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This post is about the decision the Oracle database engine makes when it is using a full segment scan approach. The choices the engine has is to store the blocks that are physically read in the buffercache, or read the blocks into the process’ PGA. The first choice is what I refer to as a ‘buffered read’, which places the block in the database buffercache so the process itself and other processes can bypass the physical read and use the block from the cache, until the block is evicted from the cache. The second choice is what is commonly referred to as ‘direct path read’, which places the blocks physically read into the process’ PGA, which means the read blocks are stored for only a short duration and is not shared with other processes.

There are some inherent performance aspects different between a buffered and a direct path read. A buffered read can only execute a single physical read request for a single range of blocks, wait for that request to finish, fetch and process the result of the physical read request after which it can execute the next physical read request. So there is maximum of one outstanding IO for multiple (adjacent) Oracle blocks. A direct path read works differently, it submits two physical IO requests, each for a distinct range of Oracle blocks asynchronously, after which it waits one or more IOs to finish. If an IO is returned, it is processed, and an IO for another range of Oracle blocks is submitted to restore the number of IOs in flight to two. If the database engine determines (based upon a non-disclosed mechanism) that enough resources are available it can increase the amount of IO physical IO requests in flight up to 32. Other differences include a maximum for the total size of the IO request, which is 1MB for buffered requests, and 32MB for direct path requests (which is achieved by setting db_file_multiblock_read_count to 4096).

At this point should be clear that there are differences between buffered and direct path reads, and when full segment scans switch from direct path reads to buffered reads it could mean a significant performance difference. On top of this, if your database is using Exadata storage, this decision between buffered reads and direct path reads is even more important. Only once the decision for direct path reads has been made, an Exadata smartscan can be executed. I have actually witnessed cases where a mix of partitioning and HCC lead to the situation that the partitions were so small that a direct path read was not chosen, which meant a smartscan was not considered anymore, meaning that instead of the cells decompressing the compressed blocks all in parallel, the process now had to fetch them and do the decompression on the database layer.

There have been some posts on the circumstances of the decision. However, I have seen none that summarise the differences for the different versions. In order to investigate the differences between the different Oracle versions, I created a git repository at gitlab: https://gitlab.com/FritsHoogland/table_scan_decision. You can easily use the repository by cloning it: git clone https://gitlab.com/FritsHoogland/table_scan_decision.git, which will create a table_scan_decision directory in the current working directory.

Oracle version 11.2.0.2.12
Please mind this version is very old, and SHOULD NOT BE USED ANYMORE because it’s not an actively supported version. However, I do use this version, because this version has different behaviour than the versions that follow.

First determine the small table threshold of the database:

SYS@test AS SYSDBA> @small_table_threshold

KSPPINM 		       KSPPSTVL
------------------------------ ------------------------------
_small_table_threshold	       1531

Let’s create tables just below and just over 1531 blocks/small table threshold:

TS@test > @create_table table_1350 1350
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      1408
TS@test > @create_table table_1531 1531
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      1664

So the small table threshold is 1531, this means that an internal statistic that is used for determining using the direct path mechanism, medium table threshold will be approximately 1531*5=7655. Let’s create tables just below and just over that number of blocks:

TS@test > @create_table table_7000 7000
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      7168
TS@test > @create_table table_7655 7655
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      7808

For the other versions, trace event ‘nsmtio’ can be used to learn how the decision is made. However, this trace event does not exist in Oracle version 11.2.0.2. The workaround is to just execute a SQL trace and interpret the wait events. For a full table scan, the wait events ‘db file scattered read’ means a buffered read is done, and wait events ‘direct path read’ means a direct path read was done (obviously).

TS@test > alter session set events 'sql_trace level 8';
TS@test > select count(*) from table_1350;
-- main event: db file scattered read
TS@test > alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_1531';
TS@test > select count(*) from table_1531;
-- main event: db file scattered read
TS@test > alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_7000';
TS@test > select count(*) from table_7000;
-- main event: db file scattered read
TS@test > alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_7655';
TS@test > select count(*) from table_7655;
-- main event: direct path read

This shows that in my case, with Oracle version 11.2.0.2, the switching point is at 5 times _small_table_threshold.

Oracle 11.2.0.3.15
This version too should NOT BE USED ANYMORE because it is not in active support. This too is for reference.
Small table threshold for this database:

SYS@test AS SYSDBA> @small_table_threshold

KSPPINM 		       KSPPSTVL
------------------------------ ------------------------------
_small_table_threshold	       1531

With the small table threshold being 1531, the medium table threshold should be approximately 1531*5=7655.

TS@test > @create_table table_1350 1350
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      1408
TS@test > @create_table table_1440 1440
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      1536
TS@test > @create_table table_7000 7000
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      7168
TS@test > @create_table table_7655 7655
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      7808

Flush buffer cache and set trace events, and test the scans. By doing that I ran into something peculiar with the ‘nsmtio’ event in this version (11.2.0.3 with the latest PSU). This event does exist for this version (which you can validate by running ‘oradebug doc component’), however, it does not yield any output. This means I have to revert to the previous method of running sql_trace at level 8 and interpret the wait events.

