Book Review: “Faster: How to Optimize a System” by Cary Millsap
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There are many books on performance optimization, but this one differs in a few ways. It is more of an entertaining collection of short stories, but with many educational messages.
My travel plans for the Kscope22 conference in June this year were suboptimal: My return flight was already in the morning of the last conference day – exactly the time when Cary Millsap presented his deep dive session “Faster: How to Optimize a System”. Unfortunately, I was not able to join his presenatation about his new book. Very sad!
I met Cary during the conference in a lunch break and told him about my poor travel planning and that I cannot join his session. Cary offered me a very kind suggestion: he had some copies of his new book in the car. If I wanted, he would be glad to give me a copy of the “Faster” book. Of course, I agreed! I planned to buy this book anyway, but didn’t order it yet. And on the flight from Dallas via Toronto zu Zurich, I would have plenty of time to read.
I was able to read about a third of the book on my flight back from Kscope22. During my summer vacation this week, I enjoyed the remaining chapters. Here a short summary of my personal impressions of the book.
From the title of the book “Faster: How to Optimizer a System“, you would expect a technical book about performance optimization, and if you know the author, you think it will be Oracle-related. But unlike most publications about these topics, it is not a book with many database features, code examples and technical details about the Oracle database. No, it is more a kind of story book.
Cary Millsap is a great story teller, not only in presentations, but also in writing. The book “Faster” is a collection of many short stories about all kind of subjects. Cary writes about tomatoes and chocolate bars, conference expenses, leather jackets and much more. But what has this all to do with optimizing database systems? What is FASTER in all the fictious and real stories in the book?
Some of Cary’s stories are anecdotes he has experienced in his career as an Oracle consultant. But he doesn’t talk about the technical details of the performance tuning jobs, but more about the approaches, concepts and processes he and his colleagues used to find and solve the performance issues. The anecdotes are not only entertaining, but also very instructive and largely independent of the technology used. It is interesting to note how often the communication between consultant and customer is an important factor in whether and in what time a concrete problem can be solved.
The book contains not only stories from professional life, however, but also everyday little experiences that Cary uses to illustrate concepts of performance tuning. Did you know that watching a movie (or in my case, reading a book) during a flight is an example of latency hiding? The similarities between a receipt of a grocary store and a profile of a client-server application are also interesting. I don’t want to give too much away, but with metaphors like these, Cary repeatedly succeeds in explaining complex issues to us using simple examples.
The book is a successful mixture of conceptual knowledge about performance optimization of IT systems, interesting practical examples, theoretical background information that is relevant to our job and entertaining stories that make you smile.
I enjoyed the book from the first to the last page and can recommend it to anyone who is interested in performance optimization of IT systems. Hopefully I will also have the opportunity to listen to Cary Millsap’s presentation on his book at one of the future conferences.