The “No more spool space” Error Explained

Why do I get “No more spool space” error?

This is the most familiar error message in Teradata world:
“Failure 2646 No more spool space”
What does it really mean, what is it caused by?
Let’s get back to the basics.

What is spool space?

Spool space is a temporary area, that can be used to store the part-results during query processing, as well as volatile tables. All free space in the database that are not allocated by PERM data, technically can be used for spool area, since a PERM data does not want to allocate that area.

Each database users may have a “spool limit” that restricts the user to allocate more spool area at a time, than its limit. Keep in mind that all active sessions of a username must share the spool limit together.

Teradata is a massive parallel system, therefore the spool limit must be interpreted on AMP level:
Eg: 100AMP system, a user with 10G spool limit means: 100M spool/AMP

What is spool space limit good for?

This limitation method is a quite simple way to cut those queries from the system that would suck too much resources. There is no exact relationship between high spool usage and ineffective query, but statistically the correlation is high.
Practically: a bad query is being kicked off before is consumes too much resources unnecessarily.

No more spool space scenarios

System ran out of spool space

This is the most rare situation, forget about. There are too few free space on the system, but this situation used to be avoided by defining a “SpoolReserve” database, where no objects are created, this way that area is always available for spool.
If many “big spool limit” users run high spool queries parallel, then this rare situation can yet occure.

Multiple session of the user are active together

This is a quite rare situation also. Check the active users from dbc.sessioninfo.

Volatile tables

All existing volatile tables reside in your available spool space, reducing the available. If you create many, and even with skewed distribution, you can stuff your spool up. Choose “primary index” carefully, when defining volatile tables also.

Improper execution plan

These are the >90% of cases that cause the “No more spool space” errors. Let’ see how:
  • “Duplication to all AMPs” of a non-small set of records
    The root cause is typically missing or stale statistics. Either system thinks that much less records will be duplicated than the real (sometimes billions of records get in this kind of spools), or knows this exactly, but on the other branch of the query there are more low quality estimations, and this execution seems to be cheaper.
  • Redistribution of records by a hash that causes skewed distribution
    Check the corresponding blog post: Accelerate skewed joins
  • Retrieve huge amount of records into spool (locally or redistributed onto the AMPs)
    Specific query structures imply this execution, like: join to a view that “union all”-s big tables.
I suggest to use PRISE Tuning Assistant to identify what is the problem. It spectacularly displays which execution step falls in the problems above.
Increasing the spool limit will not solve the problems in the most cases. 

Too big task

Sometimes a given SQL query requires big spool area to be performed, even with the best execution plan.

This is the only case when raising spool limit is the solution. But first you have to understand that the task is really big. PRISE Tuning Assistant is a good tool for identify this in a minute.

How to optimize a Teradata query?

Teradata SQL optimization techniques


The typical goal of an SQL optimization is to get the result (data set) with less computing resources consumed and/or with shorter response time. We can follow several methodologies depending on our experience and studies, but at the end we have to get the answers for the following questions:

  • Is the task really heavy, or just the execution of the query is non-optimal?
  • What is/are the weak point(s) of the query execution?
  • What can I do to make the execution optimal?


The common part of the methodologies that we have to understand – more or less – what is happening during the execution. The more we understand the things behind the scenes the more we can feel the appropriate point of intervention. One can start with the trivial stuff: collect some statistics, make indices, and continue with query rewrite, or even modifying the base table structures.

What is our goal?

First of all we should branch on what do we have to do:
  1. Optimize a specific query that has been running before and we have the execution detail info
    Step details clearly show where were the big resources burnt
  2. In general, optimize the non optimal queries: find them, solve them
    Like a.,but first find those queries, and then solve them one-by-one
  3. Optimize a query, that has no detailed execution info, just the SQL (and “explain”)
    Deeper knowledge of the base data and “Teradata way-of-thinking” is required, since no easy and trustworthy resource peak-detecting is available. You have to imagine what will happen, and what can be done better

Optimization in practice

This section describes the case b., and expects available detailed DBQL data.
In this post I will not attach example SQL-s, because I also switched to use PRISE Tuning Assistant for getting all the requested information for performance tuning, instead of writing complex SQL queries and making heaps of paper notes.


My opinion is that DBQL (DataBase Query Logging) is the fundamental basis of a Teradata system performance management – from SQL optimization point of view. I strongly recommend to switch DBQL comprehensively ON (SQL, Step, Explain, Object are important, excluding XML, that is huge, but actually has not too much extra), and use daily archiving from the online tables – just follow Teradata recommendation.

