Integrating Lambda With Relational Databases

Bob Strahan shows how to integrate AWS Lambda with relational databases running on EC2:

Here are a few reasons why you might find this capability useful:

  • Instrumentation: Use database triggers to call a Lambda function when important data is changed in the database. Your Lambda function can easily integrate with Amazon CloudWatch, allowing you to create custom metrics, dashboards and alarms based on changes to your data.

  • Outbound streaming: Again, use triggers to call Lambda when key data is modified. Your Lambda function can post messages to other AWS services such as Amazon SQS, Amazon SNS, Amazon SES, or Amazon Kinesis Firehose, to send notifications, trigger external workflows, or to push events and data to downstream systems, such as an Amazon Redshift data warehouse.

  • Access external data sources: Call Lambda functions from within your SQL code to retrieve data from external web services, read messages from Amazon Kinesis streams, query data from other databases, and more.

  • Incremental modernization: Improve agility, scalability, and reliability, and eliminate database vendor lock-in by evolving in steps from an existing monolithic database design to a well-architected, modern microservices approach. You can use a microservices architecture to migrate business logic embodied in database procedures into database-agnostic Lambda functions while preserving compatibility with remaining SQL packages.

His specific example is around Oracle/Postgres, but I’d imagine you could do the same on SQL Server with the CLR.

Business Logic

Ed Elliott hits a classic architectural argument—whether business logic should be in stored procedures;

Stackoverflow is a specific use case and they decided to use .Net so they have a specific set of problems to deal with in terms of performance. They deploy (as I understand it) 10 times a day so if they need to change a query then they can quickly and easily – how quickly can you modify code and get it to production to fix a problem causing downtime on your mission critical app written in powerbuilder 20 years ago? (I jest but you get the point)

I like Ed’s back-and-forth arguing, as there are legitimate cases for both sides and the best answer almost always is somewhere in between for line of business apps.   I have three points that I tend to mention whenever this discussion comes up.

First, a lot of “business logic” is actually data logic.  Check constraints, foreign key constraints, unique key constraints, and even primary key constraints (for non-surrogate primary keys) are business rules, but they’re business rules around how the data is shaped and it’s a lot better to use your database system to maintain those rules.

Second, validation rules should be everywhere.  The fancy Javascript library should do validation, the server-side business logic should do validation, and the database should do validation.  You don’t know what’s going to skip one or more of these layers, and your database is the final gatekeeper preventing bad data from sneaking into your system.

Third, at the margin, go where your maintenance developers are most comfortable.  If they’re really good with C# but not good with SQL, the marginal business logic (the stuff you could really go either way on) should stay in the app tier; if your maintainers have really strong SQL skills but are lagging on the .NET side, I’d stick the marginal logic in stored procedures.

Unsharing The Database

Randy Shoup talks about scaling up through breaking out a shared database:

For an early- and mid-stage startup, a monolithic database is absolutely the appropriate architecture choice. With a small team and a small company, a single shared database made it simple to get started. Moving fast meant being able to make rapid changes across the entire system. A shared database made it very easy to join data between different tables, and it made transactions across multiple tables possible. These are pretty convenient.

As we have gotten larger, those benefits have become liabilities. It has become a single point of failure, where issues with the shared database can bring down nearly all of our applications. It has become a performance bottleneck, where long-running operations from one application can slow down others. Finally, and most importantly, the shared database has become a coupling point between teams, slowing down our ability to make changes.

I have my misgivings (as you’d expect from a database snob), particularly because I value highly the benefits of normalization and see sharded systems as a step backwards in that regard.  But even with that said, there are absolutely benefits to slicing out orthogonal sections of data; the point of disagreement is in those places in which two teams’ entities and attributes overlap.

Architecting Semi-Structured Data Solutions

James Serra gives four architectural scenarios for handling large quantities of semi-structured data:

An evolution of the three previous scenarios that provides multiple options for the various technologies.  Data may be harmonized and analyzed in the data lake or moved out to a EDW when more quality and performance is needed, or when users simply want control.  ELT is usually used instead of ETL (see Difference between ETL and ELT).  The goal of this scenario is to support any future data needs no matter what the variety, volume, or velocity of the data.

Hub-and-spoke should be your ultimate goal.  See Why use a data lake? for more details on the various tools and technologies that can be used for the modern data warehouse.

Check it out for a high-level architectural view of contemporary warehousing choices.  I prefer having both systems in play:  the EDW answers known business questions and gives you back report information relatively quickly; whereas the Hadoop cluster allows you to do spelunking, data cleansing, and answer unanticipated business questions.

The Importance Of Integration Testing

Michael Bourgon shows an example of why integration testing is important:

We are in process of doing a migration from an ancient creaky server to a shiny new VM.  Rather than just rebuild it and restore everything, we’re taking the (painful) opportunity to clean things up and improve several systems.