TS@test > alter session set events 'trace[nsmtio]:sql_trace level 8'; -- no NSMTIO lines, only sql_trace!
TS@test > select count(*) from table_1350;
-- main event: db file scattered read
TS@test > alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_1440';
TS@test > select count(*) from table_1440;
-- main event: direct path read
TS@test > alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_7000';
TS@test > select count(*) from table_7000;
-- main event: direct path read
TS@test > alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_7655';
TS@test > select count(*) from table_7655;
-- main event: direct path read

This shows that with Oracle version 11.2.0.3, the direct path read switching point seems to have moved from 5 times small table threshold to small table threshold itself.

Oracle 11.2.0.4.170718
This version is in active support!
Small table threshold for this database:

SQL> @small_table_threshold

KSPPINM 		       KSPPSTVL
------------------------------ ------------------------------
_small_table_threshold	       1538

With the small table threshold being 1538, the medium table threshold should be approximately 1538*5=7690.

SQL> @create_table table_1350 1350
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      1408
SQL> @create_table table_1538 1538
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      1664
SQL> @create_table table_7000 7000
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      7168
SQL> @create_table table_7690 7690
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      7808

Flush buffer cache and set trace events, and test the scans.

SQL> alter session set events 'trace[nsmtio]:sql_trace level 8';
SQL> select count(*) from table_1350;
-- nsmtio lines:
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:NoDirectRead:[- STT < OBJECT_SIZE < MTT]:Obect's size: 1378 (blocks), Threshold: MTT(7693 blocks),
-- main event: db file scattered read
SQL> alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_1538';
SQL> select count(*) from table_1538;
-- nsmtio lines:
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]: Checking cost to read from caches(local/remote) and checking storage reduction factors (OLTP/EHCC Comp)
NSMTIO: kcbdpc:DirectRead: tsn: 4, objd: 14422, objn: 14422
-- main event: direct path read
SQL> alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_7000';
SQL> select count(*) from table_7000;
-- nsmtio lines:
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]: Checking cost to read from caches(local/remote) and checking storage reduction factors (OLTP/EHCC Comp)
NSMTIO: kcbdpc:DirectRead: tsn: 4, objd: 14423, objn: 14423
-- main event: direct path read
SQL> alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_7690';
SQL> select count(*) from table_7690;
-- nsmtio lines:
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]: Checking cost to read from caches(local/remote) and checking storage reduction factors (OLTP/EHCC Comp)
NSMTIO: kcbdpc:DirectRead: tsn: 4, objd: 14424, objn: 14424
-- main event: direct path read

This shows that with Oracle version 11.2.0.4, the direct path read switching is at small table threshold, which was changed starting from 11.2.0.3.

Oracle version 12.1.0.2.170718
Small table threshold for this database:

SQL> @small_table_threshold

KSPPINM 		       KSPPSTVL
------------------------------ ------------------------------
_small_table_threshold	       1440

SQL>

With small table threshold being 1440, the medium table threshold is approximately 1440*5=7200.

SQL> @create_table table_1350 1350
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      1408
SQL> @create_table table_1440 1440
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      1536
SQL> @create_table table_7000 7000
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      7168
SQL> @create_table table_7200 7200
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      7424

Now flush the buffer cache, and use the ‘nsmtio’ trace event together with ‘sql_trace’ to validate the read method used:

SQL> alter session set events 'trace[nsmtio]:sql_trace level 8';
SQL> select count(*) from table_1350;
-- nsmtio lines:
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:NoDirectRead:[- STT < OBJECT_SIZE < MTT]:Obect's size: 1378 (blocks), Threshold: MTT(7203 blocks),
-- main events: db file scattered read
SQL> alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_1440';
SQL> select count(*) from table_1440;
-- nsmtio lines:
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]: Checking cost to read from caches(local/remote) and checking storage reduction factors (OLTP/EHCC Comp)
NSMTIO: kcbdpc:DirectRead: tsn: 4, objd: 20489, objn: 20489
-- main events: direct path read
SQL> alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_7000';
SQL> select count(*) from table_7000;
-- nsmtio lines:
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]: Checking cost to read from caches(local/remote) and checking storage reduction factors (OLTP/EHCC Comp)
NSMTIO: kcbdpc:DirectRead: tsn: 4, objd: 20490, objn: 20490
-- main events: direct path read
SQL> alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_7200';
SQL> select count(*) from table_7200;
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]: Checking cost to read from caches(local/remote) and checking storage reduction factors (OLTP/EHCC Comp)
NSMTIO: kcbdpc:DirectRead: tsn: 4, objd: 20491, objn: 20491
-- main events: direct path read

This is in line with the switch in version 11.2.0.3 to small table threshold as the switching point between buffered reads and direct path reads.

Oracle 12.2.0.1.170814
Small table threshold for this database:

SQL> @small_table_threshold

KSPPINM 		       KSPPSTVL
------------------------------ ------------------------------
_small_table_threshold	       1444

SQL>

With small table threshold being 1444, the medium table threshold is approximately 1444*5=7220.

