Oracle Peformance Tuning: A Matter of Life or Death!

Oracle Peformance Tuning: A Matter of Life or Death!

Don Burleson between performance gigs

Don Burleson between performance gigs

Performance Tuning Requires Creativity!

Performance tuning requires creativity and innovation. It’s not at all just a routine, drab job—it requires versatility and stepping into different roles. That’s why I like it so much. 

I call the overall performance tuning process “Physician to Magician.”  This means that we play a different role at different times. Sometimes the analyst needs to gather facts, like a detective. At other times we simply listen to our patient, like a kindly physician. Later, when we need to synthesize a solution, we are like an artist, creating a work of art that our customer will appreciate.

Now, I admit that not all of performance tuning is exciting. There’s plenty of cases that are solved by adding an index, fixing the statistics, etc. These cases require more scientific competence than creativity. 

In general, however, performance tuning is not a mechanical process of “turning the crank” to spit-out a solution to a performance problem.  Designing a fix that meets your customer’s needs is often not so trivial. 

Then, I just added an index!

Then, I just added an index!


Those not truly experienced in tuning tend to trivialize the process, frequently using trite phrases such as “add missing indexes” or “increase buffer cache.”   This misunderstanding helps explain why relatively few DBAs become really good at performance tuning—their view of the task is simply too short-sighted. If your solution set comprises only trivial solutions like new indexes, you’re likely not going to excel in this field.

Here’s a sampling of various root causes of performance logjams:

• Overly strict business requirement
• Optimizer incorrectly handling new Oracle functionality
• Optimizer predicting one execution plan, but really running another
• Program calling custom function millions of times

Note that in each case above, a good solution would not be forthcoming by a “turn the crank” approach. The solution for each case required understanding of the particular environment.

Sometimes, however, even with all facts in hand, a solution is evasive, or very expensive for our client.Allow me to suggest a novel alternative—one that I have found very helpful.  


Here’s a tactic I use when I’m faced with an apparently unsolvable performance problem. I imagine that the problem is so critical that people will actually die if I don’t resolve the difficulty. 

I imagine that the lives of people are actually in my hands.

Yes, I admit this is a bizarre idea, but it actually works. If you can temporarily pretend that there are no limits, you’ll be amazed at the variety of solutions you can invent.  Here’s an actual case where I “saved” a life.

A major retailer had a problem with a long-running batch job. We were able to identify several bottlenecks; unfortunately, the fix required a program redesign; however, this was not acceptable. Along with QA testing and all the paperwork, the ensuing delay would be at least several weeks, if not a month or more.   

I prefer the Rule-based optimizer.

I prefer the Rule-based optimizer.

In cases like this, it’s tempting to throw the problem back at the developers. Of course, this isn’t too helpful to the client. So just for fun, I pretended that my performance problem was life-threatening.  I asked myself, “Is it really true that I can do nothing to speedup the job?  Even if someone dies I can’t do anything?”


Given my new motivation, all limits were off. I considered all kinds of crazy ideas—server changes, init.ora changes, disk changes, etc. Finally, I thought of one very simple, but admittedly weaselly idea.

Since the bottleneck was mostly due to disk i/o, any improvement in disk access would directly affect the problem job. Since we knew the exact Sql, we could pre-run Sql that duplicated the “real” Sql that would shortly follow.  That is, we would pre-cache many of the blocks that would shortly be needed. To speed-up the pre-caching program, we used multi-threading to run about 20 simultaneous database sessions.

We successfully ran the “Boost” program just prior to the problem batch job, reducing the runtime by several hours. This satisfied the short-term needs of the client. (Incidentally, I have used this “boost” idea several other times, where an urgent, short-term fix was required.)

Can't I just use Enterprise Manager?

Can't I just use Enterprise Manager?


Okay, I admit my “life and death” scheme is an unusual way to approach performance tuning. While our fix would certainly not be considered a long-term solution, it did give the client some breathing room, so that they could fix the program design. That’s all the customer needed.

The concept discussed here is really more about the art of human creativity and motivation than about databases. One could argue it’s really just another way to “think outside the box.”

Here’s the point: You don’t really what you can do unless you’re pushed really hard. So, the next time you face a seemingly impossible problem, don’t be too quick to throw in the towel.

Pretend, just for a minute, that you absolutely have to fix it—or else!
What degree of parallelism should I use?

What degree of parallelism should I use?

Oracle Peformance Tuning

Strong Memory, Sharp Mind by Dr. Frank Minirth

Strong Memory, Sharp Mind by Dr. Frank Minirth