Why performance matters in time-series data

Nicolas Hourcard

Nicolas Hourcard

QuestDB Team

Thoughts on why speed and performance are crucial to time-series databases ingestion and analysis, originally posted in The New Stack.

Good data from the past helps us make better decisions in the present.

Most of the data that exist today were created within the past ten years, and human data output is only going to grow aggressively from there. The International Data Corporation predicts that the total collected sum of human data will reach 175 zettabytes by 2025. One zettabyte is a billion terabytes of course, or a trillion gigabytes, depending on which mind-bending measurement you prefer.

While we have no issue storing and collecting this data, the real trick lies in how we process it. Forrester data says as much as 73% of the data within an enterprise goes unused for analytics, a huge missed opportunity to capture and process data effectively. That’s why a number of teams are working on competitive products to make data more useful.

QuestDB is concerned with capturing time-series data in particular, which lets us represent and understand change over time. Time-series data might pertain to changes to the weather, changes in a machine’s performance, or even changes in your own weight. But quite unlike weighing yourself once a day and storing those standalone states in a database, time-series data calls for capturing every single tiny fluctuation in your weight, up or down, whenever you sweat, get sick, eat a meal, or use the bathroom.

Processing this category of data calls for a high-performance system that can quickly manipulate lots of individual data points to turn that data into a decision-making aid. Performance is uniquely important to time-series data for the following reasons.

Time series data is explosive

It’s at the heart of connected devices, the Internet of Things, autonomous cars, financial services, and even server farm monitoring. Rather than capture a single data point, time-series data calls for capturing tens of thousands of data points. But it doesn’t even stop there — not only does time-series data keep growing and never stopping, but it can grow in bursts, generating lots of readings in a short amount of time.

A weather station capturing time-series data about wind speed might record zero for a long time. But as soon as it gets windy, you’ll get thousands of measurements per second because the measurement is changing a lot. It takes a high-performing system to capture and record it effectively.

Time-series data is everywhere a modern technologist looks, and the tools for managing it effectively are a little specialized. Otherwise, the exploding need for processing power and the simultaneously reduced availability of it becomes a supply and demand problem.

The end of Moore’s law is in sight

Improvements in processor power are going to slow down while data continues to propagate exponentially. We’re facing a big problem in our quest to process and analyze all of this data, and throwing more server racks of improved CPUs at the problem will no longer cut it. The lack of performance improvements on the hardware side coupled with exploding costs for companies doesn’t help anything either. Hardware is tapped out.

That’s why it’s time to focus on the other side of this equation: the software. The solution is to write leaner code that’s more hardware-efficient and extracts performance gains from having the software tuned so effectively. This kind of software is less reliant on the hardware side for its capabilities, opens up new possibilities for harnessing data, and operates in real time without any lag.

Moore’s law is approaching its physical limit because it’s only possible to fit so many transistors into an integrated circuit — most of the performance to data has come from hardware, indirectly giving developers permission to write lazy, bloated code. But there is much less room for optimizing hardware these days. Chip manufacturers are approaching a time when they’d need a new physics to improve on today’s modern processors. That means it’s time to focus on improving the software.

It reduces your cloud bills

However much data you store and process today, you’re only going to have more data tomorrow. If you want to process increased volumes of information in the same amount of time, then you need more computing resources, going from one to two or more servers as your needs increase. But not only will you pay more to your cloud service for this, you’ll also pay your database provider for additional software licenses.

The question becomes: how much value do you actually get out of each machine? If one can handle a billion data points, then you know you’ll need a new machine for each additional billion. But if you can get 100 billion data points for each new machine by using higher-performance software, then you have a really reduced cost for each machine. You furthermore end up needing fewer of them.

Performance in time-series data is about helping you reach the best decision as effectively as possible. That’s why QuestDB is glad to be building high-performance time-series data solutions that are significantly faster than the competition.