SQL> @create_table table_1350 1350
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      1408
SQL> @create_table table_1440 1440
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      1536
SQL> @create_table table_7000 7000
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      7168
SQL> @create_table table_7200 7200
...
    BLOCKS
----------
      7424

Now flush the buffer cache, and use the ‘nsmtio’ trace event together with ‘sql_trace’ to validate the read method used:

SQL> alter session set events 'trace[nsmtio]:sql_trace level 8';
SQL> select count(*) from table_1350;
-- nsmtio lines:
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:NoDirectRead:[- STT < OBJECT_SIZE < MTT]:Obect's size: 1378 (blocks), Threshold: MTT(7222 blocks),
-- main events: db file scattered read
SQL> alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_1440';
SQL> select count(*) from table_1440;
-- nsmtio lines:
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:NoDirectRead:[- STT < OBJECT_SIZE < MTT]:Obect's size: 1504 (blocks), Threshold: MTT(7222 blocks),
-- main events: db file scattered read
SQL> alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_7000';
SQL> select count(*) from table_7000;
-- nsmtio lines:
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:NoDirectRead:[- STT < OBJECT_SIZE < MTT]:Obect's size: 7048 (blocks), Threshold: MTT(7222 blocks),
-- main events: db file scattered read
SQL> alter session set tracefile_identifier = 'table_7200';
SQL> select count(*) from table_7200;
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]: Checking cost to read from caches(local/remote) and checking storage reduction factors (OLTP/EHCC Comp)
NSMTIO: kcbdpc:DirectRead: tsn: 4, objd: 22502, objn: 22502
-- main events: direct path read

Hey! With 12.2.0.1 the direct path read switching point reverted back to pre-11.2.0.3 behaviour of switching on 5 times small table threshold instead of small table threshold itself.

Update!
Re-running my tests shows differences in the outcome between buffered and direct path reads. My current diagnosis is that the scan type determination uses a step based approach:

– The first determination of size is done with ‘NSMTIO: kcbism’ (kcb is medium). If islarge is set to 1, it means the segment is bigger than STT. If islarge is set to 0 it means the segment is smaller than STT, and the segment will be read buffered, and the line ‘qertbFetch:NoDirectRead:[- STT < OBJECT_SIZE < MTT]' is shown in the NSMTIO output.

– The next line is 'NSMTIO: kcbimd' (kcb is medium determination?) It shows the size of the segment (nblks), STT (kcbstt), MTT (kcbpnb) and is_large, which in my tests always is set to 0. Here, there are 4 options that I could find:

1) Segment size between STT and MTT and a buffered read is executed.
If the segment is between STT and MTT, the Oracle engine uses a non-disclosed costing mechanism, which probably is externalised in the line 'NSMTIO: kcbcmt1'. The outcome can be a buffered read, for which the line 'qertbFetch:NoDirectRead:[- STT < OBJECT_SIZE < MTT]' is shown.

2) Segment size between STT and MTT and the direct path code path is chosen.
If the segment is between STT and MTT, the Oracle engine uses a non-disclosed costing mechanism, probably externalised in the line 'NSMTIO: kcbcmt1'. If the costing determines it would be beneficial to use a direct path mechanism, it seems it switches to the direct path with cache determination code, which is also used for any table scan that is smaller than VLOT. Because of switching to that code, it will determine if the segment is bigger than VLOT: 'NSMTIO: kcbivlo', which of course in this case isn't true. Then, it will show the line 'NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]'

3) Segment size bigger than MTT but smaller than VLOT.
If the segment is between MTT and VLOT, the Oracle engine does not apply the costing mechanism (which is means the kcbcmt1 line is not shown). It will determine if the segment is bigger than VLOT ('NSMTIO: kcbivlo'), and then show 'NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT VLOT]’, and there is no kcbdpc to analyse choosing doing a buffered or direct path read.

4) Segment size bigger than VLOT.
If the segment is bigger than VLOT, the Oracle engine execute the functions kcbimd and kcbivlo, the NSMTIO line for kcbivlo will show is_large 1 to indicate it’s a very large object (VLOT by default is ‘500’, which is 5 times the total number of buffers in the buffer cache. The qertbFetch line will say ‘NSMTIO: qertbFetch:DirectRead:[OBJECT_SIZE>VLOT]’, and there is no kcbdpc to analyse choosing doing a buffered or direct path read.

In the cases where ‘NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]' is shown, which is either a segment between STT and MTT which switched to this code path, or between MTT and VLOT, the code will apply a second determination and potential switching point from buffered to direct path or vice versa, which is shown with the line 'kcbdpc' (kcb direct path check). The outcome can be:

– NSMTIO: kcbdpc:NoDirectRead:[CACHE_READ] to indicate it will use a buffered read.
– NSMTIO: kcbdpc:DirectRead to indicate it will use a direct path read.

