Evaluating the ROI of a SQL Server 2008 R2 upgrade

Cool new features may not impress management, but return on investment always will. Speak an executive’s language when making the hard pitch for a SQL Server 2008 R2 upgrade.

SQL Server 2008 R2 features promise to empower the database administrator, but cool new features aren’t a good selling point to executive management. In reality, each feature needs to present a real return on investment (ROI) that is appealing to the business side. Let’s look at the best way to qualify the case for a SQL Server 2008 R2 upgrade.

If you’re going to make a presentation to management on the benefits of upgrading to SQL Server 2008 R2, then you need to understand some of the pomp and circumstance that’s often involved in the process.

Here are a few things you’ll need to know:

1. Even if you are delivering the communication to a mid-level or senior technical manager, it’s likely that he or she will pass it up the chain of command. You’ll need to write your proposal with various members of management in mind.

2. Senior executives won’t be interested in how cool a technology is, what it does for you or even what functionality it provides. They will only be concerned with related expenses, ROI and any competitive advantage it has to offer.

3. How you structure your proposal is vitally important. Keep it concise. A typical senior-level executive may only read the first one or two paragraphs because he doesn’t have much available time.

4. Keep the structure of your document concise and to the point from beginning to end. Your proposal should contain the following segments.

      • Executive summary. The first two paragraphs should fully address what ROI the upgrade will provide, what competitive advantage it offers and any associated expenses. Senior executives do not typically know the technologies involved, nor should they. Keep it brief and address how this upgrade impacts the bottom line. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being decisive about your preferred approach and the justification for it.
      • Options. Present vendor options in an easily comparable format. Use a table that includes rows for total expenses, expected ROI, business capabilities, etc. Keep the table small, so that it’s easily digestible at a glance. Compare upgrade costs to the costs associated with making no changes.
      • Business impact analysis (BIA). Flesh out the details of the executive summary while still keeping a focus on the bottom line. When focusing on BIA, do not discuss the technical pros and cons—just address potential ROI, expenses and any competitive advantages that the upgrade may provide.
      • Technical analysis. This is where you can dive into the technical details and benefits of an upgrade to SQL Server 2008 R2. Keep in mind, typically only technical consultants and/or junior-level management will read this section. When explaining technology, be sure to explain how each feature translates into ROI by highlighting the advantages and associated expenses versus functional capabilities.

Developments in scalability and performance

Historically, SQL Server has received a reputation for mediocre scalability and performance, likely because of its humble beginnings. Microsoft has done a complete 180-degree shift in this area with SQL Server 2008 R2, providing a platform for the most demanding systems in the world such as SAP with 93,000 concurrent users. SQL Server 2008 R2 can also use 256 cores, which makes it a serious contender for large systems. The Resource Governor feature allows a DBA to prioritize workloads and resources.

The performance data collector allows you to integrate the collection, analysis, troubleshooting and persistence of diagnostic information. The main benefit of this feature is that it lets you more effectively troubleshoot, tune and monitor SQL Servers across the enterprise. The collector has a low overhead while it combines data from a variety of sources.

The ability to centralize storage performance data in management warehouses provides substantial management cost efficiencies. This lets you quantify SQL Server’s recent performance improvements. How many hours do you expect to save? What’s the cost per hour saved, including rough pay-per-benefit calculations? In a large environment, these calculations will easily be enough to justify the costs to upgrade.

Data compression is another feature that can save enterprises money—making it easy to justify an upgrade to SQL Server 2008 R2. Most DBAs already use some third-party backup compression tools, such as Quest LiteSpeed for SQL Server or RedGate Software, to provide compression at the backup level. However, native SQL Server 2008 R2 provides compression on both the database and backup level, increasing disk space efficiency. Quantifying the cost of SAN utilization savings through compression is an excellent way to justify upgrade costs.

SQL Server as an enterprise-class DBMS

If you review the common TPC-C benchmark (for online transaction processing) put out by the Transaction Processing Performance Council, you’ll see that SQL Server 2008 R2 can’t compete with Oracle 9i or IBM DB2 databases solely from a performance standpoint. But if you review TPC-C on a performance versus price standpoint, SQL Server ranks 8 out of 10.

