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Partitioning

Clearly, we must break away from the sequential and not limit the computers. We must state definitions and provide for priorities and descriptions of data. We must state relationships, not procedures.

—Grace Murray Hopper, Management and the Computer of the Future (1962)

In Chapter 5 we discussed replication—that is, having multiple copies of the same data on different nodes. For very large datasets, or very high query throughput, that is not sufficient: we need to break the data up into partitions, also known as sharding}

Terminological confusion

What we call a partition here is called a shard in MongoDB, Elas- ticsearch, and SolrCloud; it’s known as a region in HBase, a tablet in Bigtable, a vnode in Cassandra and Riak, and a vBucket in Couchbase. However, partitioning is the most established term, so we’ll stick with that.

Normally, partitions are defined in such a way that each piece of data (each record, row, or document) belongs to exactly one partition. There are various ways of achieving this, which we discuss in depth in this chapter. In effect, each partition is a small database of its own, although the database may support operations that touch multiple partitions at the same time.

The main reason for wanting to partition data is scalability. Different partitions can be placed on different nodes in a shared-nothing cluster (see the introduction to

i. Partitioning, as discussed in this chapter, is a way of intentionally breaking a large database down into smaller ones. It has nothing to do with network partitions (netsplits), a type of fault in the network between nodes. We will discuss such faults in Chapter 8.

Part II for a definition of shared nothing). Thus, a large dataset can be distributed across many disks, and the query load can be distributed across many processors.

For queries that operate on a single partition, each node can independently execute the queries for its own partition, so query throughput can be scaled by adding more nodes. Large, complex queries can potentially be parallelized across many nodes, although this gets significantly harder.

Partitioned databases were pioneered in the 1980s by products such as Teradata and Tandem NonStop SQL [1], and more recently rediscovered by NoSQL databases and Hadoop-based data warehouses. Some systems are designed for transactional workloads, and others for analytics (see “Transaction Processing or Analytics?” on page 90): this difference affects how the system is tuned, but the fundamentals of partitioning apply to both kinds of workloads.

In this chapter we will first look at different approaches for partitioning large datasets and observe how the indexing of data interacts with partitioning. We’ll then talk about rebalancing, which is necessary if you want to add or remove nodes in your cluster. Finally, we’ll get an overview of how databases route requests to the right partitions and execute queries.

 
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