How to Segment QVD Files

Summary: In this post I discuss when you may want to segment or “shard” QVD files and demonstrate some script patterns for producing and consuming segmented QVDs.

I recently received a question from a colleague who knew that I had done a lot of work with Qlik QVD files. He asked, “what’s the optimal size for a QVD file?”

My response was that in my experience there is no optimal physical size, but in many cases there are reasons to break a large QVD into multiple, smaller files. Dividing a large file into smaller files is called “segmenting” or “sharding”.

People generally start to think about segmenting QVDs when they encounter resource constraints while updating a QVD with an incremental load. In an incremental load, only new or changed rows are extracted from the database and merged with an existing QVD. This involves reading and writing the entire large QVD which can use significant time and I/O resources. This also means that the process takes increasingly longer as time marches on. Not pleasant.

Other reasons you may want to segment are consumption and archival patterns. It’s common to use the “latest n periods” of data in your active dashboard, for example the current 12 months. If the data is in a single large QVD, you have to roll off (delete) data older than 12 months. You can filter as you load, but that becomes an increasingly wasteful activity over time.

It’s likely that you will want to retain the older data in for use in special projects or historical dashboards.

Given the example scenario above, it would make sense to create one QVD for each month. This will provide predictable performance for incremental updates as well as the dashboard load. Older data could be kept forever and any set of months could be accessed efficiently.

How do we do perform this magic segmentation? Let’s assume an example QVD with these fields:

TransactionID: Primary key
TransactionDate: Original date of transaction
LastUpdate: Timestamp of last update to this row. Transactions may receive updates up to 60 days after creation.
other…: other fields such as Amount, Customer, etc

We want to create one QVD per month using the name “Transactions-YYYY-MM.qvd”. What determines which QVD a transaction is placed in? Is it the MonthStart(TransactionDate)? It depends…

The simplest technique is for the extract script to place everything loaded today into the current month QVD, regardless of the TransactionDate. The QVD name is assigned to a variable in the script using:

Let vQvdName = 'Transactions-' & Date(Today(1),'YYYY-MM') & '.qvd';

When later loading 12 QVDs into the dashboard, load front (most current QVD) to back with the clause:

Where not Exists(TransactionID)

The Where clause will ensure that only the most current row for that TransactionID will be loaded.

This simple technique might be ok for most scenarios. But it’s not very robust because it falls down when you want to do something like a full reload to add columns, or data is loaded off schedule. It also would require that if want to load something like 6 months from the middle, we have to be careful to include enough later QVDs to cover possible updates.

A more robust approach would be to store each transaction row in the QVD corresponding with it’s TransactionDate. Here is one script pattern to do just that. Our starting point for this script is that we have already extracted the new and changed rows to create table “Transactions”.

Step #1 is to collect the month values into a temp table:

TempMonths:
LOAD Distinct
MonthStart(TransactionDate) as TranMonth
Resident Transactions; 

Next we process each TranMonth value in a loop block. The block will build a temp table of rows for just one month and merge with any existing QVD.

For i = 1 to FieldValueCount('TranMonth')
Let vMonthName = Date(FieldValue('TranMonth', $(i)), 'YYYY-MM');
Set vQvdName = Transactions-$(vMonthName).qvd;


MonthTransactions:
NoConcatenate LOAD * Resident Transactions
Where MonthStart(TransactionDate) = FieldValue('TranMonth', $(i));


If FileSize('$(vQvdName)') > 0 THEN // If we have existing QVD
LOAD * From [$(vQvdName)] (qvd)
Where Not Exists(TransactionID);
ENDIF


Store MonthTransactions into [$(vQvdName)] (qvd);
Drop Table MonthTransactions;
Next i

Drop Table TempMonths, Transactions; 

The above segmenting script would support incremental reload, full reload or a load of any data in between.

So now we have many “Transactions-YYYY-MM.qvd” files. How do we load the current 12 months? Do we wake up early on the 1st of each month and quick change the script? No. We create a dynamic script based off the current day.

