Flux Research Group / School of Computing

To Copy or Not to Copy: Making In-Memory Databases Fast on Modern NICs

Aniraj Kesavan, Robert Ricci, and Ryan Stutsman

Proceedings of the Fourth International Workshop on In-Memory Data Management and Analytics (IMDM) 2016.

Networking, Operating Systems, Storage


When databases resided primarily on disks, the problem of data layout was focused on structures that enabled efficient reads and writes from that medium, as well the as effective use of main memory as a cache. With in-memory databases, this part of the I/O problem is largely gone, but that does not mean that I/O considerations can be completely ignored. We argue for the importance of considering the “other” side of the I/O equation—network communication with clients—when designing in-memory databases.

Modern NICs include a number of optimizations intended to improve I/O performance, including kernel bypass, zero-copy and scatter-gather DMA. Applied carefully, these features can reduce the involvement of the CPU in network transfers and can save memory bandwidth. However, our experiments show that some optimizations do not always provide a benefit in a database context, and using them can be tricky, as they affect strategies for processing updates and managing data lifetimes. In this paper, we explore the application of zero-copy NIC DMA to in-memory databases, and we explore how the NIC can influence and explicitly leverage data layout and concurrency control. We apply these results to the Bw-Tree structure by proposing a client-assisted design for transmitting large range scan results. Overall, the approach boosts throughput by 1.7× and reduces CPU overhead by 75% compared to simple zero-copy DMA.