Finding good candidate queries

DBQL is an excellent source for selecting “low hanging fruits” for performance tuning. The basic rule: we can gain big save on expensive items only, let’s focus on the top resource consuming queries first. But what is high resource consumption? I usually check top queries by one or more of these properties:

  • Absolute CPU (CPU totals used by AMPs)
  • Impact CPU (CPU usage corrected by skewness)
  • Absolute I/O (I/O totals used by AMPs)
  • Impact I/O   (Disk I/O usage corrected by skewness)
  • Spool usage
  • Run duration
PRISE Tuning Assistant supplies an easy to use and quick search function for that:

Finding weak point of a query

Examining a query begins with the following steps:
  • Does it have few or many “peak steps”, that consume much resources? 
    • Which one(s)?
    • What type of operations are they?
  • Does it have high skewness?
    Bad parallel efficiency, very harmful
  • Does it consume extreme huge spool?
    Compared to other queries…
PRISE Tuning Assistant again.
Check the yellow highlights in the middle, those are the top consuming steps:

    Most of the queries will have one “peak step”, that consumes most of the total resources. Typical cases:

    • “Retrieve step” with redistribution
      Large number of rows and/or skewed target spool
    • “Retrieve step” with “duplication-to-all-AMPs”
      Large number of rows duplicated to all AMPs
    • Product join
      Huge number of comparisons: N * M
    • Merge or Hash join
      Skewed base or prepared (spool) data
    • OLAP function
      Large data set or skewed operation
    • Merge step
      Skewness and/or many hash collisions
    • Any kind of step
      Non small, but strongly skewed result

    What can we do?

    Teradata optimizer tries its best when produces the execution plan for a query, however it sometimes lacks proper information or its algorithms are not perfect. We – as humans – may have additional knowledge either of the data or the execution, and we can spoil the optimizer to make better decisions. Let’s see our possibilities.
    • Supplement missing / refresh stale statistics
    • Drop disturbing statistics (sometimes occurs…)
    • Restructure the query
    • Break up the query, place part result into volatile table w/ good PI and put statistics on
    • Correct primary index of target / source tables
    • Build secondary/join index/indices
    • Add extra components to the query.
      You may know some additional “easy” filter that lightens the work. Eg. if you know that the join will match for only the last 3 days data of a year-covering table, you can add a date filter, which cost pennies compared to the join.
    • Restrict the result requirements to the real information demand.
      Do the end-user really need that huge amount of data, or just a record of it?

    What should we do?

    First of all, we have to find the root cause(s). Why does that specific top step consume that huge amount or resources or executes so skewed? If we find the cause and eliminate, the problem is usually solved.
    My method is the following:
    1. Find the top consuming step, and determine why it it high consumer
      • Its result is huge
      • Its result is skewed
      • Its work is huge
      • Its input(s) is/are huge
    2. Track the spool flow backwards from the top step, and find
      • Low fidelity results (row count falls far from estimated row count)
      • NO CONFIDENCE steps, specifically w/low fidelity
      • Skewed spool, specifically non small ones
      • Big duplications, specifically w/NO CONFIDENCE
    3. Find the solution
      • Supplement missing statistics, typically on PI, join fields or filter condition
        NO CONFIDENCE, low fidelity, big duplications
      • Break up the query
        Store that part result into a volatile table, where fidelity is very bad, or spool is skewed. Choose a better PI for that
      • Modify PI of the target table
        Slow MERGE step, typical hash-collision problem.
      • Eliminate product joins
      • Decompose large product join-s
      • E.T.C.
    Have a good optimization! 🙂

    PRISE Tuning Assistant use cases

    What is PRISE Tuning Assistant (PTA) good for?

    PRISE developed this tool to help DBAs and developers solve performance issues quickly and easily. In this post I describe a couple of typical situations when it can assist you.
    A full functioning trial version of PRISE Tuning Assistant is available for download.

    In general, PTA application consist of two main functions:

    • Query finder
      Enables applying lots of search criteria like: thresholds, skewness, queryband, SQL text, Explain text, used objects, time window, etc.
    • Query analyzer
      Unfolds the execution process of one selected query, helps understanding the query and its performance bottlenecks. Collects all required supplementary information like table sizes, DDLs, statistics, etc. in one comprehensive dashboard, and provides a “walking tour” feature, you can roam in the execution plan with.
    All this enables even an average skilled Teradata expert to find which queries to be optimized and figure out the weak points of even a complex query in minutes.