I have verified the above 'decision tree' in 11.2.0.2, 11.2.0.3, 11.2.0.4, 12.1.0.2 and 12.2.0.1. It all seems to work this way consistently. I derived this working by looking at the NSMTIO tracing of 12.2, and then gone back in version. You will see that going lower in versions, there is lesser (nsmtio) tracing output; 11.2.0.4 does show way lesser information, for example, it does not show the kcbcmt1 line, and of course 11.2.0.3 and 11.2.0.2 do not show NSMTIO lines altogether. In order to verify the working, I used gdb and quite simply breaked on the kcbism, kcbimd, kcbcmt1, kcbivlo and kcbdpc functions in the versions where this information was missing in the trace.

Still, at the kcbcmt1 point:
– 11.2.0.2 seems to quite consistently take MTT as the direct path switching point.
– 11.2.0.3-12.1.0.2 seem to quite consistently take STT as the direct path switching point.
– 12.2.0.1 varies.

Conclusion.
This article first explained the differences between buffered and direct path reads, and why this is important, and that it is even more important with Exadata for smartscans.

The next part shows how to measure the switching point. The most important message from this blog article is that starting from 11.2.0.3 up to 12.1.0.2 the direct path read switching point is small table threshold, and with Oracle database version 12.2.0.1, the direct path switching point is changed back to pre-11.2.0.3 behaviour which means 5 times the small table threshold of the instance.
The next part shows measurements of the switching point. The addition shows that between STT and MTT there is a cost based decision to go direct path or buffered path. Once the direct path is chosen, it still can go buffered if the majority of the blocks are in the cache.

If you look closely at the output of the nsmtio lines for version 11.2.0.3-12.1.0.1 for tables that had a size between small table threshold and medium table threshold, it seemed a bit weird, because the nsmtio trace said ‘[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]', which to me means that Oracle detected the object size to be between medium table threshold and very large object threshold, which was not true. I can't tell, but it might be a bug that is solved for measuring the wrong size.
The text description in the NSMTIO qertbFetch line is bogus, it simply is a code path; ‘[- STT < OBJECT_SIZE < MTT]' means it's a buffered read, and could be chosen when < STT or in between STT and MTT, '[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]' means it's a direct path read, and could be chosen when in between STT and MTT or MTT and VLOT.

I added the scripts and examples of the tracing events so you can measure this yourself in your environment.

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In the previous post on the decision between buffered and direct path reads I showed the decision is depended on the version. Up to and including version 11.2.0.2 the size of a segment needs to be five times small table threshold in order to be considered for direct path reads, and starting from 11.2.0.3 the database starts considering direct path reads starting from small table threshold. The lower limit just discussed is small table threshold or five times small table threshold with lower versions, upper limit is called “very large object threshold” (VLOT) and is five times the size of the buffercache, which is the threshold after which a table scan always is going via direct path.

There seems to be an odd situation with 11.2.0.3 and up that if a table has a size between small table threshold and five times small table threshold, it is always read via direct path, while if the table is bigger than five times small table threshold, it is depended on the amount of blocks in the cache, and switches to buffered reads if the amount of blocks in the cache is 99% or more. This seems to be the opposite of what is logical; a smaller sized table is likely a better candidate than a larger table for caching.

The last thing the previous blogpost showed was the impact of dirty blocks on the buffered/direct path decision. Up to 11.2.0.2 a read that should go via direct path is done buffered when the amount of dirty blocks reaches around 75%. Starting from version 11.2.0.3, a read that should go via direct path is done buffered when the amount of dirty blocks for a table reaches approximately 50%. This is vital information for data warehouses!

A PL/SQL procedure was included so these tests could be to measure this for yourself. If you have any doubts, follow the link above and paste the procedure to test it for yourself.

The purpose of this blogpost is to further investigate the table direct path or buffered decision in various Oracle database versions when compression is used. I used compression using “COMPRESS FOR OLTP”, in order to see if compression changes the decisions.

The first measurement is reading, doing a full scan of a compressed table:

Version 11.2.0.1 (_STT 3979; _STT*5:19895)

TS@v11201 > @test_direct_path
table: T2_OLTP size: 64512 blocks, 10000000 rows.
cached - physical reads cache/direct: (10)		6419/0
full scan - physical reads cache/direct:			  0/63911
cached - physical reads cache/direct: (20)		6487/0
full scan - physical reads cache/direct:			  0/63911
cached - physical reads cache/direct: (30)		6372/0
full scan - physical reads cache/direct:			  0/63911
cached - physical reads cache/direct: (40)		6376/0
full scan - physical reads cache/direct:			  0/63911
cached - physical reads cache/direct: (50)		6376/0
full scan - physical reads cache/direct:			  0/63911
cached - physical reads cache/direct: (60)		6376/0
full scan - physical reads cache/direct:			  0/63911
cached - physical reads cache/direct: (70)		6372/0
full scan - physical reads cache/direct:			  0/63911
cached - physical reads cache/direct: (80)		6376/0
full scan - physical reads cache/direct:			  0/63911
cached - physical reads cache/direct: (90)		6376/0
full scan - physical reads cache/direct:			  0/63911
cached - physical reads cache/direct: (100)		 6382/0
full scan - physical reads cache/direct:			  0/0

This pattern is repeated up to version 12.1.0.2: if the amount of blocks is 99% or more, the database switches from direct path to buffered reads for table scans. So for simple reading, the decision does not seem different than for non-compressed tables.

