*durability debt*to be the amount of work that can be done to persist changes that have been applied to a database. Dirty pages must be written back for a b-tree. Compaction must be done for an LSM. Durability debt has IO and CPU components. The common IO overhead is from writing something back to the database. The common CPU overhead is from computing a checksum and optionally from compressing data.

From an incremental perspective (pending work per modified row) an LSM usually has less IO and more CPU durability debt than a B-Tree. From an absolute perspective the maximum durability debt can be much larger for an LSM than a B-Tree which is one reason why tuning can be more challenging for an LSM than a B-Tree.

In this post by LSM I mean LSM with leveled compaction.

**B-Tree**

The maximum durability debt for a B-Tree is limited by the size of the buffer pool. If the buffer pool has N pages then there will be at most N dirty pages to write back. If the buffer pool is 100G then there will be at most 100G to write back. The IO is more random or less random depending on whether the B-Tree is update-in-place, copy-on-write random or copy-on-write sequential. I prefer to describe this as small writes (page at a time) or large writes (many pages grouped into a larger block) rather than random or sequential. InnoDB uses small writes and WiredTiger uses larger writes. The distinction between small writes and large writes is more important with disks than with SSD.

There is a small CPU overhead from computing the per-page checksum prior to write back. There can be a larger CPU overhead from compressing the page. Compression isn't popular with InnoDB but is popular with WiredTiger.

There can be an additional IO overhead when torn-write protection is enabled as provided by the InnoDB double write buffer.

**LSM**

The durability debt for an LSM is the work required to compact all data into the max level (Lmax). A byte in the write buffer causes more debt than a byte in the L1 because more work is needed to move the byte from the write buffer to Lmax than from L1 to Lmax.

The maximum durability debt for an LSM is limited by the size of the storage device. Users can configure RocksDB such that the level 0 (L0) is huge. Assume that the database needs 1T of storage were it compacted into one sorted run and the write-amplification to move data from the L0 to the max level (Lmax) is 30. Then the maximum durability debt is 30 * sizeof(L0). The L0 is usually configured to be <= 1G in which case the durability debt from the L0 is <= 30G. But were the L0 configured to be <= 1T then the debt from it could grow to 30T.

I use the notion of per-level write-amp to explain durability debt in an LSM. Per-level write-amp is defined in the next section. Per-level write-amp is a proxy for all of the work done by compaction, not just the data to be written. When the per-level write-amp is X then for compaction from Ln to Ln+1 for every key-value pair from Ln there are ~X key-value pairs from Ln+1 for which work is done including:

- Read from Ln+1. If Ln is a small level then the data is likely to be in the LSM block cache or OS page cache. Otherwise it is read from storage. Some reads will be cached, all writes go to storage. So the write rate to storage is > the read rate from storage.
- The key-value pairs are decompressed if the level is compressed for each block not in the LSM block cache.
- The key-value pairs from Ln+1 are merged with Ln. Note that this is a merge, not a merge sort because the inputs are ordered. The number of comparisons might be less than you expect because one iterator is ~X times larger than the other and there are optimizations for that.

The output from the merge is then compressed and written back to Ln+1. Some of the work above (reads, decompression) are also done for Ln but most of the work comes from Ln+1 because it is many times larger than Ln. I stated above that an LSM usually has more IO and less CPU durability debt per modified row. The extra CPU overheads come from decompression and the merge. I am not sure whether to count the compression overhead as extra.

Assuming the per-level growth factor is 10 and f is 0.7 (see below) then the per-level write-amp is 7 for L1 and larger levels. If sizeof(L1) == sizeof(L0) then the per-level write-amp is 2 for the L0. And the per-level write-amp is always 1 for the write buffer.

From this we can estimate the pending write-amp for data at any level in the LSM tree.

Assuming the per-level growth factor is 10 and f is 0.7 (see below) then the per-level write-amp is 7 for L1 and larger levels. If sizeof(L1) == sizeof(L0) then the per-level write-amp is 2 for the L0. And the per-level write-amp is always 1 for the write buffer.

From this we can estimate the pending write-amp for data at any level in the LSM tree.

- Key-value pairs in the write buffer have the most pending write-amp. Key-value pairs in the max level (L5 in this case) have none. Key-value pairs in the write buffer are further from the max level.
- Starting with the L2 there is more durability debt from a full Ln+1 than a full Ln -- while there is more pending write-amp for Ln, there is more data in Ln+1.
- Were I given the choice of L1, L2, L3 and L4 when first placing a write in the LSM tree then I would choose L4 as that has the least pending write-amp.
- Were I to choose to make one level 10% larger then I prefer to do that for a smaller level given the values in the
*rel size X pend*column.

legend:

w-amp per-lvl : per-level write-amp

w-amp pend : write-amp to move byte to Lmax from this level

rel size : size of level relative to write buffer

rel size X pend : write-amp to move all data from that level to Lmax

w-amp w-amp rel rel size

level per-lvl pend size X pend

----- ------- ----- ----- --------

wbuf 1 31 1 31

L0 2 30 4 120

L1 7 28 4 112

L2 7 21 40 840

L3 7 14 400 5600

L4 7 7 4000 28000

L5 0 0 40000 0

**Per-level write-amp in an LSM**

The per-level write-amplification is the work required to move data between adjacent levels. The per-level write-amp for the write buffer is 1 because a write buffer flush creates a new SST in L0 without reading/re-writing an SST already in L0.

I assume that any key in Ln is already in Ln+1 so that merging Ln into Ln+1 does not make Ln+1 larger. This isn't true in real life, but this is a model.

The per-level write-amp for Ln is approximately sizeof(Ln+1) / sizeof(Ln). For n=0 this is 2 with a typical RocksDB configuration. For n>0 this is the per-level growth factor and the default is 10 in RocksDB. Assume that the per-level growth factor is equal to X, in reality the per-level write-amp is f*X rather than X where f ~= 0.7. See this excellent paper or examine the compaction IO stats from a production RocksDB instance. Too many excellent conference papers assume it is X rather than f*X in practice.

The per-level write-amp for Lmax is 0 because compaction stops at Lmax.