Saturday, August 11, 2012

Isolation level in WebSphere

This is probably the first post I'll write following a customer facing situation. Although there may be good reasons to don't write about some customer facing situation, I feel this may bring some value to the blog, and we never know when someone having the same problem finds the blog on Google... So this may be the first of several small and direct posts.

Some time ago I had to go into a customer site who was having "major performance issues". After some examination and some talks with the development team I was able to identify several sessions running in Repeatable Read isolation level. The application has several components and one of them is an instance of WebSphere Application Server (WAS) v6.1.

Further investigation allowed us to understand that the application was not using EJBs, nor Session Beans (these allow the isolation level to be specified in the deployment descriptor XML file). As such the database connections were using the WAS default isolation level which is repeatable read.
For those less familiar with repeatable read it's equivalent to ANSI Serializable mode. Basically any record read in order to find the result set is locked and remains locked in shared mode for the duration of the transaction. So an instance which was configured for 20000 locks could reach about one million of them (thanks to the lock table automatic expansion). Obviously this caused a lot of contention between sessions and a lot more internal work for the engine. This was causing their "performance" problems.

The solution was simply to redefine the WAS isolation level for the datasource used by the application. This can be done by using a custom property called webSphereDefaultIsolationLevel which as the name implies can be used to change the database connection default isolation level. Complete information about that can be found in the following documentation:

In there you can find the property description with the explanation of the values it accepts as well as other ways to change the default isolation level.
After changing this the application behaved properly an most of the performance issues went away. The were some other issues like lack of indexes, and some minor configuration changes on the database side, but those were clearly not the cause of the problems.

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