[Chicago-talk] Review: High Performance MySQL

Steven Lembark lembark at cognia.com
Sun Jul 11 22:04:32 CDT 2004

Book would be good reading for anyone trying to manage a non-trivial
LAMP site.

Steven Lembark                                               117 E.  55th
Cognia                                                       NY, NY 10022
                                                             212 331 7844
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Review of __High Performance MySQL__

Jeremy Zawodny & Derek Balling
O'Reilly Press, 2004

MySQL is far less painful than most databases to manage
and use.  The good thing about this is that you can use
it. The bad thing is that many people get rather far into
using it well before they really understand how to use
it properly -- by which time it's too late. There are
any number of good introductory books available on MySQL
which describe daily operations and SQL. The problem
with introductions is that they do not describe how things
really work, why you'd care, or what to do about it.
This is especially true of performance issues, which
usually involve a combination of internals, usage, and
research to manage.

The authors of High Performance MySQL ask for "a little
more Patience and time commitment than the average introductory
computer book."  They aren't kidding. Fortunately this
is not another introductory book and really does describe
enough internals, usage, and examples to help manage
performance.  They also describe it all with a readable
style that avoided using up my patience on their text.

The chapters are broken down into five main sections,
from basics  through benchmarking and indexes, tuning,
scalability, and replication and load-balancing. Most
people dealing with day-to-day issues can probably get
what they need from the first three (Chapters 1-6) -- load
balancing, high-availability start to get esoteric for 
many sites with single servers.

The last two chapters on backups and security might seem
out of place in a book on "performance". The authors do a 
good job of pointing out, however, that a down or corrupt
database is not performing well, and that backups or
tighter security can affect performance in themselves. 

The Basics chapter is quite short and covers some minimal
topics for configuring or viewing the database status. 
If this chapter doesn't fall well into the "obvious" 
category it will probably be worth taking time to read
a real introduction before tackling the rest of this book.

Storage Engines is a nice combination of theory and practice,
with examples specific-enough be useful. One of MySQL's
strengths is handling multiple underlying data storage
engines. Choosing between them is a source of confusion,
however, since many users don't know enough about the
choices to make good ones. This chapter does a good job
clearing the mist by describing not only the engines
themselves but baseline requirements for an "ACID" database,
and isolation levels. Short examples of various uses
include stock quotes, log summary, order processing,
and bulletin boards. The examples are specific enough to
illustrate differences in the storage engines without 
bogging down in detail.

Chapter three covers benchmarking, including summaries of
three available tools for both benchmarking and stress-
testing database configurations. 

The chapters on indexes, query performance, and server
performance will be useful even to experienced DBA's.
The information includes index types and their foibles,
how indexes are used in queries, cache management, the
optimizer, identifying slow queries, hints, and operating
system/server issues. Examples on how MySQL uses indexes,
where they help/hurt performance, and workarounds will
be useful to anyone trying to design a scalable MySQL

Chapters seven and eight describe replication and load 
balancing. They are well-written, but won't apply to 
directly managers on a with a single computer. They will
be worth a skim for managers of growing sites, however,
since there are good descriptions of when replication
can help.

Backup and recovery is worth reading by anyone who runs
a MySQL site. Even small(ish) sites can benefit from 
good backups -- or ones that don't interfere with normal
operations. Various strategies for cold and hot backups
are compared, along with decent descriptions of how to 
restore the databases.

Security is the last main chapter in the book and is
more about operational issues than the others. Aside
from some affects of encryption, this chapter is about
keeping the database up and clean rather than making
it run faster. There is a good description of Host
Matching in the privilege system, the tables involved
with security, and how to manage it. If nothing else,
reading this will avoid sites granting all privileges
by default in order to avoid figuring out which ones
are necessary. The tradeoffs between user-level 
encryption and other options are also discussed.

The appendixes include the status commands, mytop, 
and a php-based administration tool. The analysis of
MySQL and Innodb show statistics is helpful -- largely
because the latter provides a huge amount of information
and lacks a 'verbose' option to leave any of it off.
In phpMyAdmin, the practical examples start to drift back
into the usual "Introduction to..." level and probably
could have had more on the performance data that phpMyAdmin

One thing I'd have liked, given MySQL's common use, is
any discussion of the various interfaces available to
it and how well they perform in different situations.
C, C++, DBI, ODBC, and JDBC interfaces are readily available
for MySQL and -- from what I've seen -- vary enormously
in their performance on the same database. Admittedly this
falls more into a "programming" book, but many (most?)
MySQL DBA's are managing LAMP systems and at least some 
discussion of the their language needs would have been helpful.

Overall, the book was detailed enough to be useful, 
readable enough to finish, contained examples
that helped me at work, and was worth the patience
to finish.

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