Dell generation 13 servers & Intel E5 v3 18 core CPUs are upon us in world where per core licensing is reality


As I watched the Intel E5 v3 launch event & DELL releasing their next generation servers to the public to purchase there is a clear opportunity for hardware renewal next year. I’m contemplating on what the new Intel E5 v3 18 core processors

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and the great DELL generation 13 PowerEdge Servers mean for the Hyper-V and SQL server environments under my care.

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For the Hyper-V clusters I’m in heaven. At least for now as Windows is still licensed per socket at the time of writing. vNext has me worried a bit, thinking about what would happen if that changes to core based licensing to. Especially with SQL Server virtualization. I do hope that if MSFT ever goes for per core licensing for the OS they might consider giving us a break for dedicated SQL Server Hyper-V clusters.

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For per core licensing with SQL Server Enterprise we need to run the numbers and be smart in how we approach this. Especially since you need Software Assurance to be able to have mobility & failover / high availability. All this at a time you’re told significant cost cutting has to happen all over the board.

So what does this mean? The demise of SQL Server in the Enterprise like some suggest. Nope. The direct competitors of SQL Server in that arena are even more expensive. The alternatives to SQL are just that, in certain scenarios you don’t need SQL (Server) or you can make due with SQL Server Express. But what about all the cases where you do really need it? You’ll just have to finance the cost of SQL Server. If that’s not possible the business case justifying the tool is no longer there, which is valid. As the saying goes, if you can’t afford it, you don’t need it. A bit harsh yes, I realize, but this is not a life saving medicine we’re talking about but a business tool. There might be another reason your SQL Server licensing has become unaffordable. You might be wasting money due to how SQL Server is deployed and used in your environment. To make sure you don’t overpay you need to evaluate if SQL Server consolidation is what is really needed to save the budget.

Now please realize that consolidation doesn’t mean stupidly under provisioning hardware & servers to make budget work out. That’s just plain silly. For some more information on this, please read Virtualizing Intensive Workloads on Hyper-V, Can It Be Done

So what is smart consolidation (not all specific to SQL Server by the way):

  • You have to avoid physical SQL Server sprawl with a vengeance.
  • You need to consolidate SQL Servers aggressively.
  • Virtualize on a dedicated SQL Server Hyper-V cluster if possible
  • Favor scale out over scale up in the Hyper-V scenario to keep node costs reasonable and allow for affordable expansion.
  • Use 2 socket servers and replace the hardware faster to keep the number of needed cores down.
    • This allows to leverage modern commodity, high performance storage, networking and compute where you can in order to optimize workloads & minimize costs.
    • It helps save on power consumption & cooling
    • More nodes with lesser cores (scale out approach) reduces VM density per node but also keep the cost of adding a node (with SQL Server per core licensing, or when it comes to that for the OS as well), which is your scaling block with a fixed cost under control. It’s all about balance and it isn’t as easy as it seems.
  • Play the same game with storage. This can be a harder sale to make internally. Traditionally people hang on to storage longer due to the high CAPEX. I have said it before, storage vendors have to deliver more & better. Even the challengers & hyper converged systems are still too expensive to really get into a short renewal cycle for most organizations.

Be smart about it. A great DBA can make a difference here and some hard core performance tuning is what can save a serious amount of money. If on top of that you have some good storage & network skills around you can achieve a lot. Next to the fact that you’ll have to spend serious money for serious workloads the ugly truth is that consolidation requires you find your peak loads and scale for those with a vengeance. Look, maxing out one server on which one SQL Server is running isn’t that bad. But what if 3 SQL Servers running a peak performance spread over a 3 node Hyper-V cluster dedicated to SQL Server VMs might kill performance all over!

The good news is I have solid ideas,visions, plans and options to optimize both the on premise & cloud of part of networking, storage & compute. Remember that there is no one size fits all. Execution follows strategy. The potential for very performant, cost effective  & capable solutions are right there. I cannot give you a custom solution for your needs in a blog post. One danger with fast release cycles is that it requires yearly OPEX end if they cannot guarantee it the shift in design to solutions with less longevity  could become problematic if they can’t come up with the money. Cutting some of the “fat” means you will not be able to handle longer periods of budget drought very well. There is no free lunch.

So measure twice & cut once or things can go wrong very fast and become even more expensive.

