Sybase ASE 15: Very Large Storage Systems


Jeffrey Garbus

Executive Summary:

In this past year, the author has had multiple customers
accelerate their migrations to ASE 15 with one goal in mind: taking advantage
of Very Large Storage Structures (VLSS) in ASE 15 so that they can increase the
size of their growing databases to something with an almost unlimited upside.
The idea behind VLSS is that Sybase has modified the ASE system tables to
accommodate the larger limitations. In this article old structure, new
structure, and practical limitations are discussed.


From its inception, Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) has
been a high-volume Online Transaction Processing (OLTP) or Decision Support
System (DSS) or mixed-use database, capable of storing, managing, and
retrieving an enormous amount of data.

Over time, the definition of the word “enormous” has

In the early 1990s, we designed and rolled out an application,
which contained about 65 gigabytes of data. At the time, our contemporaries
wondered if the system would even accommodate a table with 2.5 billon rows of
data in a single table (it did). It was, at the time, the 4th
largest ASE installation in the world. Anything over 20 gig was considered a
Very Large Database (VLDB). Within a few months it had doubled in size, and a
few months later doubled again to 250 gig, a monster in those days. The entire
project was cost-justified in storage savings: a 2-gigabyte DASD device (for
their DB2 applications) cost approximately $40K, while a 2 gigabyte SCSI drive
cost about $2K.

Today, you can buy an external 1Terabyte hard drive for
under $100. Times change.

In this past year, I have had multiple customers accelerate
their migrations to ASE 15 with one goal in mind: taking advantage of Very
Large Storage Structures (VLSS) in ASE 15 so that they can increase the size of
their growing, 4 terabyte databases to something with an almost unlimited
upside. (Yes, famous last words, but with a potential upside of 2 billion
devices of 4 terabytes each, I’ll risk eating those words).

The idea behind VLSS is that Sybase has modified the ASE
system tables to accommodate the larger limitations.

In this article, we’re going to discuss old structure, new
structure, and practical limitations.

Pre-ASE 15 Storage

Prior to ASE 15.0, ASE was limited to 256 logical devices
and 32GB for individual devices. Note that when these limits were originally
put in place, 20 gig was thought to be a Very Large Database (VLDB), and it was
years after before anyone attempted one. In addition, because of an
intra-database addressing limitation, an individual database was limited to 4T
(if you have a 2K page size) and 8T (if your page size is larger). These
limitations were irrespective of physical device or OS-level limitations.

This was driven by the fact that ASE’s storage was organized
by virtual pages using a 4 byte bit mask. The virtual page was the mechanism
the server used to connect the logical concept of a page with the physical
disk. The high order byte of the vdevno column in the sysdevices table was used
to encode the device id, and consequently the byte of 8 bits limited ASE to 256
devices (8 bits as a signed integer). (Of course, with one device set aside
for master, and perhaps others set aside for tempdb, sysaudits, etc., there
were sometimes fewer than 256 available for data). The remaining 3 bytes were
used to track the actual virtual page numbers – which considering a 2K page
(the storage factor in sysdevices) provided a limit of 32GB per device. Note
that theoretically, a 16K server could have large devices, but due the default
of 2K and the implementation of sysdevices, a limit of 32GB was imposed.

Here’s a picture of the vdevno column:

the vdevno column

Additionally, each database had a limit of 8TB – this was
based on 256 devices of 32GB each. But, one database may only have up to 2^31 (2,147,483,648)
logical pages, so its maximum size also depends on its logical page size:

2K page server


4K page server


8K page server


16K page server


Previous limits in early 10 & 11.x timeframes of the
numbers of devices per database and device fragments limits were removed a long
time ago (they had formerly limited a database to 32 devices. Without the
device limit of 32GB, the max database size would be 32TB based on ~2 billion
16K pages.

These limitations caused consternation in a variety of shops
with a real need to store database, which at least for today are still
considered very big.

