What is an MPP Database? Scaling Data Across Nodes

Aditi Prakash
September 7, 2023
10 min read

MPP (Massively Parallel Processing) databases distribute and process complex data queries across multiple nodes, ensuring high performance and scalability for large datasets.

This guide dives deep into the world of MPP databases, shedding light on their architecture, benefits, popular examples, and relevance in today’s data-driven landscape.

Databases are the backbone of modern data ecosystems. They have evolved significantly over the years, adapting to the ever-growing volume and complexity of data generated by businesses. 

One notable evolution is Massively Parallel Processing (MPP). These database systems use a distributed architecture to handle massive data volumes and queries in big data projects.

In this article, we will explain what an MPP database is, how it works, its benefits, and the major MPP platforms on the market today.

What is an MPP Database?

MPP, or Massively Parallel Processing, is a database architecture designed to handle massive data volumes and complex queries. It uses a distributed network of processing nodes to store data and execute queries.

Parallel query processing is the heart of MPP databases. It involves breaking down SQL queries into smaller tasks that can be executed simultaneously on many nodes or processing units, each with its own operating system. 

Many popular data warehouses that help organizations store and process big data use the MPP architecture for optimum performance and resource management.

The fundamental principles behind a Massively Parallel Processing database include;

  • Data Partitioning: In the MPP database architecturedata is divided into partitions, and each partition is assigned to a node in the cluster. Partitioning can be based on various strategies, including key-based partitioning, round-robin partitioning, or more complex methods like hashing.
  • Distribution Keys: A distribution key determines which node will store a particular piece of data. Choosing an appropriate distribution key is crucial for achieving optimal query performance.
  • Shared Nothing Architecture: In an MPP system, each node operates independently with its own operating system, memory, and storage. They communicate with each other as needed but do not share a central resource, which minimizes bottlenecks and allows for horizontal scalability.
  • Parallelism: MPP database technology leverages parallel processing, which means breaking down a query into multiple tasks that can be executed simultaneously on multiple processing nodes. This parallelism significantly improves performance and scalability.
  • Load Balancing: MPP systems incorporate load balancing mechanisms to ensure that query workloads are evenly distributed across nodes, preventing one node from becoming a performance bottleneck.
  • Fault Tolerance: MPP systems employ redundancy and fault tolerance mechanisms to ensure data availability and reliability. This means that even if a node fails, data and query processing can continue seamlessly.

Benefits of MPP Databases

Here are six advantages of using a Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) system:

1. Scalability for Large Datasets

The MPP architecture can scale horizontally, so you can easily add more nodes or servers to the cluster as your data and query complexity grows. This scalability enables MPP databases to handle massive volumes of data efficiently.

Horizontal scaling is a cost-effective approach. Instead of investing in a single, high-end server, organizations can start with a smaller MPP cluster and incrementally add nodes or processing units as needed.

This scalability model allows you to match your infrastructure expenses to your actual data and performance requirements, reducing upfront capital expenditures.

2. Enhanced Performance

By distributing queries across multiple processing nodes, with their own operating systems, and allowing parallel execution, MPP systems can execute complex analytical queries much faster than traditional single-node databases.

This is particularly valuable for big data analysis and data warehousing workloads where complex aggregations, joins, and filtering operations are common.

3. Efficient Workload Management and Resource Allocation

An MPP system includes robust workload management and resource allocation capabilities. These features allow organizations to allocate resources to different queries and workloads based on their importance.

Resource management ensures critical queries get the necessary computing power while preventing resource contention among concurrent queries.

4. High Availability and Fault Tolerance

By replicating data across multiple processing units and having mechanisms to handle node failures effectively, the MPP architecture ensures that your data remains accessible. Your queries can continue running even in the face of hardware or network issues.

This reliability is crucial for business-critical applications in big data projects.

5. Complex Analytics and Data Processing

The MPP architecture is well-suited for complex analytics and data processing tasks, such as data warehousing, business intelligence, and advanced analytics. They provide the necessary infrastructure to support big data projects requiring real-time or near-real-time analysis of large datasets, enabling data-driven decisions and insights generation.