When dirty blocks are included, it is different:

Version 11.2.0.1:

TS@v11201 > @test_direct_path.sql
table: T2_OLTP size: 64512 blocks, 10000000 rows.
--update
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (10)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (20)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (30)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (40)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (50)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (60)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (70)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (80)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (90)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (100)			  0/63911

If a large number of the blocks, or all of them, in the cache are dirty, a full scan does not flip to buffered reads at 99%.

However, it is interesting to see that this changes with version 11.2.0.2:

TS@v11202 > @test_direct_path.sql
table: T2_OLTP size: 64512 blocks, 10000000 rows.
--update
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (10)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (20)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (30)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (40)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (50)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (60)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (70)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (80)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (90)			 0/63911
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (100)			  461/0

Starting from version 11.2.0.2, the threshold of 99% for a full table scan to switch from direct path to buffered seems to be true for clean blocks and dirty blocks. The same is true for versions 11.2.0.3 and 11.2.0.4.

However, starting from 12.1.0.1, a full scan on a compressed table is done via direct path even if all the blocks are in the cache and dirty, which seems identical to the version 11.2.0.1 behaviour:

TS@v12101 > @test_direct_path
table: T2_OLTP size: 65536 blocks, 10000000 rows.
--update
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (10)			 0/65174
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (20)			 0/65174
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (30)			 0/65174
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (40)			 0/65174
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (50)			 0/65174
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (60)			 0/65174
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (70)			 0/65174
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (80)			 0/65174
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (90)			 5/65174
full scan - physical reads cache/direct: (100)			  0/65174

So, the conclusion overall is there is a difference between regular heap tables and compressed heap tables. I tested OLTP compression, the [nsmtio] tracing indicates this is the same for HCC compression (hybrid columnar compression). In general, for simple reading there doesn’t seem to be a difference between normal heap tables and compressed heap tables. However, I tested on idle systems, on “real” systems with more “stress” on the buffercache management there might be more mechanisms in play.

When there are dirty blocks (blocks changed sitting in the buffercache waiting to be written by the database writer), there is different behaviour with respect to the buffered read or direct path read choice the instance makes. In general, with dirty blocks involved, compressed tables are less likely to be read into the buffercache.

It seems that with compressed tables and version 11.2.0.1 and 12.1.0.1 and up there is no switch to buffered reads even if all the blocks are in the cache, but dirty. The versions in between there, which are version 11.2.0.2, 11.2.0.3 and 11.2.0.4 do switch to buffered reads when 99% or more blocks are in the cache, regardless if they are dirty.

Also, please mind I explicitly mentioned tables. For a full scan on an index, indicated by the ‘FAST FULL INDEX SCAN’ line in an explain plan, entirely different rules are in play.

A lot of blogposts and other internet publications have been written on the full segment scan behaviour of a serial process starting from Oracle version 11gR2. This behaviour is the Oracle engine making a decision between scanning the blocks of a segment into the Oracle buffercache or scanning these blocks into the process’ private process global area (PGA). This decision is even more important on the Exadata platform, because the Oracle engine must have made the decision to read the blocks into the process’ PGA in order to be able to do a smartscan. This means that if you are on Oracle 11gR2 already, and thinking about using the Exadata platform, the wait event ‘direct path read’ gives you an indication on how much potentially could be offloaded on Exadata, if you keep all the settings the same.

This blogpost is about looking into full segment scans, and get an understanding when and why the engine changes from buffered reads to direct path reads. Luckily, Oracle provides a (non documented) event to show the decision between buffered and direct path reads. As with most of the trace facilities Oracle provides, the information which the tracing provides is symbolic and requires interpretation before it can be used.

The event is:

alter session set events 'trace[nsmtio]';

(nsmtio: non smart IO)

1. Table too small for direct path read
TS@v12102 > alter session set events 'trace[nsmtio]';

Session altered.

TS@v12102 > select count(*) from smalltable;

  COUNT(*)
----------
   1000000

TS@v12102 > alter session set events 'trace[nsmtio] off';

Session altered.

Here is the relevant part of the generated trace:

NSMTIO: kcbism: islarge 0 next 0 nblks 4 type 2, bpid 3, kcbisdbfc 0 kcbnhl 16384 kcbstt 3658 keep_nb 0 kcbnbh 182931 kcbnwp 1
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:NoDirectRead:[- STT < OBJECT_SIZE < MTT]:Obect's size: 4 (blocks), Threshold: MTT(18293 blocks),
_object_statistics: enabled, Sage: enabled,
Direct Read for serial qry: enabled(::::::), Ascending SCN table scan: FALSE
flashback_table_scan: FALSE, Row Versions Query: FALSE
SqlId: dm0hq1419y734, plan_hash_value: 4110451325, Object#: 21979, Parition#: 0 DW_scan: disabled

Some of the lines of the nsmtio trace are prefixed with ‘NSMTIO’. When the line is prefixed with NSMTIO, the function about which the line prints information is shown. We see two functions here: kcbism and qertbFetch.

