Vertica Review

We're using Vertica, just because of the performance benefits. On big queries, we're getting sub-10 second latencies.


My company recognized early, near the inception of the product, that if we were able to collect enough operational data about how our products are performing in the field, get it back home and analyze it, we'd be able to dramatically reduce support costs. Also, we can create a feedback loop that allows engineering to improve the product very quickly, according to the demands that are being placed on the product in the field.

Looking at it from that perspective, to get it right, you need to do it from the inception of the product. If you take a look at how much data we get back for every array we sell in the field, we could be receiving anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 data points per minute from each array. Then, we bring those back home, we put them into a database, and we run a lot of intensive analytics on those data.

Once you're doing that, you realize that as soon as you do something, you have this data you're starting to leverage. You're making support recommendations and so on, but then you realize you could do a lot more with it. We can do dynamic cache sizing. We can figure out how much cache a customer needs based on an analysis of their real workloads.

We found that big data is really paying off for us. We want to continue to increase how much it's paying off for us, but to do that we need to be able to do bigger queries faster. We have a team of data scientists and we don't want them sitting here twiddling their thumbs. That’s what brought us to Vertica.

We have a very tight feedback loop. In one release we put out, we may make some changes in the way certain things happen on the back end, for example, the way NVRAM is drained. There are some very particular details around that, and we can observe very quickly how that performs under different workloads. We can make tweaks and do a lot of tuning.

Without the kind of data we have, we might have to have multiple cases being opened on performance in the field and escalations, looking at cores, and then simulating things in the lab.

It's a very labor-intensive, slow process with very little data to base the decision on. When you bring home operational data from all your products in the field, you're now talking about being able to figure out in near real-time the distribution of workloads in the field and how people access their storage. I think we have a better understanding of the way storage works in the real world than any other storage vendor, simply because we have the data.

I don’t remember the exact year, but it may have been eight years ago roughly that I became aware of Vertica. At some point, there was an announcement that Mike Stonebraker was involved in a group that was going to productize the C-Store Database, which was sort of an academic experiment at UC Berkeley, to understand the benefits and capabilities of real column store.

I was immediately interested and contacted them. I was working at another storage company at the time. I had a 20 terabyte (TB) data warehouse, which at the time was one of the largest Oracle on Linux data warehouses in the world.

They didn't want to touch that opportunity just yet, because they were just starting out in alpha mode. I hooked up with them again a few years later, when I was CTO at a different company, where we developed what's substantially an extract, transform, and load (ETL) platform.

By then, they were well along the road. They had a great product and it was solid. So we tried it out, and I have to tell you, I fell in love with Vertica because of the performance benefits that it provided.

When you start thinking about collecting as many different data points as we like to collect, you have to recognize that you’re going to end up with a couple choices on a row store. Either you're going to have very narrow tables and a lot of them or else you're going to be wasting a lot of I/O overhead, retrieving entire rows where you just need a couple fields.

That was what piqued my interest at first. But as I began to use it more and more, I realized that the performance benefits you could gain by using Vertica properly were another order of magnitude beyond what you would expect just with the column-store efficiency.

That's because of certain features that Vertica allows, such as something called pre-join projections. At a high-level, it lets you maintain the normalized logical integrity of your schema, while having under the hood, an optimized denormalized query performance physically on disk.

Can you be efficient if you have a denormalized structure on disk because Vertica allows you to do some very efficient types of encoding on your data. So all of the low cardinality columns that would have been wasting space in a row store end up taking almost no space at all.

It's been my impression, that Vertica is the data warehouse that you would have wanted to have built 10 or 20 years ago, but nobody had done it yet.

Nowadays, when I'm evaluating other big data platforms, I always have to look at it from the perspective of it's great, we can get some parallelism here, and there are certain operations that we can do that might be difficult on other platforms, but I always have to compare it to Vertica. Frankly, I always find that Vertica comes out on top in terms of features, performance, and usability.

I built the environment at my current company from the ground up. When I got here, there were roughly 30 people. It's a very small company. We started with Postgres. We started with something free. We didn’t want to have a large budget dedicated to the backing infrastructure just yet. We weren’t ready to monetize it yet.

So, we started on Postgres and we've scaled up now to the point where we have about 100 TBs on Postgres. We get decent performance out of the database for the things that we absolutely need to do, which are micro-batch updates and transactional activity. We get that performance because the database lives here.

I don't know what the largest unsharded Postgres instance is in the world, but I feel like I have one of them. It's a challenge to manage and leverage. Now, we've gotten to the point where we're really enjoying doing larger queries. We really want to understand the entire installed base of how we want to do analyses that extend across the entire base.

We want to understand the lifecycle of a volume. We want to understand how it grows, how it lives, what its performance characteristics are, and then how gradually it falls into senescence when people stop using it. It turns out there is a lot of really rich information that we now have access to to understand storage lifecycles in a way I don't think was possible before.

But to do that, we need to take our infrastructure to the next level. So we've been doing that and we've loaded a large number of our sensor data that’s the numerical data I have talked about into Vertica, started to compare the queries, and then started to use Vertica more and more for all the analysis we're doing.

Internally, we're using Vertica, just because of the performance benefits. I can give you an example. We had a particular query, a particularly large query. It was to look at certain aspects of latency over a month across the entire installed base to understand a little bit about the distribution, depending on different factors, and so on.

We ran that query in Postgres, and depending on how busy the server was, it took anywhere from 12 to 24 hours to run. On Vertica, to run the same query on the same data takes anywhere from three to seven seconds.

I anticipated that because we were aware upfront of the benefits we'd be getting. I've seen it before. We knew how to structure our projections to get that kind of performance. We knew what kind of infrastructure we'd need under it. I'm really excited. We're getting exactly what we wanted and better.

This is only a three node cluster. Look at the performance we're getting. On the smaller queries, we're getting sub-second latencies. On the big ones, we're getting sub-10 second latencies. It's absolutely amazing. It's game changing.

People can sit at their desktops now, manipulate data, come up with new ideas and iterate without having to run a batch and go home. It's adramatic productivity increase. Data scientists tend to be fairly impatient. They're highly paid people, and you don’t want them sitting at their desk waiting to get an answer out of the database. It's not the best use of their time.

When it comes to the cloud model for deployment, there's the ease of adding nodes without downtime, the fact that you can create a K-safe cluster. If my cluster is 16 nodes wide now, and I want two nodes redundancy, it's very similar to RAID. You can specify that, and the database will take care of that for you. You don’t have to worry about the database going down and losing data as a result of the node failure every time or two.

I love the fact that you don’t have to pay extra for that. If I want to put more cores or nodes on it or I want to put more redundancy into my design, I can do that without paying more for it. Wow! That’s kind of revolutionary in itself.

It's great to see a database company incented to give you great performance. They're incented to help you work better with more nodes and more cores. They don't have to worry about people not being able to pay the additional license fees to deploy more resources. In that sense, it's great.

We have our own private cloud -- that’s how I like to think of it -- at an offsite colocation facility. We do DR here. At the same time, we have a K-safe cluster. We had a hardware glitch on one of the nodes last week, and the other two nodes stayed up, served data, and everything was fine.


Those kinds of features are critical, and that ability to be flexible and expand is critical for someone who is trying to build a large cloud infrastructure, because you're never going to know in advance exactly how much you're going to need.

If you do your job right as a cloud provider, people just want more and more and more. You want to get them hooked and you want to get them enjoying the experience. Vertica lets you do that.

Disclosure: IT Central Station has made contact with the reviewer to validate that the person is a real user. The information in the posting is based upon a vendor-supplied case study, but the reviewer has confirmed the content's accuracy.
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