The art of data modelling is definitely lost on some [most] people, or they never found it, even though they think they did. Over dinner with good friend Morgan last night we were swapping present stories on the topic.
Disk is cheap now, so the attitude and poor excuse can be, well a few extra bytes doesn’t matter. Well no! If your a social hacker and have a website with a maximium concurrent connections of 2 maybe, but much like some recent Java Code Reviewing I just performed, just because the system isn’t 24×7, doesn’t give you excuse to be lazy about writing the code not to handle concurrency, thread safety and also as efficient as possible, in this case RAT verses CAT. (I’ll need to write about this, it seemed to go over some of the other professionals even)
I can remember a very specific example some 10 years ago in doing some performance analysis on a site. I’d identified the need for an additional index on a table. Now this table was sized for 200 million rows, and it already had about 70 million. The problem was adding another index required 4GB disk allocation. These things have an effect on sizing, growth and backups.
So the impact on appropiate sizing can clearly have an effect, if it was just one poorly sized column that’s acceptable (just), but normally it’s a pattern that litters a data model.
What’s important to realise is, it’s not just diskspace, it’s also memory. Without really touching on sizing data, I did mention some examples previously in Improving Open Source Databases – WordPress. Here the use of BIGINT(20) for primary keys proved my point. That’s 8 bytes, but unless you have going to have 4 billion categories, it’s a waste. It’s a waste when it’s a foreign key in a table, and it’s a big waste when it’s indexed, and that index is then in memory, and wasting more precious resources.
So how to do identify when the designer of the model has no idea about the intrinsic data value being stored? If you see tables with VARCHAR(255), that’s a clear sign. They have no idea regarding the data, so a default limit is used. Morgan referred to it as “Shooting guns in the dark with your eyes closed”. Books don’t help the cause, I was just skimming High Performance MySQL last night (one of the many freebies from the UC). There on page 82, is a table definition with not one column, but two with varchar(255). Hmmm!
If you see any new applications with VARHAR(255) they are even more lost, because MySQL 5, which has been around quite some time now, supports VARCHAR(65535). Speaking of that, has anybody seen VARCHAR(65535). I’d like to know.
Another example, is in Sheeri’s Top 8 SQL Best Practices Point 4 in regards to storing IP’s effeciently. If you log for example every page hit, this can be your largest table, and moving from varchar(15) to int can save you upto 11 bytes per row alone.
These may just be simple examples, but it’s the principle. When you define a column, consider it’s data, if you don’t know then take the time to do the reasearch and learn.