Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Starvation: Electronic books, DRM, the local library, and database locks

Over the past days I ran into an interesting database problem. It boils down to resource management and database locks. One of my sons is an avid reader and thus we have an ongoing flow of hardcopy and electronic books, most of them provided by the local public library (THANK YOU!). Recently, my son used the electronic library to place a reservation on a hard-to-get ebook. Yesterday, he received the email that the book was available exclusively to him (intention lock) and to be checked out within 48 hours (placing the exclusive lock). And so my problems began...
Trouble lending an ebook

There is a hard limit on the maximum number of checked out ebooks per account. All electronic books are lent for 14 days without a way to return them earlier because of Digital Rights Management (DRM). If the account is maxed out, lending a reserved book does not work. Pure (teenage) frustration. However, there is an exclusive lock on the book copy and nobody else can lend it either, making the book harder to get and (seemingly) even more popular. As consequence more reservation requests are placed, making the book even harder to lend. In database theory this is called starvation effect or resource starvation. My advise of "read something else" is not considered a solution.

How could this software problem be solved? A change to DRM to allow earlier returns seems to be too complex. As there is also a low limit for open reservation requests per account, temporarily bumping up the number of books that can be lent per account would both solve the starvation effect and enhance the usability. It would even increase the throughput (average books out to readers), would reduce lock waits (trying to read a certain book), and customer feedback.

BTW: The locklist configuration in DB2 (similar to the number of books lent per account) is adapted automatically by the Self Tuning Memory Manager (STMM), for easy of use, for great user/customer feedback.

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