As the title suggests, one of the challenges of new Netezza users is in learning about the product, what it can (and doesn't) do, and how it applies in data warehousing. When I first published the book (Netezza Underground on Amazon.com) the impetus for the effort was just that - people asking me lots of questions leading to fairly repetitive and predictable answers. It's an appliance after all. We can apply it to a multiplicative array of solutions but on the inside, certain things stand out as immutable truths.
Of course, lots of folks are running around down here in the catacombs, convincing people that they need to read the glowing glyphs on the ancient stone walls as guides on their quest for more information. This is entirely unnecessary. The title of the book (and the blog) is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the way that some might spin the story on the machine in their own favor. Some might claim that we need lots of consulting hours to roll out the simplest solution. Consultants can help, of course (I'm one of them). But it depends on the spin and the tale that is told, that will determine the magnitude and expense of those consultants..
I'll try to provide a balance that delivers value without extraordinary expense. Yet another source of misinformation is Netezza's competitors, who like to toss "innocent" bombs here and there to direct people down the path toward their own product. All is fair in business and war, as they say, but as we bring these issues out of the darkness and into the light, the objective is to become more informed.
I am neither a Netezza nor IBM employee, so apart from compensation for actual work performed in rolling out solutions, for which people would pay me regardless of technology, I don't have any other relationship with these companies. I am a huge fan of the Netezza product and architecture and make no secret of this.
So some may have come here to ask questions about the technology or read what some seasoned experts have to say. We can do all that and a lot more. For now, let's look at the counter-intuitive nature of the product's internals.
I'll paint an imaginary picture first. Let's say we have two boxes. In one box we have thirty-two circles and in the second box we have thirty-two drums. The circles are CPUs and the drums are disk drives. They are in separate boxes, and now we draw a pipeline between them. Make it as large as you want. This depicts a standard SMP (Symmetric Multi-Processor) hardware architecture that is the common platform for data warehousing. With the exception of Teradata and Netezza, this hardware configuration is ubiquitous.
Now let's draw another mental picture. This time we'll have one box. Each of the circles will be mated with one of the drums. Now we have thirty-two circle/drum combinations. In the Netezza machine each of these is called a SPU (snippet processing unit) and represent the CPU coupled with a dedicated disk drive. Some additional hardware exists to coordinate and accelerate this combination, but this is a simplified mental depiction of the fundamental difference between the prior SMP configuration and Netezza's, an MPP (Massively Parallel Processor) configuration.
Now I used thirty-two as a simple example. In reality, Netezza can host hundreds of these cpu/disk combinations, the largest standalone frame containing over eight hundred of them, scaling to over a petabyte in storage capacity. Those of us who regularly operate on these machines are accustomed to loading, scanning and processing data by the terabyte, the smallest tables in the tens of billions of rows.
Some notes on the difference in their operation:
SMP: Typically used for transactional (OLTP) processing and is not purpose-built for data warehousing. It is a general-purpose platform. The typical bane of an OLTP engine is that it performs well on getting data inside, but is lousy on getting data out (in quantity, for reports and such).
MPP: (Netezza specifically) does not do transactional processing at all. It is purpose-built to inhale and exhale Libraries-of-Congress at a time.
SMP: Table exists logically in the database, but physically on the file system in a monolithic or contiguous table space.
MPP: Table exists logically in the database, but is physically spread out across all the SPUS. If we have 100 SPUs and want to load a table with 100,000 records, each SPU will receive 1000 records.
SMP: SQL statements are executed by the "machine" as a whole, sharing CPUs and drives. While the SQL operations may be logically and functionally "shared nothing" - the hardware is "shared-everything". In fact, CPUs could have other responsibilities too, which have no bearing on completing a SQL statement operation. In the above example, the SMP has to access the file system, draw the data into memory nearest the CPUs, then perform operations on the data. Copying data, for example, would mean drawing all the data from the tablespace into the CPUs and then pushing back down into another tablespace, but both tablespaces are on the same shared disk array.
