re interested in meeting up with me–particularly if you’re someone I owe an email or a call to–ping me.

I shall endeavour to post at least once per day this week with my notes and observations.