The kcbism (this probably means kernel cache buffers is small) line shows some information (here are some of the things that seem logical):
islarge 0: this probably means this is not considered a large object.
nblks 4: the size of the object is 4 blocks.
type 2: oracle’s internal database type number, 2 means table, 1 means index (OBJ$.TYPE#).
kcbisdbfc 0: probably information about the database flash cache.
kcbnbh 182931: kernel cache buffer number of buffer headers; the size of the cache in blocks.
kcbstt 3658: this is the _small_table_threshold value.
keep_nb: number of blocks in the keep cache.
kcbnwp 1: kernel cache buffer number of writer processes. The number of database writer processes.

Then a line for the qertbFetch function:
NoDirectRead: This is very clear: there is no direct read executed, which means the scan is done buffered.
[- STT < OBJECT_SIZE < MTT]: I am not exactly sure what this means to express. It got a minus sign as first, then STT < OBJECT_SIZE < MTT, which I read as "the object's size is bigger than small table threshold, but smaller than medium table threshold", which is not true, because the size of 4 blocks is much smaller than STT.
Obect's size: 4 (blocks), Threshold: MTT(18293 blocks): The typo here is by Oracle. Also this describes MTT, medium table threshold, which is 5 times small table threshold. It says that the threshold is MTT. This is not true, as we will see.
Next, there are a few lines about properties which probably influence the buffered/direct path decision:
_object_statistics: enabled: This is the object's size being determined via the statistics, rather than from the segment header, which can be changed by the parameter _DIRECT_READ_DECISION_STATISTICS_DRIVEN.
Sage: enabled: Sage means Exadata (Storage Appliance for Grid Environments). Starting from version 11, the exadata code base is always enabled. Probably in version 10 this had to be added by adding code, alike linking in functionality such as RAC and SDO (spatial), by running make ins_rdbms.mk rac_on/rac_off, sdo_on/sdo_off, etc.
Direct Read for serial qry: enabled(::::::): this means that IF the segment was big enough, it would be possible to use the direct read functionality for a serial query. If it would have been impossible, in between the colons the reason would be stated.
flashback_table_scan: FALSE: This is not a flashback table scan, which (quite probably) would disable direct path reads.
Row Versions Query: FALSE: No row versioning.
SqlId: dm0hq1419y734, plan_hash_value: 4110451325, Object#: 21979, Parition#: 0 DW_scan: disabled: Most of this speaks for itself. The typo (Parition) is by Oracle again. I am not entirely sure what DW_scan means, there are a number of undocumented parameters related to dw_scan, which describe cooling and warming.

Basically, if you enable the nsmtio trace and you see the line 'NSMTIO: qertbFetch:NoDirectRead:[- STT < OBJECT_SIZE < MTT]', it means Oracle is doing a buffered read because the segment was smaller than small table threshold.

2. Table big enough for direct path full table scan
NSMTIO: kcbism: islarge 1 next 0 nblks 1467796 type 2, bpid 3, kcbisdbfc 0 kcbnhl 16384 kcbstt 3658 keep_nb 0 kcbnbh 182931 kcbnwp 1
NSMTIO: kcbimd: nblks 1467796 kcbstt 3658 kcbpnb 18293 kcbisdbfc 3 is_medium 0
NSMTIO: kcbivlo: nblks 1467796 vlot 500 pnb 182931 kcbisdbfc 0 is_large 1
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:DirectRead:[OBJECT_SIZE>VLOT]
NSMTIO: Additional Info: VLOT=914655
Object# = 21980, Object_Size = 1467796 blocks
SqlId = 5ryf9ahvv4hdq, plan_hash_value = 2414078247, Partition# = 0

First the kcbism line which is described above. Here islarge is set to 1. This means the objects is considered too large for being a small segment.
The next line is the kcbimd function, based on this list, a guess for the function name is kernel cache buffers is medium. is_medium is set to 0, this is not a medium size object.
Then kcbivlo, kernel cache buffers is very large object. is_large is set to 1, this is a large object. vlot is listed as ‘500’. This value is set by the parameter _very_large_object_threshold, and means the threshold being 500 percent of the buffercache.
The qertbFetch line says DirectRead, which indicates this object is going to be read via direct path. The reason for doing this is [OBJECT_SIZE>VLOT].
The next line shows the actual size of VLOT (very large object threshold), which is in my case 914655, which is exactly 5*kcbnbh.

When the line ‘NSMTIO: qertbFetch:DirectRead:[OBJECT_SIZE>VLOT]’ is in the nsmtio trace, the object is bigger than 5 times the size of the buffercache, and the object will be scanned via direct path without any further considerations.

3. Table considered medium size

First let’s take a look when Oracle switches from considering an object to be small to thinking it is medium sized. We already know when Oracle thinks it is big and always will do a direct path read: 5 times the buffercache, which is often referred to as ‘VLOT’.

