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What are the pros and cons of horizontal database partitioning and please focus on the scenario when the database is part of a package (e.g., Siebel) which contains meta data.

  • Chuck Kelley, Clay Rehm, Scott Howard
  • November 05 2003, 1:00am EST


What are the pros and cons of horizontal database partitioning and please focus on the scenario when the database is part of a package (e.g., Siebel) which contains meta data.


Scott Howard’s Answer: Horizontal partitioning can take several forms depending on how your relational database management system (RDBMS) vendor supports such and how you choose to implement. First let’s discuss the part that you can control – how you choose to implement. Regardless of the partitioning support offered by your vendor, your RDBMS vendor, not your package vendor, you can choose you own partitioning scheme. Horizontal partitioning is simple splitting a single large entity into several to many smaller entities. The goal and thus the pro is to reduce the size of the entity thus improving performance and manageability. The disadvantage or con is what you divide, you must also reacquaint. Think of the performance and manageability advantages of splitting a one billion row entity containing 165 columns into 3 or 4 one billion row entities, but each containing only just over 40 columns. On the flip side think of the large table joins required to reestablish the original content for those applications and queries that demand such.

What may be just as useful is manual vertical partitioning where you split the entity, respecting its original schema, into several smaller entities organized by some logical criteria such as time. You can take a large table and split it by year, for example. This can be very useful if your application or query criteria limits retrieval by time. It’s also very useful in data warehousing applications where once a partition is finalized, it remains the same for eternity eliminating the need for constant maintenance. For vertical partitioned objects, a Union is required to reestablish the entire content. Both approaches can be combined with very desirable results.

Now the database vendors may have implemented their own partitioning schemes in support of their own unique parallel database implementations. Oracle RAC and DB2 for z/OS and OS/390 have implemented a vertical partitioning scheme splitting data across a user- defined criteria, typically time. This helps the RDBMS provide parallel services particularly parallel I/O and some limited function parallelization. On the other hand, DB2 for Linux, UNIX and Windows; DB2 for iSeries; Microsoft SQL Server; and Informix IDS provide what is classified as horizontal partitioning across shared nothing nodes, not splitting on a fixed value like time but on a hashed value of any appropriate key. This approach leads to more even distribution between nodes or partitions and more opportunity for CPU parallelism through true function shipping. Be careful, because as you can see, what the vendors refer to as horizontal partitioning may not represent the kind of horizontal partitioning that you or your package vendor, i.e., Siebel, implement.

Chuck Kelley’s Answer: Horizontal partitioning is taking a table and breaking certain rows into one area (storage area, storage groups, tablespaces, etc.) and other rows into other areas. I believe that you should have horizontal partitioning by data value (date time key) and not just the luck of database. Not all databases provide horizontal partitioning.

If you have a small table, I wouldn’t partition it, unless it is read quite often and you can’t pin it in memory.

The pros are that you get multiple disk heads (hopefully) working in parallel to get the data, and you can break the data to more manageable pieces. The cons are you have more things to administer and depending on how you disks are set up, there may be no benefit for the added work. There will be some overhead in the database and operating system, but that is generally not a big deal.

The only question is whether Siebel supports you partitioning their tables. Certainly it will work since partitioning is transparent to the application (at least it should be!) and should not cause any trouble with meta data. But I would still ask if they support partitioning?

Clay Rehm’s Answer: Horizontal database partitioning is the act of moving subsets of data to either other tables, databases and/or servers. I don’t have any experience with Siebel but I understand you can access the underlying database within that package and can partition it like other data in your database.

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