I expect the question after the last I/O article is: How did we make our server go faster?

Things That Did Work

Looking at the AWR report, I could see the main problem was that async I/O was slow. We set


in the spfile, and this helped a lot. As I understand it, this enables asynchronous I/O, which means that rather than waiting for confirmation after writing, the database keeps on sending data to the SAN. This sped up the I/O by a factor of about 3.

The sysadmins also purchased a faster card, which gave a slight bump in performance.

Things That Didn’t Work

Part of the process is forming theories, testing them and rejecting them if they turn out not to be valid. This can take time, but there is no way of knowing whether the theory is correct or not until it has been tried.

While it may seem like a waste of time to run tests like this which don’t end up showing a way to better performance, this does help our understanding of the problem, and stops us incorporating unnecessary complexity to our build.

Multiple File Systems

We tried splitting the database across two file systems. This made no difference at all.

Use Fibre Channel Rather Than iSCSI

We also tried running the test on another server which had an FCAL card rather than an iSCSI. This was no faster than the iSCSI card when compared with that servers internal disc, so we could rule out that iSCSI itself was the problem.

The Way Forward.

The two changes above gave consistently better results in the SLOB tests, which was encouraging. However it would seem wise to test with a realistic workload. The testing team was rather busy. My management asked me if we really needed to test given the very positive results from SLOB. This is a tricky thing to manage, because I have to advise my management to do things they would prefer not to, i.e. hold up the project.

Managing the Manager

I feel here it is important to understand what my job is and what my managers job is. We have someone called a Service Manager whose job it is to maintain the service. It is their job to make this type of decision. It is my job to provide the information they can use to make that decision, including my recommendation.

I explained my recommendation was we test with a more representative workload, because there may be additional issues SLOB didn’t flag up. Management accepted my recommendation, but equally I would have been happy to go against my own advice, so long as management accepted the risk of our encountering a performance issue that was difficult to fix during a business critical period.

The Results

The results were positive. Most things were much quicker. However, the testers noticed the number of failures had increased. These were all timeouts. Clearly something was still slow.

Looking at the ASH report I noticed that direct path reads were slower than before. A direct path read is where a session bypasses the cache. This is during a table scan, or (by default) when accessing a LOB. Drilling down, I could see that the objects causing the issues were LOBs. One holds html fragments that are used to build the web page. These would clearly benefit from being cached. Also the way the application works means that a document upload is done to a LOB in one table, then it is moved to another table. The intermediate table would also benefit from caching.

Some colleagues asked why we don’t cache all the LOBs. The database server has a lot of RAM, and we are not using much of it. However the total size of the LOB segments far exceeds the RAM, and it is pointless caching things that aren’t going to be used for a while, e.g. the final location of the uploaded documents.

Conclusion and Next Steps

We need to cache the LOBs and run another test. I expect it will all work fine, and we will be able to move the new hardware into production. The lesson learned again from the experience is that we shouldn’t just assume things will be OK. We should test the assumption. Testing is annoying. It takes time. But it is less annoying and time consuming than dealing with production issues!