Very Large Storage System in ASE 15

In ASE 15, Sybase has implemented what is being called the
“Very Large Storage System (VLSS).”

The vdevno/vpageno combined 4-byte integer from the “low”
column has been split into separate columns. This has required the rewrite of a
significant part of server code; page addresses impact the page number and page
header of every physical page – not just the system tables. As a result, ASE
now supports ~2 billion devices of 4TB each. It still has the 32,767 limit for
the number of databases per server, with a practical limit of roughly 100 due
to backup timeframes, etc.

As a result for databases, the upper limit is now driven by
the integer representation for pageno and the page size or 32TB as described
earlier. The theoretical server size is now 8 million terabytes (8 Exabytes) which
unfortunately is limited by the number of databases to 1 Exabyte.

If you have an OLTP in the terabyte range, this is for you
(but note the comments later on partitions!). However, if you have a DSS
system, you should be giving strong consideration to Sybase IQ.



231 (2 Billion)

Maximum device size




Yields Maximum Storage:

Database size

231 pages * 16KB pg = 32 TB

Theoretical DB storage

32,767 DB’s * 32TB = 1 EB (exabyte) =
1,048,544 TB

Theoretical server size

231 devices * 4TB size =
8,589,934,592 TB

Comparing pre-ASE 15 limits to newer (sic) limits, we get


Old (12.5.x) Limit

New (15.0) Limit

Number of devices


2,147,483,648 (2^31)

Maximum device size

32 Gb

32GB ß
224 * 2K vpg

4 Tb

Maximum database size (2K / 4K / 8K / 16K)

4 Tb / ~8 Tb / ~ 8 Tb / ~8 Tb

8TB ß
256 devices * 32GB

4 Tb / 8 Tb / 16 Tb / 32 Tb

Not bad; pre-15, an entire database/server could only take
up 4 Tb; with ASE 15, we can have 2 billion devices of that size.

In ASE 15.0, the virtual page number is represented by two
32-bit values. One is the device number; the other is the block number

the virtual page number is represented by two 32-bit values

A Word on Partitions

Storing the data is half the battle. Maybe a third.

The rest of the battle involves data manipulation and

When you insert a row, how does the server know where the
next empty page is? When you retrieve a row, how long will a table scan take? How
do you backup a 10Tb database? Run dbcc? Update your statistics?

Databases in the terabyte range are nontrivial to manage at
this point in history. (In another decade, they’ll fit in my wristwatch). For
today, we need to plan a bit.

With the advent of ASE 15, Sybase has added real semantic
partition management to Adaptive Server Enterprise. This means that you can
separate your data into a variety of partitioning schemes (subject of a
separate article).

Partitioning, though, is extremely relevant to large tables
(which tend to go along with large databases), because of everything from
insertion rates to data archival.

Partitioning nets you:

  • Partitioned indexes, which yields faster access performance,
    smaller index structures, and improved parallel search.
  • Partitioned data, which allows you to organize the data based
    upon your own rules (hash, data range, list partitioning, round-robin
    partitioning), which lets you either spread io across multiple LUNs, or to
    allow archiving to hit only one of several LUNs, without interfering with
    online access.
  • Partition-aware maintenance, which lets you (for example) update
    statistics or run dbcc on only the more recent partitions. You can also
    truncate, reorg, or bcp on a partition basis.


Sybase, with the release of Adaptive Server Enterprise 15,
has effectively removed size limitations from databases and servers. In
addition, the enhancements have provided enhanced access techniques not only
for data access performance, but also to enable management of the larger

“Jeff Garbus has 20 years of expertise in architecture,
tuning and administration of Sybase ASE, Oracle, and Microsoft SQL Server
databases with an emphasis on assisting clients in migrating from existing
systems to pilot and enterprise projects. He has co-authored 15 books and has
published dozens of articles on the subject. Mr. Garbus is the CEO of Soaring
Eagle Consulting, an organization that specializes in assisting businesses
maximize database performance"

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