Research Paper: “Hekaton: SQL Server’s Memory-Optimized OLTP Engine”

(I’ve noticed that when I’m sad I tend to throw myself at whatever activity catches my fancy at the moment. I do this to distract myself, and in general this seems to work pretty well. To deal with my sadness this time around I will be reading research papers. And blogging. Here’s the first paper I read.)

(Hekaton was one of the systems mentioned in the “Red Book” that piqued my interest)

Hekaton: SQL Server’s Memory-Optimized OLTP Engine gives the reader an overview of Hekaton, a database engine that is a part of Microsoft SQL Server. It has been designed to work with data that fits entirely in main memory. The main motivation driving the design and implementation of Hekaton is the dropping cost of memory and the every growing popularity of multi-core CPUs. In order to achieve the best performance and to take full advantage of the multiple cores the Hekaton embraces a lock/latch-free design: all the index structures (a hash table and B-Tree) are lock/latch-free (details on the design are in [1] and [2]) and transactions use MVCC.

While the details of the implementation of the index data structures are in another paper, this paper does go into details of the MVCC design used and the garbage collection mechanism used to delete old records. Sections 6, 7, and 8 go into details of transactions, logging, and garbage collection. These sections are incredibly well written and do a great job of explaining these complex and core components of the system. The logging and checkpointing system is quite unique and I thought the non-usage (I’m sure there is a better term) of WAL is interesting. Section 8, which goes into details of the garbage collection mechanism used in Hekaton is definitely my favorite section in the paper. I think the GC algorithm is, simply put, beautiful.

Another unique aspect of the system: T-SQL queries and procedures are compiled down into native code to achieve high performance. Section 5 goes into the details of how this is done. What is interesting about this conversion process is that the generated code is one big function with labels and goto statements.

This was a great paper to begin 2016 with.


[1] Maged M. Michael. 2002. High performance dynamic lock- free hash tables and list-based sets. In Proceedings of the fourteenth annual ACM symposium on Parallel algorithms and architectures (SPAA ’02): 73-82.

[2] Levandoski, J.J.; Lomet, D.B.; Sengupta, S., “The Bw-Tree: A B-tree for new hardware platforms,” in Data Engineering (ICDE), 2013 IEEE 29th International Conference on , vol., no., pp.302-313, 8-12 April 2013

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