Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Throughput versus Response Time

I like Doug Burns's recent blog post called Time Matters: Throughput vs. Response Time. If you haven't read it, please do. The post and its comment thread are excellent.

The principle Doug has recognized is why the knee in the performance curve is defined as the traffic intensity (think utilization, or load) value at which, essentially, the ratio of response time divided by throughput is minimized. It's not just the place where response time is minimized (which, as Doug observed, is when there's no load at all except for you, ...which is awesome for you, but not so good for business).

I'd like to emphasize a couple of points. First, batch and interactive workloads have wholly different performance requirements, which several people have already noted in their comments to Doug's post. With batch work, people are normally concerned with maximizing throughput. With online work, individual people care more about their own response times than group throughput, although those people's managers probably care more about group throughput. The individual people probably care about group throughput too, but not so much that they're happy about staying late after work to provide it when their individual tasks run so slowly they can't finish them during the normal working day.

In addition to having different performance requirements, batch workload can often be scheduled differently, too. If you're lucky, you can schedule your batch workload deterministically. For example, maybe you can employ a batch workload manager that feeds workload to your system like a carefully timed IV drip, to keep your system's CPU utilization pegged at 100% without causing your CPU run-queue depth to exceed 1.0. But online workload is almost always nondeterministic, which is to say that it can't be scheduled at all. That's why you have to keep some spare un-utilized system capacity handy; otherwise, your system load goes out past the nasty knee in your performance curve, and your users' response times behave exponentially in response to microscopic changes in load, which results in much Pain and Suffering.

My second point is one that I find that a lot of people don't understand very well: Focusing on individual response time—as in profiling—for an individual business task is an essential element in a process to maximize throughput, too. There are good ways to make a task faster, and there are bad ways. Good ways eliminate unnecessary work from the task without causing negative side-effects for tasks you're not analyzing today. Bad ways accidentally degrade the performance of tasks other than the one(s) you're analyzing.

If you stick to the good ways, you don't end up with the see-saw effect that most people seem to think of when they hear "optimize one business task at a time." You know, the idea that tuning A breaks B; then tuning B breaks A again. If this is happening to you, then you're doing it wrong. Trying to respond to performance problems by making global parameter changes commonly causes the see-saw problem. But eliminating wasteful work creates collateral benefits that allow competing tasks on your system to run faster because the task you've optimized now uses fewer resources, giving everything else freer and clearer access to the resources they need, without having to queue so much for them.

Figuring out how to eliminate wasteful work is where the real fun begins. A lot of the tasks we see are fixable by just changing just a little bit of source code. I mean the 2,142,103-latch query that consumes only 9,098 latches after fixing; things like that. A lot more are fixable by simply collecting statistics correctly. Others require adjustments to an application's indexing strategy, which can seem tricky when you need to optimize across a collection of SQL statements (here comes the see-saw), but even that is pretty much a solved problem if you understand Tapio Lahdenmäki's work (except for the inevitable politics of change control).

Back to the idea of Doug's original post, I wholeheartedly agree that you want to optimize both throughput and response time. The business has to decide what mixture is right. And I believe it's crucial to focus on eliminating waste from each individual competing task if you're going to have any hope of optimizing anything, whether you care more about response time, or throughput.

Think about it this way... A task cannot run at its optimal speed unless it is efficient. You cannot know whether a task is efficient without measuring it. And I mean specifically and exactly it, not just part of "it" or "it" plus a bunch of other stuff surrounding it. That's what profiling is: the measurement of exactly one interesting task that allows you to determine exactly where that task spends its time, and thus whether that task is spending your system's time and resources efficiently.

You can improve a system without profiling, and maybe you can even optimize one without profiling. But you can't know whether a system is optimal without knowing whether its tasks are efficient, and you can't know whether a given task is efficient without profiling it.

When you don't know, you waste time and money. This is why I contend that the ability to profile a single task is absolutely vital to anyone wanting to optimize performance.


Doug said...

Thanks a lot for this post, Cary. There are several important points here that you've made better than I could.

I hope it was clear from my post and the comments, taken as a whole, that I think tuning the application is always the best approach but that perhaps people have become too focussed on single user session response time using extended trace files to the exclusion of other factors. I wanted people to think about those factors too.

If you're lucky, you can schedule your batch workload deterministically.

I have a shy friend who refused to comment on my post, but made the same point, so it'll make his day reading your post ;-)

Good stuff - I've posted a link here in the comments thread.

Cary Millsap said...

Thank you, Doug... And thanks (on behalf of many) for your post.

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Centennial College said...

Excellent explanation Cary. But many people assume that the defaults for the Oracle parameters are just-right for their systems, not realizing the incompatible goals of optimizing for throughput vs. optimizing for fast response time.

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