MPP: SQL Statements are sent to all CPUs simultaneously, so all are working together to close the request. In the above example, each SPU only has to deal with 1000 records. Unlike an SMP, the data is already nearest the CPU so it doesn't have to go anywhere. The CPU can act directly on the data and coordinate as necessary with other CPUs. Copying data for example, means that the 1000 rows is copied to a locaton on the local drive. If 100 CPUs perform this simultaneously, the data is copied 100 times faster and it never leaves the disks.
SMP: Lots of overhead, knobs and tuning to make it go and keep it going. From the verbosity of the DDL to the declaration of index structures, table spaces and the like.
MPP: (Netezza) the overhead of adminstration is hidden from the user. In the above example, the user need only declare, load and utilize the table, not be concerned about managing the SPUs or disk allocation. The user's only concern is in aligning the data content with the hardware architecture, an easy task to perform and an easy state to maintain.
SMP: SQL-transforms, therefore, the insert/select operations that run so slow on an SMP platform, continue to run slow, and slower as data is added. They are not a viable option so usually would not occur to us to leverage them otherwise.
MPP: SQL-transforms leverage the MPP and do not slow as the data grows.
In fact, many people purchase the Netezza platform in context of its competitors, who don't (nor can they) use SQL transforms to affect data after arrival.
If we purchase Netezza as a load-and-query platform only, we have missed a special capability of the machine that differentiates it from the other products. If we leverage this power, we re-balance the workload of the overworked ETL tools, in some cases eliminating them altogether. Netezza calls this practice "bringing everything under air", that is, bring the data as-is into the machine and do the heavy-lifting transforms after it's inside.
The Brightlight Accelerator Framework is one example of a flow-based, run-time harness for deploying high-performance, metadata-driven SQL-transforms. While we have matured this capability over time, the consistency of the Netezza platform is the key to its success.
SMP:Scalability is through extreme engineering, leading to hardware upgrade.
MPP:Scalability is a function of data organization as it leverages the hardware's power. Upgrading hardware is therefore rarely the first option of choice.
SMP:Constrained by index structures and the shared-everything hardware architecture through which all data must pass
MPP:Constrained by human imagination, not index structures (there aren't any) and no shared hardware.
We have noted that with traditional SMP architectures, when the machine starts to run out of power, engineers will swarm the machine and start to instantiate exotic data structures and concepts that serve only as performance props, not the 'elegant' model once installed by the master modelers. As the box continues to decline, more engineering ensues, eliciting even stranger approaches to data storage and management. Soon it becomes so functionally brittle that it cannot handle any more functionality, so people resort to workarounds and bolt-ons. Functionality that should be a part of the solution is now outside of it, and functionality that never should have been inside (mainly for performance) has taken up permanent residence.
In a Netezza machine we have so much power available that traditional modeling approaches (e.g. 3NF and Dimensional) may have a defacto home, but now we can examine and deploy other concepts that may be more useful and scalable. Approaches that we never had the opportunity to examine before, because the modeling tool did not (and does not) support it and the natural constraints of the SMP-based engine artificially constrain us to index-based data management.
In addition, the Netezza machine operates on a counter-intuitive principle of finding information based on "where not to look". With this principle, let's say we have a terabyte of data and we know where our necessary information is, based on where-not-to-look. See how this won't change even if we add hundreds of terabytes to the system? If I add another 99 terabytes to the same system, the query will still return with the same answer in the same duration, because the data I'm looking for doesn't appear in those 99 terabytes and the machine already knows this.
For example, if we go over to Wal-Mart and we know where the kiosk is for the special-buys-of-the-day, we can find this easily. It's in a familiar location. What if tomorrow they expand the same Wal-Mart to ten times its current size? Will it affect how long it takes me to find that kiosk? Clearly not. Netezza operates the same way, in that no matter how much data we add, we don't have to worry about scanning through all of it to find the answer.
And when it boils down to basics, the where-not-to-look is the only way to scale. No other engine, especially not one that is completely dependent upon index structures to locate information, can scale to the same heights as Netezza.
Well, some of the stuff above is provocative and may elicit commentary. I'll continue to post as time progresses, so the data won't seem so much like underground information, after a while anyhow.