For i = 0 to -11 step -1  // 12 Months
Let vMonthName = Date(AddMonths(Today(1), $(i)), 'YYYY-MM');
Transactions:
LOAD *
From [Transactions-$(vMonthName).qvd] (qvd);
Next i 

If we had built the QVDs using any technique that allowed for the possibility of duplicate TransactionID, we would add a guard of “Where not Exists()”.

...
From [Transactions-$(vMonthName).qvd] (qvd)
Where not Exists(TransactionID); 

What About IntraDay High Volume Reloads?

In scenarios with Intraday loading and high transaction counts, I prefer to defer merging QVDs to off-peak times.

Let’s take an example scenario of a customer who generates approximately 10 million transactions per day, with peak hours creating about 2 million transactions. The main dashboard should be refreshed hourly for twelve hours each day and should contain the last 10 days of transactions. Of course all data should be kept around for various summary analyses and ad-hoc projects.

It makes sense to segment these QVDs by day. Our hourly incremental load will need to merge with — read and write — a fairly large daily QVD. Crucially, the load time gets longer as the day progresses and the QVD gets larger. And now I hear rumors of twice hourly reload. This pattern has a bad smell.

What to do? Let’s store the hourly incremental rows in a hourly QVD of their own. The dashboard will then pick up all hourly QVDs plus required daily QVDs. Overnight, when we have some breathing room, we will run a script to consolidate the hourlies into a daily QVD.

The hourly incremental QVD is created like:

Let vQvdName = 'Hourly-Transactions-' & Timestamp(Now(1), 'YYYY-MM-DD-hh-mm-ss') & '.qvd'; 
Store Transactions into [$(vQvdName)] (qvd); 

Then the dashboard will load the new data using a wildcard load for the Hourly QVDs and a loop for the prior days:

// Load all Hourly QVDs
Load * From [Hourly-Transactions-*.qvd] (qvd);
// Load previous 9 days of Daily QVDs
For i = 1 to 9 // 9 Days
Let vDateName = Date((Today(1) -$(i)), 'YYYY-MM-DD');
Transactions:
LOAD * From [Transactions-$(vDateName).qvd] (qvd);
Next i 

Getting LastUpdate From a QVD

One of the steps in incremental loading is determining what “zzz” value to use in the SQL “Where LastUpdate >= zzz”. We need the high value from the last load. Some people store this information in a side file or variable. I think the most reliable approach is to get the high value from the existing QVD.

Getting Max(LastUpdate) from a very large QVD can take some time (how to do this the quickest is always an interesting pub question). My preferred technique is to store a new field “MaxLastUpdate” in the QVD and then read only the first row of the QVD to retrieve the value.

Getting and Joining Max(LastUpdate) should be fairly quick because we are only dealing with the incremental rows.

Transactions:
SQL Select * From db.transactions where LastUpdate >= foo;
Left Join (Transactions)
Load Max(LastUpdate) as MaxLastUpdate
Resident Transactions; 

The lastest MaxLastUpdate value can then be retrieved by reading only the first row of the existing QVD. Here’s how it looks all together using the example of monthly QVDs.

Let vMonthName = Date(Today(1), 'YYYY-MM');
TempMonth:
First 1 Load MaxLastUpdate
From [Transactions-$(vMonthName).qvd] (qvd);
Let vMaxLastUpdate = TimeStamp(Peek('MaxLastUpdate'), 'MM-DD-YYYY hh:mm:ss');
Drop Table TempMonth;


Transactions:
SQL Select * From db.transactiions
where LastUpdate >= '$(vMaxLastUpdate)'; 


Left Join (Transactions)
Load Max(LastUpdate) as MaxLastUpdate
Resident Transactions; 


// Merge or segment with existing QVDs

I hope you found some useful tips in this article. No doubt you have some ideas of your own, feel free to add comments.

Want to learn more advanced scripting techniques? After 2 years of virtual sessions, the Masters Summit for Qlik is back with live events this fall. In September we’ll be in Madrid, Spain, and in November we’ll be in New Orleans, USA. If you want to take your Qlik skills to the next level, get access to all sorts of ready-to-use solutions and reference materials, share experiences and maybe a few horror stories with your peers then we hope to see you there!

Share

One thought on “How to Segment QVD Files”

Leave a Reply to Vincent Hayward Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.