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Virtualizing SQL Server with VMware: Architecting for Performance: Storage

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This chapter from Virtualizing SQL Server with VMware: Doing IT Right first covers the key aspects of storage architecture relevant to both physical and virtual environments as well as the differences you need to understand when architecting storage, specifically for virtualized SQL Server Databases.
This chapter is from the book

All aspects of architecting your SQL Server Database for performance are important. Storage is more important than most when compared to the other members of the IT Food Group family we introduced in Chapter 5, “Architecting for Performance: Design,” which consists of Disk, CPU, Memory, and Network. Our experience has shown us, and data from VMware Support validates this belief, that more than 80% of performance problems in database environments, and especially virtualized environments, are directly related to storage. Understanding the storage architecture in a virtualized environment and getting your storage architecture right will have a major impact on your database performance and the success of your SQL Server virtualization project. Bear in mind as you work through your storage architecture and this chapter that virtualization is bound by the laws of physics—it won’t fix bad code or bad database queries. However, if you have bad code and bad queries, we will make them run as fast as possible.

This chapter first covers the key aspects of storage architecture relevant to both physical and virtual environments as well as the differences you need to understand when architecting storage, specifically for virtualized SQL Server Databases. Many of the concepts we discuss will be valid for past versions of SQL Server and even the newest release, SQL Server 2014.

We provide guidance on what our experience has taught us are important database storage design principles. We present a top-down approach covering SQL Server Database and Guest OS Design, Virtual Machine Template Design, followed by VMware vSphere Hypervisor Storage Design and then down to the physical storage layers, including using server-side flash acceleration technology to increase performance and provide greater return on investment. We conclude the chapter by covering one of the biggest IT trends and its impact on SQL Server. Throughout this chapter, we give you architecture examples based on real-world projects that you can adapt for your purposes.

When designing your storage architecture for SQL Server, you need to clearly understand the requirements and have quantitative rather than subjective metrics. Our experience has taught us to make decisions based on fact and not gut feeling. You will need to benchmark and baseline your storage performance to clearly understand what is achievable from your design. Benchmarking and baselining performance are critical to your success, so we’ve dedicated an entire chapter (Chapter 10, “How to Baseline Your Physical SQL Server System”) to those topics. In this chapter, we discuss some of the important storage system component performance aspects that will feed into your benchmarking and baselining activities.

The Five Key Principles of Database Storage Design

When architecting storage for SQL Server, it’s important to understand a few important principles. These will help guide your design decisions and help you achieve acceptable performance both now and in the future. These principles are important because over the past decade, CPU performance has increased at a much faster pace than storage performance, even while capacity has exploded.

Principle 1: Your database is just an extension of your storage

The first principle is highlighted in Figure 6.1: that your database is just an extension of your storage. A database is designed to efficiently and quickly organize, retrieve, and process large quantities of data to and from storage. So increasing the parallelism of access to storage resources at low latency will be an important goal. Later in this chapter, we cover how to optimize the architecture of your database to maximize its storage performance and parallelism. When you understand this principle, it’s easy to understand why getting your storage design and performance is so critical to the success of your SQL Server Database virtualization project.

Figure 6.1

Figure 6.1 Quote from Michael Webster, VMworld 2012

Principle 2: Performance is more than underlying storage devices

The next key principle is that storage performance is more than just about underlying storage devices and spindles, although they are very important too. SQL Server storage performance is multidimensional and is tightly coupled with a number of different system components, such as the number of data files allocated to the database, the number of allocated vCPUs, and the amount of memory allocated to the database. This is why we like to use the term “IT Food Groups,” because it is so important to feed your database the right balance of these critical resources. This interplay between resources such as CPU, Memory, and Network and their impact on storage architecture and performance will be covered in subsequent sections of this chapter.

Principle 3: Size for performance before capacity

Figure 6.2 is loosely based on the eighteenth-century quote “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten,” by Benjamin Franklin. Both quotes are extremely relevant to SQL Server database and storage performance.

Figure 6.2

Figure 6.2 Quote from Michael Webster, VMworld 2013

This brings us to the next key principle. In order to prevent poor performance from being a factor in your SQL Server virtualization project (refer to Figure 6.2), you should design storage for performance first (IOPS and latency), then capacity will take care of itself. Capacity is the easy part. We will show you later in this chapter how compromising on certain storage configurations on the surface can actually cost you a lot more by causing unusable capacity due to poor performance.

Principle 4: Virtualize, but without compromise

The next principle is that virtualizing business-critical SQL Server databases is all about reducing risk and not compromising on SLAs. Virtualize, but without compromise. There is no need to compromise on predictability of performance, quality of service, availability, manageability, or response times. Your storage architecture plays a big part in ensuring your SQL databases will perform as expected. As we said earlier, your database is just an extension of your storage. We will show you how to optimize your storage design for manageability without compromising its performance.

Believe it or not, as big of advocates as we are about virtualizing SQL Server, we have told customers in meetings that now is not the right time for this database to be virtualized. This has nothing to do with the capability of vSphere or virtualization, but more to do with the ability of the organization to properly operate critical SQL systems and virtualize them successfully, or because they are not able or willing to invest appropriately to make the project a success. If you aren’t willing to take a methodical and careful approach to virtualization projects for business-critical applications, in a way that increases the chances of success, then it’s not worth doing. Understand, document, and ensure requirements can be met through good design and followed by testing and validation. It is worth doing, and it is worth “Doing It Right!”

Principle 5: Keep it standardized and simple (KISS)

This brings us to the final principle. Having a standardized and simplified design will allow your environment and databases to be more manageable as the numbers scale while maintaining acceptable performance (see Principle 4). If you have a small number of standardized templates that fit the majority of your database requirements and follow a building-block approach, this is very easy to scale and easy for your database administrators to manage. We’ll use the KISS principle (Keep It Standardized and Simple) throughout this chapter, even as we dive into the details. Once you’ve made a design decision, you should standardize on that decision across all your VM templates. Then when you build from those templates, you’ll know that the settings will always be applied.

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