I prepared a table to be just bigger than STT (which is set to 3658 in my instance):

TS@v12102 > select segment_name, blocks from user_segments where segment_name = 'TESTTAB';
TESTTAB 			     3712

TS@v12102 > alter session set events 'trace[nsmtio]';

Session altered.

TS@v12102 > select count(*) from testtab;
    169999

TS@v12102 > alter session set events 'trace[nsmtio] off';

Session altered.

Here is the nsmtio tracing:

NSMTIO: kcbism: islarge 1 next 0 nblks 3668 type 2, bpid 3, kcbisdbfc 0 kcbnhl 16384 kcbstt 3658 keep_nb 0 kcbnbh 182931 kcbnwp 1
NSMTIO: kcbimd: nblks 3668 kcbstt 3658 kcbpnb 18293 kcbisdbfc 3 is_medium 0
NSMTIO: kcbcmt1: scann age_diff adjts last_ts nbuf nblk has_val kcbisdbfc 0 51716 0 182931 3668 0 0
NSMTIO: kcbivlo: nblks 3668 vlot 500 pnb 182931 kcbisdbfc 0 is_large 0
NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]: Checking cost to read from caches(local/remote) and checking storage reduction factors (OLTP/EHCC Comp)
NSMTIO: kcbdpc:DirectRead: tsn: 4, objd: 21988, objn: 21988
ckpt: 1, nblks: 3668, ntcache: 66, ntdist:0
Direct Path for pdb 0 tsn 4  objd 21988 objn 21988
Direct Path 1 ckpt 1, nblks 3668 ntcache 66 ntdist 0
Direct Path mndb 66 tdiob 121 txiob 0 tciob 14545
Direct path diomrc 128 dios 2 kcbisdbfc 0
NSMTIO: Additional Info: VLOT=914655
Object# = 21988, Object_Size = 3668 blocks
SqlId = 6h8as97694jk8, plan_hash_value = 269898743, Partition# = 0

First of all, we see the segment size considered by kcbism/kcbimd/kcbivlo (nblks) being different than the total number of blocks from dba_segments. Probably only blocks which are truly in use are considered by the code, instead of all the blocks which are allocated to the segment.
On the kcbism line we see ‘islarge 1’ which probably means it is not considered small (sized up to small table threshold) but is larger.
A few lines down the kcbivlo line says it is not large here too (is_large 0), which means larger than VLOT.
This must mean it is considered larger than small, and smaller than large, thus: medium.
Interestingly, the kcbimd line says ‘is_medium 0’.

An important point is the switch to considering doing a direct path read, alias a segment is considered medium sized, is simply when STT is exceeded.

In between the kcbism/kcbimd/kcbivlo lines there is an additional line: kcbcmt1, which seems to measure additional things which could be used for costing.

What is very interesting, and a bit confusing, is the line: NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]: Checking cost to read from caches(local/remote) and checking storage reduction factors (OLTP/EHCC Comp). First of all, this line now does NOT show the decision, unlike the same line with segments smaller than STT and bigger than VLOT. Second, [MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT] indicates the segment being bigger than MTT (5*STT) and smaller than VLOT, which is not true, the segment size is nblks 3668, STT is kcbstt 3658, which means MTT is 18290.

The decision is shown in the line: NSMTIO: kcbdpc:DirectRead: tsn: 4, objd: 21988, objn: 21988. Probably kcbdpc means kernel cache buffers direct path choice. As we can see, the choice in this case is DirectRead. The next line is important: ckpt: 1, nblks: 3668, ntcache: 66, ntdist:0. The ntcache value is the number of blocks in the local buffer cache. When RAC is involved, the ntdist value can be different than 0. Instead of reflecting the number of blocks in remote caches, the ntdist reflects the number of blocks not in the local cache. I am not sure if this means that Oracle assumes when blocks are not in the local cache, they ought to be in the remote cache. It looks like it.

If the decision is a buffered read, the line shows: NSMTIO: kcbdpc:NoDirectRead:[CACHE_READ]: tsn: 4, objd: 20480, objn: 20480. ckpt: 0, nblks: 21128, ntcache: 20810, ntdist:0. Of course the values are database depended.

If a segment is bigger than MTT (STT*5), the line with the function kcbcmt1 is not visible.

The last lines that are unique to a medium segment scan are:
Direct Path mndb 66 tdiob 121 txiob 0 tciob 14545
Direct path diomrc 128 dios 2 kcbisdbfc 0
The things that are recognisable for me are diomrc (quite probably direct IO multiblock read count) which is set to the multiblock read count value. The other one is dios (quite probably direct IO slots), which shows the starting value of the direct IO slots, which is the amount of IOs the database will issue asynchronously when starting a full segment scan. Fully automatic Oracle will measure throughput and CPU usage, and determine if more IOs can be issued at the same time. This actually is a bit of parallelism.