6. Ease of Management

While managing a distributed database system may seem complex, modern MPP databases solve this challenge using management tools and user-friendly interfaces that simplify cluster administration. 

These tools help database administrators monitor performance, optimize queries, prevent data silos, and maintain the system efficiently.

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Uses of MPP database

MPP (Massively Parallel Processing) databases have a lot of usage which include;

Real time data analytics

MPP databases help a lot in real time data processing. Industries like e-commerce, banking, and finance need the help of MPP databases for real time data processing for better and more efficient decision-making. These databases facilitate real time data streams majorly. 

Business Intelligence (BI) analytics

The most important requirement for BI analytics is fast and scalable data processing. MPP helps in that by processing huge amounts of historical and transactional data. 

Data warehousing

MPP databases help in data warehousing by managing and analyzing the vast amount of structured data. MPP databases help in reporting, querying, and analytics by dividing the workload into multiple processors. This reduces query time and improves performance.

How do MPP databases work?

MPP databases work in a very strong architectural model. MPP databases use a shared-nothing architecture, where each node has its own memory and storage, allowing for independent processing. These databases distribute the data and tasks in different nodes and several multiple independent processors. Each of the nodes operates on a subset of the data in parallel. They coordinate with others for the efficient execution of complex queries. This improves the performance, fault tolerance, and scalability helping in the rapid handling of large-scale data for analytics.

MPP Databases Vs. Data Lakes

MPP database: They are mostly used for complex query execution and warehousing of data. MPP databases are optimized for better accurate analytics, using parallel processing to handle structured large-scale data. 

Data Lakes: These are best for big data processing and exploratory analytics, they also support diverse data formats. In contrast to MPP, they're used to store unstructured, raw, and semi-structured data. It helps in flexible data ingestion and analysis.

Popular MPP Database Systems

Here’s an overview of three leading databases that use MPP architecture: 

Amazon Redshift

Redshift is a fully managed cloud data warehouse offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS).

It uses columnar storage for efficient performance and integrates seamlessly with various AWS services, data lakes, and data pipelines.

Redshift supports standard SQL and popular business intelligence (BI) tools. The platform also enables automatic scaling and performance optimization.

The cloud data warehouse has the following strengths:

  • Seamless integration with AWS ecosystem and tools.
  • Cost-effective pricing with on-demand and provisioned pricing options.
  • Easily scales from small to petabyte-scale data warehouses.
  • High query performance with efficient compression and parallel processing.
  • Robust security features and compliance certifications.

There are two main drawbacks for Redshift:

  • Limited support for complex transactions (not suitable for OLTP workloads).
  • Requires expertise in performance tuning for optimal query performance.

Google BigQuery

BigQuery is a serverless data warehouse by Google Cloud Platform (GCP). The platform boasts real-time data streaming and batch processing capabilities. It supports standard SQL and offers a web-based query editor.

BigQuery separates storage and compute nodes for better performance. It also integrates with Google Cloud Storage and other GCP services.

The fully managed service has the following strengths:

  • Serverless architecture means no infrastructure management.
  • Highly scalable with automatic performance optimization.
  • Pay-as-you-go pricing model with separate storage and compute costs.
  • Supports geospatial and machine learning functions.
  • Integration with Google Data Studio and other GCP tools.

Major drawbacks of BigQuery include:

  • Query pricing can become expensive for large or complex workloads.
  • Limited support for some advanced analytics functions.


Snowflake is a cloud-native, fully managed data warehouse. It separates storage, computing, and metadata for flexible scalability and cost control.

The platform enables secure data collaboration and supports ANSI SQL, along with a wide range of connectors and integrations.

Snowflake offers the added benefit of built-in support for semi-structured data like JSON and Avro.

The cloud data warehouse has the following strengths:

  • Easy to use with a user-friendly interface and SQL support.
  • Near-infinite scalability with the ability to independently scale compute and storage.
  • Transparent and predictable pricing based on actual usage.
  • Strong data governance and security features.

Snowflake's major drawbacks include:

  • May have higher pricing for large-scale enterprise deployments.
  • Advanced features may require additional licensing.
  • Dependency on internet connectivity for cloud-based access.