As part of this, we’re replicating data from the old server to the new server, so that we can migrate processes piecemeal, so that rollback is not “OH CRAP TURN IT OFF TURN IT OFF ROLL BACK TO THE OLD SERVER”.

But we ran into a weird problem.  On the target server, we had a many-to-many table that sits between, let’s say, stores and orders.  We have a stores table, we have an orders table, and this one (call it STORE_ORDERS for simplicity) is just a linking table between the two.  ID, stores_id, orders_id.  Everything scripted identically between the two databases (aside from the NOT FOR REPLICATION flag).

This is a case where action A works fine and action B works fine, but the combination of actions A and B leads to sadness.

Data Lakes

Jen Stirrup has a great primer on data lakes and factors to consider before you jump into the idea:

The organization will need to take a step back to understand better their existing status. Are they just starting out? Are other departments which are doing the same thing, perhaps in the local organization or somewhere else in the world? Once the organization understands their state better, they can start to broadly work out the strategy that the Data Lake is intended to provide.

As part of this understanding, the objective of the Data Lake will need to be identified. Is it for data science? Or, for example, is the Data Lake simply to store data in a holding pattern for data discovery? Identifying the objective will help align the vision and the goals, and set the scene for communication to move forward.

I would like to popularize the term Data Swamp for “that place you store a whole bunch of data of dubious origin and value.”  It’s the place that you promise management of course you can get the data back…as long as they never actually ask for it or are okay with reading terabytes of flat files from backup tapes.  The Data Swamp is the Aristotelian counterpart to the Data Lake, Goofus to its Gallant.  It will also, to my estimate, be the more common version.

Single-Socket OLTP Systems?

Joe Chang tosses a hardware-related bomb:

Today, it is time to consider the astonishing next step, that a single socket system is the best choice for a transaction processing systems. First, with proper database architecture and tuning, 12 or so physical cores should be more than sufficient for a very large majority of requirements.

We should also factor in that the second generation hyper-threading (two logical processors per physical core) from Nehalem on has almost linear scaling in transactional workloads (heavy on index seeks involving few rows). This is very different from the first generation HT in Willamette and Northwood which was problematic, and the improved first generation in Prescott which was somewhat better in the positive aspects, and had fewer negatives.

Joe knows a lot more about this than I do, but I’m very hesitant about this for two reasons.  First, scale.  When we start looking at hundreds of concurrent requests, would a single-socket machine really work?  I don’t know to answer to that, but in my simplistic “more is better than fewer” rule of thumb, I’d err on the side of caution, especially if it isn’t my money paying for this.

Second, there are batch processes and large background activities which occur even on extremely transactional OLTP systems.  Think about running CHECKDB or ETL processing or troubleshooting/monitoring processes.  These are going to be processes which benefit from parallelism, and if you’re seriously limiting core counts (which a single socket would necessarily do), you might end up in a bad way when they run even if your “normal” workload performs a little better.

Object Naming

Andy Galbraith warns you against…odd…database names:

I went and looked on the server, and sure enough in Management Studio I saw one database named “FinanceDB” and a database named “[FinanceDB]”.

This was on a SQL 2008R2 instance, but as a test I created a database named [test] on my local SQL 2014 instance and sure enough it worked!

The source of the problem at the client was the LiteSpeed maintenance plan.  Even though the backup task was set to backup all user databases, it wasn’t picking up the square-bracketed database.

I’d go a bit further and say that you should avoid everything but alpha-numeric characters and maybe underscore for databases, tables, views, and all other database objects.

Service Broker Architecture

Colleen Morrow gives explanations for various Service Broker components:

Before I jump into the technical details of the Service Broker architecture, I think it helps to have a real-world analogy of what Service Broker is and does.  In the last installment, I used the example of ordering something from Amazon.com.  This time, I’d like to use an analogy that’s somewhat timely: taxes.

Each year, we fill out that 1040 or 1040EZ form and we send it to the Internal Revenue Service.  Maybe we eFile, maybe we mail it in, it doesn’t matter.  That form is received by the IRS and goes into a queue, awaiting review.  At some point, days, maybe weeks later, our tax return is processed.  If all goes well, our return is approved and the IRS cuts us a check.  That is a Service Broker application.

When I first started learning Service Broker, it seemed like there were a lot of abstract notions (mostly because I didn’t know anything about message queues).  The pieces all start to come together once you get into an application.

NUMA With Few Cores

Denny Cherry asks and answers the question of how many NUMA nodes we should use on a server with a large amount of RAM but relatively few cores:

For this example, let’s assume that we have a physical server with 512 Gigs of RAM and two physical NUMA nodes (and two CPU sockets). We have a VM running in that machine which has a low CPU requirement, but a large working set. Because of this we have 4 cores and 360 Gigs of RAM presented to the VM.

The answer is not trivial, making this an interesting question.

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