High Availability (DR) Using SQL Server 2005 Transactional Replication

,

Background and the SQL 2000 Methodology

Using transactional replication as a disaster recovery

(DR) option seems to be fairly standard but definitely problematic in SQL 2000 and I wanted to see if it

has become any easier for SQL 2005. Use for DR is mentioned in detail in the SQL

Server 2000 High Availability Series

here. There are well established “competing” alternative technologies

in this series of articles including log shipping, replication with updateable subscribers, and now database

mirroring, which all have their pros and cons and I won't try to do

a long comparison of all these techniques here. Let’s just assume that you have come

to the conclusion that transactional replication is the most appropriate DR

solution for your needs and want to implement it as painlessly as possible.

As mentioned in the link above, for SQL Server 2000 there exists a pretty

thorough set of recommendations and manual processes to implement. You might

wonder why it is not so straightforward to set up. Basically, the problem is

that transactional replication out of the box assumes that the subscriber is

read-only. The constraints that exist to limit the data on the subscriber are

dropped and automatically populated columns – those having defaults, identities

or timestamps - are not implemented, because quite logically

they would be never be needed for a read-only implementation. This is fine for

normal transactional replication but if we want to use the subscriber as a

failover server it simply won’t cut it. We need the schemas to be more or less

identical on the publisher and subscriber or else our application will most

likely fail when pointed at the subscriber (I'm going to completely ignore those databases not

having any identity columns, check constraints, defaults or timestamps!).

The document above recognises these issues and therefore outlines how to make a

correct synchronisation of

schemas possible. It is largely a manual process and involves setting all

constraints and identities to NOT FOR REPLICATION (NFR) on the publisher, then

manually scripting out the publisher’s tables. Certain changes are made to the

script, including modifications of timestamp columns. After that we apply the

script on the subscriber. This can be done manually or as a pre-snapshot script

but either way it must bypass the normal, initialization-generated tables.

In the publication, the article properties for all  tables are set to not

overwrite the existing tables created in the script above. After that

you’ll just need to manually modify any replication stored procedures on the

subscriber that apply to any timestamp

columns.

So, if all this seems really longwinded, it really is :), and it is therefore

prone to being set up incorrectly (this is perhaps the reason why 2 of the

implementations I’ve recently seen simply could never work after failover).

Setting it up in SQL Server 2005

What I was interested in was how have things improved for

SQL Server 2005 when using transactional replication for a failover solution.

Does the above document still hold. If not, are people still using an old

methodology when things could now be done more simply?

 

Consider Default Transactional Replication

If we replicate a set of tables containing the usual PKs,

FKs, defaults, check constraints, indexes etc what is taken and what is left

behind when using SQL 2005?

Largely this is much the same as SQL 2000 – the defaults are left behind as are

the check constraints and FKs.

However there are 2 interesting changes, the first of which is crucial:

  • the Identity attribute is modified to NFR on the

    publisher if not already NFR, and is

    implemented as an identity column (NFR) on the subscriber. Remember, in

    SQL 2000 this would have been without the identity property.

  • the Primary keys remain as PKs on the subscriber,

    rather than being changed to unique indexes.

So, the schemas of the publisher and subscriber are already converging, without

any manual changes having yet being made. How can we force the schemas to converge

further without resorting to editing scripts? The remaining configuration is set

on the article properties dialog box (below).

In the Article properties dialog above we see there is a massive advantage – we can set the

properties collectively for a set of tables rather than one by one in SQL 2000.

The actual properties themselves are shown below:

 

The properties in red have defaults values which need

changing for our purposes and are the "crucial" ones, while the ones in blue are

potentially less critical depending on your requirements. The simplest method is

to set them all to true. After setting these properties appropriately by reversing the

ones in red and blue I use

SQLCompare and find that apart from some inconsequential changes (eg the

foreign keys are marked as WITH NOCHECK) my subscriber schema is identical to

the publisher.

In the Additional Options section below we see that even the problem of

timestamps is automatically taken care of.

The default of “Convert timestamp to binary” is set to

false. At first I thought that some fundamental change had occurred and

timestamps were now allowed to be assigned directly on the subscriber. Looking

at the replicated timestamp data and the insert stored procedure I see that the

mechanism chosen is to allow the subscriber to select its own timestamp value

and not to try to keep it in sync with the publisher ie it isn't really

replicated at all. Obviously this leads to non-convergence of data and if later

on you are using

DataCompare or some equivalent tool you must be aware that this

column will need omitting to have a useful comparison of data.

 

Summary

So, by setting the properties of the table articles

appropriately we can use transactional replication in SQL Server 2005 as a DR

solution without resorting to manual table scripting and stored procedure

modifications. This is good news - it can all now be implemented much more

simply than with SQL 2000 and is therefore less prone to errors.

Article by Paul Ibison,

www.replicationanswers.com

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