Parallel Madness

usain-bolt-1I’ve noticed at a few clients with data warehouses recently that the Developers and, upon occasion, Business Users have a real fondness for hinting the SQL they are producing with one particular hint. PARALLEL.

As any fule kno, this IS the magic go-faster hint. PARALLEL(2) is obviously twice as fast as serial execution. PARALLEL(4) is amazing and PARALLEL(64) like Usain Bolt on Red Bull.

The problem is that, like all database features, parallel query comes with a cost.

When you specify /*+ PARALLEL(n) */ you are telling the optimizer that it has a lot more resources to use to complete this particular query. Not a single thread but many. PARALLEL(10) will use 21 processes to complete its execution – 20 Parallel Execution Server (10 producers, 10 consumers) and a coordinator (which is your connections shadow process) which will deal with any aspects of the parallel plan which cannot be parallelised.

Allowed free reign to use PARALLEL, devs and users will quickly consume all of the resources available on a given server, causing contentions which will inevitably slow down the overall execution of every piece of code executing on there. To illustrate this, I’d like to use an example I came across a while ago to show how excess PARALLEL of a single statement can be problematic itself.

Lets say I have a single server with 16 cores, lots of memory and a decent SSD array so the problem will centre around the CPU. Inevitably your 16 cores will be hyperthreaded. This then looks to Oracle like you have 32 cores. Whilst Oracle knows you have 16 hyperthreaded cores, you get CPU_COUNT=32

NOTE: 16 cores hyperthreaded DO NOT have the power of 32 cores, especially when dealing with databases. Some database workloads are actually WORSE with hyperthreading enabled (e.g. Data Warehouse systems on SQL Server). Inevitably the server admins will have enabled it unless you can provide cast-iron evidence to have it disabled.

I have a statement which the users are complaining about. It starts with the  following code: SELECT /*+ PARALLEL */ (complex multi-table join)

So what does this unrestricted (and therefore DEFAULT!) degree of parallelism (DOP) do in this case?
The default DOP is defined as PARALLEL_THREADS_PER_CPU x CPU_COUNT=2 x 32 = PARALLEL(64)

Lets have a look at the ACTIVITY of this PARALLEL(64) query:


You can see from the screenshot that Oracle knows there are 16 cores but it has gone PARALLEL(64), using 128 parallel exection slaves and fully expecting to have the available resources to run PARALLEL(64) efficiently. The execution plan is calculated around this assumption. There are 64 parallel execution slaves attempting to work on this at the same time. It’s worth looking at the metrics associated with this query.

Peaks of 2GB/s disk, 140GB of TEMP and 32 CPU’s.


The query took 36.9 minutes to complete.

I had the query changed to inject a modicum of realism into the available resources at the time of the run, and restricted the DOP to PARALLEL(8).


Oracle is restricted to the limited amount of resource, which is availble. The execution plan is different, to reflect the lower amount of available resources. Looking at the metrics:

Peaks of 1GB/s, 3GB of TEMP and 12 CPU’s.


The query took 10.3 minutes to complete. 3 times quicker!

It is worth noting that testing the query in isolation with PARALLEL(16) took 7 minutes to complete, but that DOP would have resource-starved the server as a whole causing everything else currently executing to slow down, and was discounted as an option.

With PARALLEL, less can be better.
Using PARALLEL for everything can be counter-productive.
Co-ordinating PARALLEL across multiple RAC nodes can be disasterous without careful design to take advantage of this feature (using PARALLEL_LOCAL_FORCE=TRUE will restrict parallel processing to a single node). Oracle recommend you don’t do this. Other opinions are available and I generally recommend setting this to TRUE.

We have a limited amount of resources on our servers. Working within those resource limitations will provide substantial benefits.

Before using Parallel processing, I’d recommend thoroughly reading the VLDB and Partitioning Guide appropriate to your database release!

If you use PARALLEL:

  • Use Resource Manager to restrict DOP appropriately for different groups of users.
  • Consider setting PARALLEL_LOCAL_FORCE=TRUE
  • Consider setting PARALLEL_THREAD_PER_CPU=1, especially where you have hyperthreading enabled.
  • Consider your overall workload, not just the SQL you are working with right now.


Oracle SQL Monitor not monitoring my SQL

I needed to monitor a SQL statement in (the limits mentioned below are the same in 12.1, 12.2, 18.4 and 19C) to determine what is was doing and why it was slow.sql_monitor

Usually I would use SQL Monitor [NOTE: You need to license the Oracle Tuning Pack to use SQL Monitor] for this but the SQL was not appearing in there, despite running for over 5 seconds, and being a parallel SQL (both of which qualify to be included in SQL Monitor). So I asked Twitter why, and thought I’d share the output here.

It was nailed immediately by Jonathan Lewis, with added help from Ivica Arsov. (thank you!)

There is a hidden parameter “_sqlmon_max_planlines” which states that any SQL with a plan in excess of 300 lines should not be monitored (see below for SQLMon hidden parameters – and change them at your own risk, preferably with the backing of an SR from Oracle Support). This execution plan had well over 300 lines. The solution is to change either the session or the system to allow monitoring to happen when the plan is over 300 lines.


alter system  set "_sqlmon_max_planlines"=500 scope=memory sid='*';
alter session set "_sqlmon_max_planlines"=500;

The negative side effect it that the monitoring will use more resources (primarily memory and CPU), which is why there are default limits on this feature. You might want to change it back when you’re finished to conserve resources.

Note that if you change the system parameter whilst the SQL is running, it will start to monitor the SQL at that point, so you will only get a partial picture of what is taking place, which is less valuable.

select ksppinm, ksppstvl, ksppdesc
  from sys.x$ksppi a, sys.x$ksppsv b
 where a.indx=b.indx
  and lower(ksppinm) like lower('%sqlmon%')
order by ksppinm;

------------------------- --------- --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
_sqlmon_binds_xml_format  default   format of column binds_xml in [G]V$SQL_MONITOR
_sqlmon_max_plan          640       Maximum number of plans entry that can be monitored. Defaults to 20 per CPU
_sqlmon_max_planlines     300       Number of plan lines beyond which a plan cannot be monitored
_sqlmon_recycle_time      60        Minimum time (in s) to wait before a plan entry can be recycled
_sqlmon_threshold         5         CPU/IO time threshold before a statement is monitored. 0 is disabled

You may also notice a few other parameters in there. The “_sqlmon_recycle_time” hows the amount of time that the SQLMon plan will be guaranteed to be retained. Any retention time after that will be a bonus and depend upon the amount of SQL needing to be monitored. I see monitoring plans disappearing after 2-3 minutes in some systems, so you need to be quick, and you should save the plans down to disk.


The mad thing is that I was aware of this restriction before I posted by request for help on Twitter but I’d completely forgotten about it. So here’s the blog post to help me remember!

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