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Nuts & Bolts: Database Servers
37signals is the company of David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails. 37signals make the incredibly popular Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack and Campfire web applications which, because of their large number of users, do have very stringent MySQL performance requirements. As they write on their blog, “All of our applications, with the exception of Basecamp, follow a pretty similar model: We take a pair of Dell R710 servers, load them up with memory and disks, and setup a master/slave pair of MySQL servers. We use the excellent Percona Server for all of our MySQL instances and couldn’t be happier with it.”. For Basecamp, the decision was to purchase a pair of MySQL appliances with solid state drives and optimised for I/O performance.”
First, in 1994, there was MySQL AB where Michael “Monty” Widenius created MySQL, arguably the world’s most popular database. Then, in 2008, Sun Microsystems acquired MySQL AB and Monty was happy. When Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010, Monty became less happy and he decided to create MariaDB, “a community developed, stable, and always free fork of MySQL that is compatible with the main version Oracle MySQL.” In other words, if, one day, Oracle decides to charge for MySQL (or kill it), it won’t be a big issue as MariaDB is a drop-in replacement. I can easily imagine some people preemptively moving from MySQL to MariaDB just as a precaution. Or not. Depends on you.
[I mentioned Drizzle in a previous Picks of the Week]. Another fork of MySQL is Drizzle: “a community-driven open source project that is forked from the popular MySQL database. The Drizzle team has removed non-essential code, re-factored the remaining code and modernized the code base moving to C++.” Drizzle has a number of innovative features that makes it very powerful: it is “optimized for Cloud infrastructure and Web applications”, is “designed for massive concurrency on modern multi-cpu architecture” and it “optimizes memory [usage] for increased performance and parallelism”. In other words, when performance is key, then you need to spend some time evaluating Drizzle even though it is a relatively young product.
Instead of using MySQL, 37signals uses Percona Server, yet another fork of MySQL. Percona Server, “an enhanced drop-in replacement for MySQL”, allows “queries to run faster and more consistently”. The people behind Percona Server put a lot of emphasis on performance, completely eliminating the lockups that MySQL sometimes suffers from. They also have put a lot of emphasis on scalability: Percona Server has been designed to use up to 48 cores and to issue hundreds of thousands of I/O operations per second on high-end solid-state hardware (SSD). Percona Server also allows the database administrator to measure all performance characteristics through a very complete instrumentation dashboard. Percona Server is open source software and, therefore, free to use.
To conclude this MySQL special, we need to talk about backups. All database administrators know that backups are essential and need to be done on a regular basis… preferably without having to stop the database server and, therefore, interrupting business activities. “Percona XtraBackup makes hot backups for all versions of Percona Server, MySQL, MariaDB, and Drizzle.” Being hot, the backups are made while the database is in use. XtraBackup naturally supports incremental backups which means that “backups complete quickly and reliably” and there are substantial “savings on disk space and network bandwidth”. Like Percona Server, Percona XtraBackup is also an open source software, free to use!