MPP vs. SMP (Symmetric Multiprocessing)

Here are the key differences between an MPP and SMP (Symmetric Multiprocessing) solution:

  • Architecture: MPP systems use a distributed architecture, while SMP systems use a shared-memory architecture where multiple processors or CPU cores share a single, centralized memory and storage subsystem.
  • Scalability: MPP architectures can scale horizontally. SMP systems can scale vertically by adding more CPUs or cores to a single server. There is a limit to how much you can scale vertically, which can lead to resource constraints.
  • Data Distribution: MPP databases distribute data across nodes. In SMP systems, all processors have access to the same central repository for memory and storage, simplifying data access. But, this can lead to bottlenecks when multiple processors access the same data concurrently.
  • Query Performance: MPP architectures excel in complex analytical query performance due to parallelism. SMP systems are well-suited for single-threaded or multi-threaded applications but may struggle with highly parallelized workloads since they rely on shared resources.
  • Use Cases: MPP databases are ideal for data warehousing and analytical workloads where compound queries on large datasets are common. They are also suitable for data lakes and real-time analytics. SMP systems are used for transactional databases (OLTP) and general-purpose computing tasks.
  • Cost and Resource Allocation: MPP systems allow for efficient resource sharing and cost management by adding or removing computer nodes as needed. Costs are often related to the number of nodes used. 

    SMP systems can be cost-effective for applications that don’t require massive scalability but may require more expensive high-end servers to meet performance demands.

Best Practices for Implementing MPP Databases

Here are some best practices for implementing MPP database solutions:

Choose the Right Distribution Key

When designing your data model, select an appropriate distribution key. The key must evenly distribute data to prevent data skew (uneven data distribution) and ensure parallelism in query processing.

Avoid Hotspots

Be mindful of hotspots, which occur when specific values in the distribution key are heavily accessed, causing bottlenecks. Consider using a well-distributed surrogate key if natural keys lead to hotspots.

Monitor Data Skew

Monitor data distribution and performance to address data skew issues. Tools and query analysis can help pinpoint skewed data distribution.

Query Performance Tuning

Continuously analyze query execution. Identify and optimize slow queries by reviewing execution plans, indexing, and query design.

Indexing Strategies

Implement appropriate indexing to speed up data retrieval for common query patterns.

Table Design Optimization

Carefully design tables and schemas to reduce redundant data storage and improve query efficiency. Use appropriate data types and normalization where necessary.


Utilize data compression techniques provided by your MPP database to reduce storage requirements and improve query performance.

Node Health Monitoring

Regularly monitor the health of individual nodes in the MPP cluster. Ensure that nodes are functioning optimally and address hardware or performance issues.

Backup and Recovery

Implement robust backup and recovery strategies to protect against data loss and ensure business continuity. Test the restoration process to verify data integrity.

Node Failover

Install procedures to handle node failures. Ensure that data replication and failover mechanisms are configured correctly to minimize downtime.

Security and Compliance

Install access controls, data encryption, and data masking techniques, and regularly apply patches to ensure data safety.

Proactive Capacity Planning

Monitor resource utilization and proactively plan for capacity upgrades as your data grows.

MPP Databases and Airbyte

Airbyte is an open-source data integration platform that facilitates the extraction and loading of data from sources into destination systems, including MPP (Massively Parallel Processing) databases.

The platform integrates with most major MPP systems, including Amazon Redshift and Snowflake. Data teams can use Airbyte’s pre-built connectors to centralize data from hundreds of sources.

Airbyte can help you capitalize on the parallel processing capabilities of MPP databases, enabling faster data extraction and loading for large datasets. The platform also supports data transformation and is a central hub for managing all your data pipelines.


Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) databases have changed how businesses manage large data volumes. These highly scalable distributed databases allow organizations to collect and analyze massive amounts of data.

Businesses that embrace MPP database solutions can make informed decisions, unlock new opportunities for innovation, and gain deeper insights into their operations based on real-time data.

Read the Airbyte blog to learn more about databases, analytics, and modern data operations.

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