Large Arrays in Rails

Benchmarking PostgreSQL's Storage of Arrays

One of our current projects came with a challenging requirement: it needed to store and process thousands of (non-sequential) years worth of information stored at the hourly level.

This kind of hourly data is often referred to as 8760 data, referring to the number of hours in a year.

Hopefully at some point in the future we will talk about some of the ways we tackled the processing of so much data, but for now I want to share a few of the steps we used to solve the storage problem.

We primarily use PostgreSQL as our database and want to explore the different ways we could use it to store large arrays. Our primary concern is efficiency due to the sheer byte-size of the data being stored. The 8760 data tips the scale around 12 kB per row. That is 10-50x the size of any other row in our application database!

Requirements

Goals

The application is read-intensive, so we are going to focus on finding the fastest database read times so the application feels snappy during the most common use cases.

But, because we still care about the capturing data in a timely manner, we also want to make sure that the write times are acceptable.

An Array of Wind Turbines

Using PostgreSQL's Arrays

We started by using PostgreSQL arrays for specific data types, which Rails supports out-of-the-box. First we wrote a migration that allowed us to try writing to the different data types:

class CreateHourlyValues < ActiveRecord::Migration[6.0]
  def change
    create_table :hourly_values do |t|
      t.boolean :boolean, array: true, default: []
      t.float :float, array: true, default: []
      t.integer :integer, array: true, default: []
      t.string :string, array: true, default: []
      t.timestamps
    end
  end
end

Database Array Write Benchmarks

Then we wrote a benchmark for writing data to the database. I've tried to normalize the amount of data being written by using the same length of information (754619980) across all data types.

require "benchmark"

results = []
data_types = [
  {name: "Boolean", value: true, column: :boolean},
  {name: "String", value: "754619980", column: :string},
  {name: "Float", value: 0.75461998, column: :float},
  {name: "Integer", value: 754619980, column: :integer},
]

data_types.each do |data_type|
  results << data_type[:name]
  params = {}
  params[data_type[:column]] = Array.new(8760, data_type[:value])
  results << Benchmark.measure {
    25.times do
      HourlyValue.create(params)
    end
  }
end

results.each do |r|
  puts r
end

Run it!

bundle exec rails runner spec/support/postgres_array_performance.rb

Gives us about the same performance across all data types.

Boolean
  1.320000   0.160000   1.480000 (  1.883358)
String
  1.380000   0.100000   1.480000 (  2.041565)
Float
  1.630000   0.240000   1.870000 (  2.403963)
Integer
  1.770000   0.150000   1.920000 (  2.327076)

Database Array Read Benchmarks

Re-writing the benchmark above:

data_types.each do |data_type|
  results << data_type[:name]
  params = {}
  params[data_type[:column]] = Array.new(8760, data_type[:value])
  hv = HourlyValue.create(params)
  results << Benchmark.measure {
    100.times do
      r = HourlyValue.find(hv.id)
    end
  }
end

Gives us some interesting results. Namely: that the float data type is noticeably slower than it's peers.

Boolean
  1.340000   0.120000   1.460000 (  1.642357)
String
  1.640000   0.130000   1.770000 (  2.082916)
Float
  2.220000   0.070000   2.290000 (  3.094243)
Integer
  1.380000   0.190000   1.570000 (  1.839548)
Distribution Pipes

What about JSON?

On a whim, let's try things with PostgreSQL's JSON objects. So here's our migration:

class AddJsonToHourlyValues < ActiveRecord::Migration[6.0]
  def change
    add_column :hourly_values, :json, :json
    add_column :hourly_values, :jsonb, :jsonb
  end
end

Database JSON Write Benchmarks

json_types = [
  {name: "JSONB", column: :jsonb},
  {name: "JSON", column: :json},
]
json_types.each do |json_type|
  data_types.each do |data_type|
    results << "#{json_type[:name]}/#{data_type[:name]}"
    params = {}
    params[json_type[:column]] = Array.new(8760, data_type[:value])
    results << Benchmark.measure {
      25.times do
        HourlyValue.create(params)
      end
    }
  end
end

The two are relatively comparable:

json/Boolean
  1.140000   0.190000   1.330000 (  1.653640)
json/String
  2.540000   0.190000   2.730000 (  3.164868)
json/Float
  1.800000   0.090000   1.890000 (  2.298632)
json/Integer
  0.920000   0.230000   1.150000 (  1.632565)
jsonb/Boolean
  0.880000   0.110000   0.990000 (  1.231931)
jsonb/String
  2.770000   0.220000   2.990000 (  3.602848)
jsonb/Float
  1.710000   0.110000   1.820000 (  2.387314)
jsonb/Integer
  0.930000   0.150000   1.080000 (  1.567992)

Database JSON Read Benchmarks

json_types.each do |json_type|
  data_types.each do |data_type|
    results << "#{json_type[:name]}/#{data_type[:name]}"
    params = {}
    params[json_type[:column]] = Array.new(8760, data_type[:value])
    hv = HourlyValue.create(params)
    results << Benchmark.measure {
      100.times do
        r = HourlyValue.find(hv.id)
      end
    }
  end
end

The results hint at JSON being slightly faster than JSONB. This might be due to the fact that JSONB supports more features and thus requires more lifting to serialize / deserialize data.

JSONB/Boolean
  1.110000   0.250000   1.360000 (  1.832779)
JSONB/String
  2.890000   0.140000   3.030000 (  3.596975)
JSONB/Float
  1.720000   0.110000   1.830000 (  2.379918)
JSONB/Integer
  0.990000   0.110000   1.100000 (  1.822468)
JSON/Boolean
  0.950000   0.050000   1.000000 (  1.197806)
JSON/String
  2.920000   0.170000   3.090000 (  3.575563)
JSON/Float
  1.770000   0.230000   2.000000 (  2.495976)
JSON/Integer
  0.930000   0.100000   1.030000 (  1.504159)

Conclusion

Storing the data as JSON gives us slightly faster read times than storing the data as a data-type-specific array. It also gives us the huge bonus of not having to worry about what kind of data we are storing. The data comes out just like it went in!

Data Type Array JSON
Boolean 1.642357 1.197806
String 2.082916 3.575563
Float 3.094243 2.495976
Integer 1.839548 1.504159
Comparison of read times.

We implemented this data store almost a year ago, and since then the application has been used to collect and store over seventeen thousand records. That is an hour-by-hour recap of history since the settlement of the Americas!