SQL Server 2008 R2 is pretty competitive for an Enterprise/Standard edition, as Microsoft has an incredibly strong placing in the TPC-E rankings. SQL Server 2008 introduced the Web edition, a substantially less expensive SQL Server edition for Web-only use. This version is ideal and cost-effective for Web farms.

Microsoft’s progress in the business intelligence arena is evidenced in its strong showing in TPC-H (decision support) benchmarks. For performance, Microsoft received rankings of 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 on 100 GB; 3, 4, 5, 7 on 300 GB; 8 and 9 on 1,000 GB; 6 and 8 on 3,000 GB; and 7 and 8 on 10,000 GB.

The company also placed very strongly on the TPC-H price versus performance rankings. Considering Microsoft’s progress on performance per capabilities in the BI space, it’s a good angle when pitching the values of upgrading to SQL Server 2008 R2.

SQL Server has a lower initial cost for both OLTP and decision support for startup companies through Fortune 5000 companies. Oracle 9i and IBM DB2 are very competitive in high-volume systems as illustrated in the TPC benchmarks, but tend to carry a significant expense for smaller enterprises.

Moving toward the integrated enterprise

The push is on to use loosely coupled enterprise solutions that are scalable, redundant and secure -- for example service-oriented architecture (SOA), Software as a Secure Service (SaSS), Software as a Service (SaaS), Hardware as a Service (HaaS) and other cloud-based products. Additionally, with thousands of virtual servers running across VMware ESX or Microsoft Hyper-V hosts, the ability to run systems as a cloud of loosely coupled components has become a key IT strategy in enterprises of all sizes. Increasingly, companies are designing enterprise buses that organize SOA-based components into comprehensive, integrated corporate solutions.

The ability to quickly build loosely-coupled, distributed, redundant and secure environments using industry standards may be one of the most compelling arguments for an upgrade.

Microsoft has embraced this vision, promoting SQL Server 2008 R2 as a strong piece of the loosely-coupled component puzzle. But few have picked up on its potential. Using Web services as end points directly on SQL Server 2008 R2 itself allows SQL Server to act as an SOA component. Using SQL Server to store and manipulate XML data natively provides a strong foundation for loosely coupled components.

SQL Server 2008 R2’s Service Broker feature has undergone continual improvements to allow for more fluid and rapid communications between distributed internal servers and external ones. Constant replication improvements, which include peer-to-peer configuration and database mirroring improvements, illustrate Microsoft’s push toward distributed loosely-coupled solutions. And the ability to quickly build loosely-coupled, distributed, redundant and secure environments using industry standards may be one of the most compelling arguments for an upgrade.

It’s critical to quantify ROI associated with the ability to closely integrate SQL Server 2008 R2 with distributed SOA-based systems and distributed database systems or into a corporate-wide enterprise bus. Calculate the annual loss expectancy (ALE) associated with inflexible systems versus the benefits of SQL Server 2008 R2 through improvements such as database mirroring, peer-to-peer replication, etc.

Policy-based management in SQL Server 2008 R2

Policy-based management allows DBAs to define and enforce policies for uniformly managing and configuring SQL Server systems across the enterprise. You can control a variety of targets (databases, tables and indexes) and you can manage facets (properties or aspects). R2 also allows you to evaluate conditions and check or enforce policies.

From an enterprise-management aspect, policy-based management is exciting because it’s easy to use. Uniformly implementing enterprise-wide internal controls is a critical element of corporate IT governance. Quantify to management the benefits that SQL Server 2008 R2 can provide for implementing internal IT governance controls and include this in your proposal.

Highlight the bottom line

When preparing your SQL Server 2008 R2 upgrade proposal for management, remember that it’s not just about the features, how cool they seem to you or how it makes you more efficient. The benefit to the company lies in the ability of the features to drive results directly to the bottom line and provide corporate IT governance. Remember to quantify all of the benefits of the upgrade, stress the ROI and keep your proposal concise.

This article originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of our SQL Server INSIDER e-zine.

Matthew Schroeder is a senior software engineer working on SQL Server database systems. He is a visionary IT executive with 15+ years of experience managing development/operations teams, project management, vendor management, optimizing ROI and IT/business alignment. He can be reached at [email protected].

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