Medium sized segments and the direct path/no-direct path decision

During my tests on 11.2.0.3 and 12.1.0.2, as soon as a segment exceeded STT, the Oracle engine switched to direct path reads, unless there was 99% or more of the blocks in the local cache. This is quite contrary to popular believe that the threshold is 50% of the blocks in cache to switch to reading blocks into the buffer cache. In all honesty, I have presented on the switch point value being 50% too.

When adding in writes to the mix it gets even more interesting. I first done an update of approximately 40% of the blocks, and did not commit. When tracing a simple count(*) on the entire table (this is on 11.2.0.3, which gives less information) it shows:

NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]: Checking cost to read from caches(local/remote) and checking storage reduction factors (OLTP/EHCC Comp)
NSMTIO: kcbdpc:DirectRead: tsn: 7, objd: 16100, objn: 16100
ckpt: 1, nblks: 52791, ntcache: 21091, ntdist:21091

So, doing direct path reads, and chkpt is set to 1 (I think indicating the need to checkpoint), which seems logical, if my session wants to do a direct path read of modified blocks.

Now this is how it looks like when I update 50% of the table:
First select count(*) from table:
First time:

NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]: Checking cost to read from caches(local/remote) and checking storage reduction factors (OLTP/EHCC Comp)
NSMTIO: kcbdpc:DirectRead: tsn: 7, objd: 16100, objn: 16100
ckpt: 0, nblks: 52791, ntcache: 26326, ntdist:26326

Second time:

NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]: Checking cost to read from caches(local/remote) and checking storage reduction factors (OLTP/EHCC Comp)
NSMTIO: kcbdpc:NoDirectRead:[CACHE_READ]: tsn: 7, objd: 16100, objn: 16100
ckpt: 0, nblks: 52791, ntcache: 52513, ntdist:278

That’s odd…I first do a direct path read, and the second time I am not doing a no-direct alias buffered read?
Actually, if you look at the number of blocks in the cache (ntcache), it magically changed between the two runs from 26326 to 52513. And 52513/52791*100=99.5%, which is above the apparent limit of 99%, so should be buffered.

Actually, a hint is visible in the first run. If we were to do a direct path read, how come ckpt: 0? I can not see how it would be possible to do a direct path scan when there are changes on blocks in the cache. The answer comes from combining the nsmtio trace with a SQL trace:

alter session set events 'trace[nsmtio]:sql_trace level 8';
alter session set events 'trace[nsmtio] off:sql_trace off';

Here is the relevant part of the trace:

NSMTIO: qertbFetch:[MTT < OBJECT_SIZE < VLOT]: Checking cost to read from caches(local/remote) and checking storage reduction factors (OLTP/EHCC Comp)
NSMTIO: kcbdpc:DirectRead: tsn: 7, objd: 16100, objn: 16100
ckpt: 0, nblks: 52791, ntcache: 26326, ntdist:26326
NSMTIO: Additional Info: VLOT=2407385
Object# = 16100, Object_Size = 52791 blocks
SqlId = 6b258jhbcbwbh, plan_hash_value = 3364514158, Partition# = 0

*** 2015-06-29 08:48:18.825
WAIT #140240535473320: nam='cell multiblock physical read' ela= 1484 cellhash#=3176594409 diskhash#=1604910222 bytes=1015808 obj#=16100 tim=1435585698825188
WAIT #140240535473320: nam='cell multiblock physical read' ela= 1421 cellhash#=3176594409 diskhash#=1604910222 bytes=1048576 obj#=16100 tim=1435585698828291

The wait events ‘cell multilbock physical read’ is a buffered read. So, despite ‘kcbdpc:DirectRead’ from the nsmtio trace, this is actually doing a buffered read. I am not really happy the trace is inconsistent. You could argue that it is an Oracle internal tracing function, so Oracle can and will not guarantee anything, but this way the tracing could tell the wrong story.

Conclusions

The nsmtio trace is a way to look into the direct path or non-direct path/buffered decision. Sadly, it can tell a wrong story.

However, there are a few things to conclude based on my research about the direct path decision:
– A segment smaller than _small_table_threshold is read for full table scan into the buffercache.
– A segment that is bigger than 500% of the buffercache is always scanned for read for full table scan via direct path.
– A segment that is sized between _small_table_threshold and 500% of the buffer cache is medium and could be full table scanned using direct path reads and using buffered reads.
– The tracing on 12.1.0.2 gives a hint there is a difference in consideration between a medium segment sized smaller than MTT (medium table threshold, which is 5 times _small_table_threshold) and bigger than it. This is because of the function kcbcmt1 showing aging/timing information on the blocks when a segment is smaller than MTT.
– For a medium sized segment, a scan for reading a full table scan is done via direct path, unless there are more than 99% of the blocks in the cache.
– For a medium sized segment, a scan for reading a full table scan is done via the buffercache if the amount of blocks that is “dirty” is 50% or more.

Final consideration: I have performed these investigations on databases that were not really heavily used. As could be seen with the kcbcmt1 function, there are additional heuristics that could make the behaviour different if there is more going on in the database. I am pretty sure this blogpost is a good outline, but behaviour could be different in specific cases. Hopefully this blogpost provides enough information and pointers to investigate this for yourself.

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