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Standing Back And Looking At Benchmark Results

By Neil Boyle,

Once again Microsoft have topped the charts in terms of database performance figures, clocking up 262,243 transactions per minute in standardised tests.

The numbers look good – I’d love to see the kit I look after now chalk up results like these, but could I really do it? Do these figures really mean anything to Joe-Average DBA?

Well, for starters the figures were attained on a beta copy of SQL Server 2000, and I would not fancy running my mission-critical apps on beta software, much as I have found the beta version I am currently playing with to be both stable and impressive. The Release version (due very soon by all accounts) will no doubt perform to similar standards, but you cannot buy it quite yet, and when you can, would you want to be first to put it live?

What about the hardware used for the tests? Well, the figures were not exactly attained on the kind of souped-up super-server you want under your desk but your manager will not sign off on – they was achieved using twelve of them. Twelve Compaq 8500 servers, all sharing the load between them. Each of these servers were stuffed with eight gigabytes of RAM and eight 700 Megahertz Xeon CPUS.

By my reckoning 8 x 12 = 96. Agreed? Then we are looking at a cluster of kit containing 96 Gig of RAM and 96 CPUs. My calculator says that 96 x  700 = 67200, so we are also looking at 67 GigaHertz of raw processing power.

The load was "balanced" using the new "Federated Database" technology included in SQL 2000. Put simply, databases, and even individual tables are distributed across multiple servers – imagine having a database with customers whose names begin with A, B or C on one server, D, E and F customers on another server and so on, but accessed through an abstraction layer that makes it look like you only really have one big database on one big machine – that’s what federated databases are about. Some people (Oracle for instance) have expressed reservations about the reliability of this model, and it’s certainly not suited to every application

And now the best bit – the bottom line. The bottom line is 5.3 million US Dollars for that setup.

Except that that is not bottom line. SQL Server was not sharing all that expensive RAM and CPU power with anything it didn’t have to. Supporting applications, such as IIS, were run on separate servers – with no less than three of these "ancillary" servers supporting each SQL Server – now my elementary maths concludes that that makes 48 machines contributing in some way or other to these impressive benchmark results.

Don’t get me wrong here – I am not knocking SQL Server, Microsoft or the Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC) – these figure are still impressive. Everybody plays by the same rules when they go to the Benchmark Olympics – everybody brings as much kit as their software will run on, and nobody pretends - at least not very hard - that the tests accurately mirror real-world applications or hardware configurations, and everybody squeezes every last ounce of performance, because winning is important. However, unless your employers have a serious hardware and software budget, don’t expect to be putting a quarter of a million transactions a minute through your own servers any time soon.

About the author

Neil Boyle is an independent SQL Server consultant working out of London, England. Neil's free SQL Server guide is available on-line at http://www.impetus-sql.co.uk

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