When I first learned about Active Session History, it was a real game changer for me. It’s (kinda) like tracing which is always on, for every single session… well, active session, sure, but who cares about idle ones? For a while I got so obsessed with it that I almost stopped using other tools — fortunately, that was a only short while, because as great as ASH is, you still need other tools. But to the day, ASH still remains one of my favorites. However, to fully exploit its potential, you need to properly visualize its results, otherwise they can be misleading, as I intend to show in the rest of this post.
There is a lot of different tools for analyzing OS process states which can be helpful in resolving non-trivial performance issues. One of the limitations of such tools is that they are mostly active ones — i.e. you have to do some extra work to collect the desired diagnostic information. This is inconvenient when the problem you’re facing is intermittent and manifests itself on an irregular and unpredictable schedule.
Call stack profiling and flame graphs have been a hot topic in Oracle tech blogs last few years, and recently I got a chance to use it to troubleshoot an actual production performance issue. It was quite an interesting journey, with some twists and turns along the way. Let me start by presenting some background for the problem.
In my previous article I discussed general questions related to network issues in Data Guard due to packet loss and/or retransmissions. Here I’d like to move to discussing specific tools and methodologies for troubleshooting such issues.
Such tools can be broken down by following criteria:
- server-side or network-side
- active or passive
- level of detail they provide (aggregate statistics or individual packet capture).
I think the first item on the list is more or less self-explanatory: there are tools that can be run on the server (either the sender, i.e. production, or the receiver, i.e. the standby), and there are tools that can be run on the network side. The latter aren’t always accessible to the DBA, but sometimes the data from such tools can be made available by the network team via some sort of a graphic user interface, or by request.
In this article I describe the basic mechanics of TCP and DataGuard as well as relevant performance metrics on the database, OS and network sides. The idea is to give DBAs some ammunition in addressing DataGuard performance issues. The most important stage of troubleshooting is the correct identification of the nature of the issue, e.g. being able to tell whether the problem has to do with the network as such, or DataGuard, or Oracle database (primary or standby) or something else. Despite very powerful instrumentation provided by Oracle, it is not an easy task. But even after the network problem has been identified, it doesn’t necessarily stop here for a DBA. You’d think that at that point you’d be able to pass the problem onto a network administrator and wait until it gets resolved, but it doesn’t always work like that. Network issues can be mixed with a range of different ones, but more importantly, network can be a very complex system, so it helps a lot when network people know what exactly to look for. It is equally important for DBAs and SAs to understand the network specialists, because in all but most trivial cases, fixing network issues is an iterative process which requires constant feedback every step of the way. So it really pays for a DBA to speak network administrator’s language so to say.
Last week I participated in Oracle’s Real World Performance event — four days of lectures, quizzes, live demos and hands-on exercises. It was quite interesting, even more so than I expected it to be.
Understandably, a lot of time was spent discussing the perils of row-by-row processing. After all, it was Real World Performance, so it was based on performance problems that the authors of the course faced most often. And many, if not most, performance problems in the real world come from poor coding habits, in particular, from OLTP or object-oriented mindset brought by inexperienced developers into DW world.
Very often, significant performance benefits can be obtained by using some very basic knowledge of the application, its data and business rules. Sometimes even less than that: even if you are not familiar with the application logic at all, you can still use common sense to make some reasonable guesses that would get you a long way in improving query’s performance. Here is an example (based on an actual query that I had to tune today).
Database query tuning is mostly about getting better plans. Mostly, but not always. Sometimes, the problem has nothing to do with the plan, and you might need to get a bit creative to find a solution. In this recent case a query was showing a decent performance when running from SQL Developer, but it took about 5 times longer to complete when running from R. The plan was the same, so I knew that it was irrelevant. The R session wasn’t showing as active most of the time, so it was fairly clear that the problem was fetching data — i.e. it was fetching too few rows at a time which lead to a large number of roundtrips, and consequently, high waits on “idle” event “SQL*Net message from client”.
On one of the databases I’m looking after (188.8.131.52, Solaris, non-RAC), several different INSERT statements (all into tablespaces with manually managed segments) suffer from occasional hiccups. The symptoms are always the same: in one of the sessions, the INSERT gets stuck doing lots of single-block I/O against one of the indexes on the inserted table, and if other sessions are running similar INSERTs, they hang on enq: TX – index contention. The situation can last just a few seconds, but sometimes it’s much longer than this (several minutes), in which case the impact on the application is quite serious.
Imagine the following situation: you are supporting an application with many different components and a busy release cycle. One a Monday morning you find that quite a few processes in the database now run slower. Very soon, you find out that the slowdown is due to increased CPU time, but where to move from there? There is no evidence that CPU is too stressed, causing CPU queuing. You cannot isolate the problem to any specific PL/SQL procedure or SQL id, and there seems to be no relationship between affected SQL statements. You also check the changes that went in the last weekend — there are quite a few of them, but none seems to be particularly relevant. So what do you do?