Friday, June 5, 2020

The Origin of Database “Sharding”

Raph Koster (via Em Lazer-Walker):

No, “shards” came about specifically because when we realized we would need to run multiple whole copies of Ultima Online for users to connect to, we needed to come up with a fiction for it. I went off and read a whole mess of stuff about early Ultima lore and tried to come up with a fictional justification. What I ended up with is described here pretty well: that the evil wizard Mondain had attempted to gain control over Sosaria by trapping its essence in a crystal. When the Stranger at the end of Ultima I defeated Mondain and shattered the crystal, the crystal shards each held a refracted copy of Sosaria.


In any case, we called parallel servers “shards” and it became a term used occasionally though not universally as a term of art within the field. […] So, did this database term come from a doc that I dashed off one afternoon in 1996? Umm… I am not sure. Seems like an interesting coincidence, if not.

Wikipedia references an earlier paper about SHARD (System for Highly Available Replicated DAta). I seem to recall reading about that in college, before the term could have jumped from MMOs to the mainstream via Flickr. However, SHARD was about replicating full copies of a database, not partitioning it. So the Ultima theory seems likely.

Update (2020-06-09): See also: Hacker News.

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