    PTA’s key architectural properties:

    • Supports active DBQL (dbc.dbqlogtbl and friends…) and also archived DBQL tables.
    • Optimized DBQL querying (fast response times and low resource usage)
    • Requires read only access to database
    • Portable, multi platform Java application, requires no installation

    Let’s see typical use cases of the application.

    Find the TOP consuming queries

    The optimization’s “low hanging fruits” are the top consuming queries, I mean CPU or I/O  stuffing SQL statements. They are often small in number, however consume significant percent of the total system resources, as I mentioned in this post.

    How to find them?
    Simply set your focused time interval and select the “CPU”, “I/O” or “Duration” (for long time running ones) as TOP criteria, and click the “Get DBQL data” button. You will be given the list of the qualifying queries in descending order of your TOP criteria. After you can sort it by the other KPIs, like:

    • Skewness
    • Spool usage
    • LHR/RHL (Larry Higa ratio)
    • QueryBand (and specific variables of it)
    • Etc.

    Skewed CPU or I/O usage

    Teradata is a massive parallel system. It can utilize its full power if the work is spread evenly across the AMPs, otherwise (skewed queries) the response time increases dramatically while virtual resource consumption can remain low.

    How to find the bad guys?
    Start same as “TOP queries” case, but choose “CPU Impact” or “I/O Impact” as TOP criteria. This will result those queries that have the highest “Impact” (skew-normalized resource consumption) on the system.

    “No more spool space”

    Teradata uses Spool limiting in fact for cancelling those queries that have bad plans. Therefore “Failure 2646: No more spool space error” means a bad query execution plan, and the solution is usually not spool barrier raising. But often those spool limits are raised, until query is able to finish, and bad queries throttle the system… Why does a query usually run out of spool?

    • Duplicates a large spool/table to all AMPS
      Thinks it is small
    • Redistributes spool/table by a skewed value
      Thinks it is non-skewed
    • Processes (copies to spool) unreasonably large number of records

    First two cases are usually caused by missing or stale statistics that can be easily found and supplied.

    How to select?

    Start same as “TOP queries” case, but choose “Spool” as TOP criteria. This will result those queries that have the highest spool consumption, and SQL dashboard will help you to figure out which statistics should be collected. In addition you can filter for “Error 2646” with Error code option, which will result those queries that has reached the spool limit.

    Find a specific query

    The DBA gets a question: “My query runs slow, please help me!” – occasionally an SQL is attached in the email. PTA lets figuring out which query was it in the DBQL. You can filter on:

    • Username
    • Session ID
    • Full query text (with LIKE)
    • QueryID (internal DBQL ID)
    • QueryBand (with LIKE)
    • Error code

    Search disliked plan elements

    PTA enables text search in Explain text of the queries. Eg. find quickly:

    • Product joins
    • Sliding-window joins
    • “Redistributed by”
    If it is combined with CPU and/or I/O limitation (CPU >=; I/O >= criteria) then we can get those queries where they really cause problem.

    Object usage

    We have a table or index in the database, and we look for all the queries that utilize that object.
    It is very useful for:

    • Preparing for a PI change
      PI change usually triggered by skewed data distribution, but the more important factor is the access path it provides. Before you change a PI, you need to examine the workload, accessing that table. What is the typical filter/join criteria, does the current/new PI support good access path? PTA enables to do it quickly and easily.
    • Determine usage of a table
      How many times a table is accessed a day? Is it used extensively, or just kept loaded for nothing?
    • Determine usage of a hash/join index
      A hash/join index requires processing and storage resources. Is it pretty utilized, or not?
    Simply set the “Object used” filter citeria. In addition you can use the “Thru join/hash index” option for including the join/hash index based data accesses.

    Recurring queries

    Which query to be optimized? Maybe there are a medium consuming queries, but run lot of times a day, consuming much resource in total. Use the “Recurring query finder” function of the PTA to see aggregated information: total and average Duration, CPU and I/O.

    What was a query run by?

    If your ETL and OLAP systems use QueryBand properly, you can set specific variables (max of 6) to be parsed into separate columns in the result query list. Sort the result by it, and find which queries of a load job should be optimized.