DRBD and MySQL – Excellent Low-cost HA Solution


a Linux project to provide a real-time distributed filesystem. Although
it has some clustering support, it’s not really a true clustered filesystem
like OCFS2 or GFS2. What it provides is a mirrored copy of a block device
across a network.

HA with MySQL Replication

high availability is often implemented with its in-built replication
technology. The standard master-slave configuration provides one database
as the primary, receiving all write traffic that is all changes to data.
Read traffic, i.e. SELECT queries, can be sent to the primary or to the
replicated slaves. Transactions flow on the primary database into its
binary log. The slave keeps a watchful eye on the primary, copying new
transactions into its own relay log. Keep in mind until 5.1 this involved
copying the *actual* SQL statements albeit in binary form. Once they make
it to the slave database, another thread then applies those SQL statements in a
serial fashion thus theoretically keeping that slave in the same state as the

trouble comes when your replication stops, and the error log shows some funny
error about duplicate keys or failed primary key constraint. How’s that
possible? If all the same transactions are being applied in serial, the
two databases should never have a case like this. Strange indeed.
It turns out that as we all know, a lot of things can happen when a query
executes to interrupt it or cause otherwise anomalous behavior. Mixing InnoDB
and MyISAM tables (i.e. transactional and non-transactional) is one way to get
into trouble, but there are others. Various functions are
non-deterministic in MySQL, meaning they won’t behave exactly the same
when run twice. Time functions & user functions are a few examples.

So the
upshot of all of this is that MySQL replication is not at all bulletproof out
of the box, and most master slave setups inevitably have data differences between
master and slave. There are some checksum tools that can be used to
alleviate these problems, and of course, there is a list of non-deterministic
functions, so you can audit your application to make it completely compliant
with MySQL replication. However, that is a lot of work, but it can
certainly be done.

What is DRBD?

are typically cryptic in computer science, and DRBD is no exception. The
initials stand for Distributed Replicated Block Device. What does that
mean exactly? Well the file system is part of your operating system, and
it is a layer between the OS and the disk hardware, either a single disk or a
disk I/O subsystem such as a RAID. It is exposed to the OS as a block
device, and data is read and written in discrete chunks called blocks.
The OS issues requests via the filesystem.

enough about filesystems, and block devices, what’s DRBD then? Well it
allows you to have a mirror copy of a block device in real-time.
Impressive, right? Since it’s a block device, you’ll use it with a
filesystem such as ext2 or one of the journaling filesystems ext3, reiserFS or
JFS etc. Keep in mind though that it isn’t a true clustered
filesystem. It’s primarily built to have one side active at a time.
As of version 8 it *can* be used with clustered filesystems such as OCFS2 and
GFS2. In these cases where you have both sides mounted as primaries, your
clustered filesystem has to figure out which blocks are invalid and need to be
synced and in which direction. These filesystems can be slow, so keep
that in mind if you’re leaning in that direction.

MySQL and DRBD Working Together

So we
see some of the limitations of doing high availability using basic out-of-the
box MySQL replication. So how can DRBD help? Well it turns out that
MySQL interacts with the disk through the filesystem, so a MySQL database can
sit on top of one of these magical distributed or mirrored block devices that
DRBD provides. So it can effectively keep a complete copy of your
database for you on another machine available when and if you need it.

In order
to set this up for most production setups you would want to have your data
directory on the mirrored block device but have your configuration and log
files elsewhere. That would allow you to have a slightly different setup
on both servers, or have separate logfiles. There are many reasons to
want to separate those out. The main thing is that your core database
files, innodb tablespace files, and binary logs are on the DRBD volume.

Want to
throw in automatic failover? That’s where the heartbeat project comes
in. Heartbeat is the smarts behind deciding if a node is down. When
it determines that one is down, it will run all the steps you define, to bring
the other node back up and ready.


definitely exciting technology, and a great match with MySQL. It provides
a more bulletproof HA solution for MySQL, when you want to do seamless
failover. It requires less maintenance, and avoids many of the headaches
of in-built MySQL replication that every seasoned MySQL DBA has had to deal with.

In next
month’s article, we’ll discuss how to setup DRBD with MySQL. We’ll show
you how to build a couple of virtual machines, install DRBD from RPM, add a
simple configuration, and start it up. Then we’ll take you through
creating a simple MySQL database, and finally perform a few tests to illustrate
the failover feature and its effectiveness.

See All Articles by Columnist Sean Hull

Sean Hull
Sean Hull
Sean Hull is a business and technology consultant, author and speaker. He is the founder and senior consultant at Heavyweight Internet Group in New York and has worked as a database consultant and expert for ten years. He is the author of "Oracle and Open Source" on O'Reilly & Associates and his articles have appeared in Oracle's own OTN website, DBA Zine, ChangeThis.com, and many others. Using techniques, technologies, and perspectives discussed in the book, articles, and seminars, he has taken his career into exciting areas. He has served as Technology Consultant, Project Manager, CEO, and mentor with a background in programming, systems integration & administration, project development and management. He can be reached at [email protected] or visit http://www.iheavy.com for more info about consulting services.

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