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An IT department can become a battleground when different job functions are given competing goals. Performance and capacity are a set of competing goals that turn up again and again. These goals can pit SQL Server database administrators (DBAs) against storage area network (SAN) specialists. When pressure comes down from management and both start to scramble, they find they've been asked to achieve incompatible goals.
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"SAN guys are measured by how much they can say they've saved with storage space," said Geoff Hiten, principal SQL Server consultant for management and consulting firm Intellinet Corp. With SQL Server databases, space is money, and so the incentive is strong to push SAN specialists to optimize for greater capacity. According to Hiten, this means SAN specialists have to "micro-optimize for their areas." That micro-optimization can reduce overall database performance.
In contrast, DBAs are judged based on the performance they can get out of a server. Since the DBA manages the server in its entirety, having the server optimized for something other than performance or a balance of performance and capacity becomes their responsibility. This leads to contention between the SAN specialist, who has been given the incentive to favor capacity over performance, while the DBA needs performance before capacity to do his job. But favoring capacity at the expense of performance becomes a problem for everyone, not just the DBA, when it slows down the server.
New-York-based tire company Mavis Discount Tire has expanded rapidly since 2011, when Edward Schwartz became CIO, growing to a chain of 150 retail stores in the northeastern U.S. Mavis runs Enterprise editions of SQL Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2012. Schwartz has them all physical and clustered because, he said, he is "trying to squeeze every last bit of performance out of them."
With performance as a priority, using SAN didn't look as good. Schwartz added, "We didn't have a lot of data. We didn't need an external SAN." Other advantages of going SANless, according to Schwartz, are cost savings, speed and simplicity. The cost savings come from cutting out unnecessary or redundant hardware. To run the Mavis Tire servers with SANs would require multiple SANs and both dedicated and redundant external switches.
Edward SchwartzCIO, Mavis Discount Tire
Schwartz's strategy when it comes to picking technology for the Mavis Tire servers is to look for technology that is "simple and sophisticated at the same time." He looks for technology that uses complex tools, but, at the same time, simplifies things for Mavis Tire. SIOS Technology's DataKeeper fit Schwartz's criteria and Mavis Tire has stayed with SIOS for four years.
SIOS Technology Corp. specializes in global cloud computing and disaster recovery. Its products provide opportunities for the creation of SAN and SANless clusters for physical, virtual and cloud environments. DataKeeper is a virtual SAN that runs under the application layer of SQL Server, allowing for the creation of SANless clusters. Microsoft Cluster Server perceives it as an ordinary SAN, not a third-party tool.
Schwartz explained how DataKeeper fulfilled his criteria. DataKeeper Is sophisticated in that it can use Microsoft as leverage and is simple in that it has the ability to eliminate SAN. He has been pleased with DataKeeper's performance and is not missing SAN. He said, "This is a good technology for a midsize company that is growing rapidly. If you [SIOS Technology] can make something simple and potentially save money, that is something valuable."
In June, SIOS Technology announced the results of its SQL Server High Availability Survey 2014. According to the results, 51% of the 191 respondents felt that SAN slowed SQL performance, while 73% wanted to get away from the limitations SAN imposes on SQL Server configuration.
It's no surprise that a survey conducted by SIOS Technology comes to the conclusion that the major problems currently facing SQL Server users are also the ones its product, DataKeeper, is intended to solve.
"They're presenting the factual information in a way that looks good for them, but that doesn't invalidate the information," Hiten said. "The trends that we're seeing are real trends."
The survey also found that 43% of respondents saw improving SQL Server performance as a top priority. According to Hiten, the performance levels are not there for the clustered SQL Servers now deploying in the enterprise environment. Companies are forced to give up performance for capacity.
"Those are competing goals," said Hiten.
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