Scaling Web Databases: Auto-Sharding with MySQL Cluster

The realities of today’s successful web services are creating new demands that many legacy databases were just not designed to handle:

- The need to scale writes, as well as reads, both within and across geographically dispersed data centers;

- The need to scale operational agility to keep pace with database load and application requirements. This means being able to add capacity and performance to the database, and to evolve the schema – all without downtime;

- The need to scale queries by having flexibility in the APIs used to access the database;

- The need to scale the database while maintaining continuous availability for both failures as well as scheduled maintenance events.

Each of the requirements above warrant their own dedicated blog, which I’ll find time to write over the next few weeks.

But to get started, I wanted to discuss how the MySQL Cluster database addresses the first point – scaling writes to the database with automatic sharding and geographic replication.


MySQL Cluster is implemented as a distributed, multi-master database with no single point of failure. Tables are automatically sharded across a pool of low cost commodity nodes, enabling the database to scale horizontally to serve read and write-intensive workloads, accessed both from SQL and directly via NoSQL APIs (memcached, REST/HTTP, C++, Java, JPA and LDAP). Up to 255 nodes are supported, of which 48 are data nodes. You can read more about the different types of nodes here.

By automatically sharding tables in the database, MySQL Cluster eliminates the need to shard at the application layer, greatly simplifying application development and maintenance.

Sharding is based on the hashing of the primary key, though users can override this by telling MySQL Cluster which fields from the primary key should be used in the hashing algorithm. Hashing on the primary key generally leads to a more even distribution of data and queries across the cluster than alternative approached such as range partitioning.

Figure 1 demonstrates how MySQL Cluster shards tables across data nodes of the cluster.

Figure 1: Auto-Sharding in MySQL Cluster

You will see from the figure above that MySQL Cluster automatically creates “node groups” from the number of replicas and data nodes specified by the user. Updates are synchronously replicated between members of the node group to protect against data loss and enable sub-second failover in the event of a node failure.

Figure 2 shows how MySQL Cluster creates primary and secondary fragments of each shard.

Figure 2: Eliminating Data Loss with Cross-Shard Fragments

MySQL Cluster is an active/active architecture with multi-master replication, so updates made by any application or SQL node accessing the cluster are instantly available to all of the other nodes accessing the cluster.

Unlike other distributed databases, users do not lose the ability to perform JOIN operations or sacrifice ACID-guarantees. In the Development Release of MySQL Cluster (7.2), Adaptive Query Localization pushes JOIN operations down to the data nodes where they are executed locally and in parallel. We've seen 20-40x higher throughput from the community members that have tested it.

Geographic Replication

Of course, web services are global and so developers will want to ensure their databases can scale-out across regions. MySQL Cluster offers Geographic Replication which distributes clusters to remote data centers, serving to reduce the affects of geographic latency as well as provide a facility for disaster recovery.

Figure 3: Geographic Replication with MySQL Cluster

Geographic Replication is asynchronous and based on standard MySQL replication – with one important difference – it is active/active so supports the detection and resolution of conflicts when the same row is updated across different clusters. This does currently require the addition of a timestamp column in the application, but that is expected to be eliminated in future releases.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Auto-sharding and geographic replication are all great technologies, but what do they mean in terms of delivered performance ?

The MySQL Cluster development team recently ran a series of benchmarks that characterized performance across 8 x dual socket 2.93GHz, 6 core commodity Intel servers, each equipped with 24GB of RAM. As seen in the figure below, MySQL Cluster delivered just under 2.5 million updates per second with 2 x data nodes configured per server.

Figure 4: MySQL Cluster performance scaling-out on commodity nodes.

Across 16 Intel servers, MySQL Cluster achieved just under 7 million read operations per second. We ran out of time in the test cluster before being able to complete the test of write performance, but will return to those efforts soon.


So what does all of this mean ? There is an ever-growing array of options for developers to choose from when scaling out new generations of web applications. Don’t assume that relational databases can’t scale, or offer the kind of operational agility demanded by today’s highly dynamic services. MySQL Cluster is already proven as one such option….and you don’t have to throw away ACID guarantees or the ability to run complex queries to get scalability or schema agility.

You can learn about how MySQL Cluster implements auto-sharding, along with other key features for web services such as online schema updates and NoSQL interfaces from a new on-demand webinar.

And of course MySQL Cluster is open source, so you are free to download, develop and deploy with it. The latest GA release is here.

The MySQL Cluster 7.2 Development Milestone Release including Adaptive Query Localization is here (select the Development Release tab):

Finally, if you wanted to try out MySQL Cluster with the memcached API, you can get it from the latest build on the MySQL labs site.

As ever, let us know how these technologies work for you, either in the comments below or via the MySQL Cluster forum.


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