You might think this sounds a bit pessimistic. No this is an opportunity, especially for a Hyper-V MVP who happens to be a MCDBA Winking smile. The IT skills shortage is only growing bigger all over the planet, so not too much worries there, I won’t have to collect empty bottles for a living yet. The only so called “draw back” here could be that the environments I take care of have been virtualized and optimized to a high extend already. The reward for being good is sometimes not being able to improve things in orders of magnitude. Bad organizations living in a dream world, the ones without a solid grasp of the realities of functional IT in practice, might find that disappointing. Yes the “perception is reality” crowd. Fortunately the good ones will be happy to be in the best possible shape and they’ll invest money to keep it that way.  Interesting times ahead.

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SQL Server Days 2014–Belgium


The Belgian SQL Server User Group (SQLUG) has been organizing the SQL Server Days for a while now and they have quickly established themselves as a very good event with both quality speakers and content. SQL Server Days 2014 is the 7th edition of this event

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Learn form the best, from and with your peers. There will be deep drive training with international speakers & hard core technical sessions on database administration, development and business intelligence.

If you’re in traveling range of Belgium and a SQL Server professional this is an event that you should seriously consider attending! I have done it in the past and I try to get my own DBA’s to go as well. Why. It’s great quality but more than that it’s all about lifelong learning, getting out of the house to prevent tunnel vision and learning what challenges your peers are facing and how they deal with those.

In a time of cut backs, austerity, tax increases, economic doom and gloom there is still a lot to learn, opportunities to seize and a better, prosperous future to build. The community is there to help those that want to help themselves improve professionally and personally without breaking the bank.  So get registered and prepare to learn and network.

More info:

SQL Server Days 2014
September 30 – October 1
Day 1 = precon / Day 2 = conference
Where: San Marco, Schelle

Mind the UNMAP Impact On Performance In Certain Scenarios


The Problem

Recently we’ve been trouble shooting some weird SQL Server to file backup issues. They started failing on the clock at 06:00 AM. We checked the NICs, the switches, the drivers, the LUNs, HBAs, … but it was all well. We considered over stressed buffers as the root cause or spanning tree issues but the clock steadiness of it all was weird. We tried playing with some time out parameters but with little to no avail. Until the moment it hit me, the file deletions that clean up the old backups!We had UNMAP enabled recently on the SAN.

Take a look at the screenshot below an note the deletion times underlined in red. That’s with UNMAP enabled. Above is with UNMAP disabled. The Backup jobs failed waiting for the deletion process.

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This is a no issues if your backup target is running something prior to Windows Server 2012. if not, UNMAP is disabled by default. I know about the potential performance impact of UNMAP when deleting or more larger files due to the space reclamation kicking in. This is described here Plan and Deploy Thin Provisioning under the heading “Consider space reclamation and potential performance impact”. But as I’m quite used to talking about many, many terabytes of data I kind of forget to think of 500 to 600GB of files as “big” Embarrassed smile. But it seemed to a suspect so we tested certain scenarios and bingo!

Solutions

  1. Disable the file-delete notification that triggers real-time space reclamation. Find the following value HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\FileSystem\DisableDeleteNotification and set it to 1.

    Note that: This setting is host wide, so for all LUNs. Perhaps that server has many other roles or needs to server that could benefit from UNMAP. If not this is not an issue.  It is however very efficient in avoiding issues. You can still use the Defragment and Optimize Drives tool to perform space reclamation on-demand or on a scheduled basis.

  2. Create LUNs that will have high deltas in a short time frame as fully provisioned LUNs (aka thick LUNs). As you do this per LUN and not on the host it allows for more fine grained actions than disabling UNMAP.  It makes no sense to have UNMAP do it’s work to reclaim the free space that deleting data created when you’ll just be filling up that space again in the next 24 hours in an endless cycle. Backup targets are a perfect example of this. This avoid the entire UNMAP cycle and you won’t mind as it doesn’t make much sense and fixes you issue. The drawback is you can’t do this for an existing volumes. So it has some overhead & downtime involved depending on the SAN solution you use. It also means that you have to convince you storage admins to give you fully provisioned LUNs, which might or might not be easy depending on how things are organized.

Conclusion

UNMAP has many benefits both in the physical and virtual layer. As with all technologies you have to understand its capabilities, requirements, benefits and draw backs. Without this you might run into trouble.