Opinion

Slowness Kills

10 Jul 2014 | Share

EXASOL make the fastest database in the world – is speed really so important?

I was asked by a journalist recently whether speed really matters with a database and it stopped me in my tracks.

I found it hard to imagine that anyone would even ask such a question. Good databases are fast databases and fast database are good databases, surely?

I wasn’t very happy with the quality of the answer I gave at the time – but now I’ve had a chance to think and the next journalist I meet will get a much better answer.

I’ll tell them about how some queries are time-critical. They need to be answered in seconds, otherwise it doesn’t matter how brilliant the answers are. The visitor has left the website, the shopper has left the store and the opportunity is gone.

Then I will tell the journalist that unless you have speed, you need to use sample data or pre-aggregate data in summary tables or cubes. This has a massive overhead and means that only certain types of questions can now be asked of the data. A fast database gives you the possibility of aggregating data “on the fly” and asking whatever questions you like without needing to get the data prepared beforehand.

And I’ll finish by saying that some questions are just too difficult for slow databases. You hear stories of queries that run overnight or sometimes never finish and need to be killed. These are questions that companies need to ask of their data and they are not getting answers because their databases aren’t fast enough for the job.

And then I will emphasise that when I say “Speed is crucial”, I’m not saying that factors such as ease of use and ability to integrate with other systems are not also important.

However, most database users, if asked to choose, would prefer to spend as little time as possible shouting at their screens because their important queries are STILL running.