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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

SQL Server 2005 Infrastructure Management

One of the largest consumers of a database administrator’s time is working across the infrastructure to ensure that databases are available for applications while service packs are deployed, application code and underlying database schemas are changed, and the data itself is changing. Add to this the complexity of systems, a lack of transparency or complete knowledge of the database server infrastructure, and the fact that the database may be in another country, and you can see what a challenge managing change is for the DBA. The goal for you, the DBA, is to keep the plane in the air while the engines are being changed.

Microsoft has made some progress in the area of change management. One of the most potentially painful topics is setup, either local or remote. It seems that as fast as hardware models change, operating system and application code changes to keep pace. In organizations with high data growth rates, the underlying hardware structures are consumed and become potential bottlenecks. Ultimately, managing change is a combination of administrative skills, business process, and product features. Combined, these constructs reflect the organization’s overall data management strategy. Change management has been one of the biggest issues for SQL Server 2000. SQL Server 2005 has improved change management scenarios in several key areas:

  • Database Snapshot lets you roll back a change in a database schema or data by reapplying changed database pages.
  • Setup. Using an MSI-based model, local and remote installations can be accomplished. Setup now provides a setup consistency checker that examines and provides reporting about the receiving server’s state. Setup can also be executed from the command line and is fully scriptable.
  • SQL Server Management Studio includes support for source control. This allows for tighter control of queries and batch files in the system. Source control is extended to SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) and business intelligence database code.
  • Remote management and scriptability. SQL Server 2005 supplies several methods to script all objects in the database. These scripts can be used to manage database code via source-safe technologies. Additionally, these scripts can be used to generate database objects, including OLAP databases in remote locations.
  • For testing and development phases, the new Dynamic Management Views increase visibility into memory and system processes, allowing for query and procedure evaluation.

Maintaining availability during state changes on the server infrastructure happens at several levels. At the hardware level, SQL Server conforms to capabilities provided by Windows 2003 and the hardware original equipment manufacturer (OEM). SQL Server takes advantage of dynamic capabilities for adding and removing RAM, disc arrays, and components without restarting the server from Windows Server 2003. With Windows 2003, many server changes still require restarting the server. By understanding the Windows environment, administrators can be prepared to deal with planning downtime for maintenance. Their strategy should be to employ new features of SQL Server 2005 to mitigate planned downtime.

Two new features help in this capacity—database mirroring and Database Snapshot, which you can think of as a mechanism for rolling back changes to database objects. Database Snapshot has several advantages that make it perfect for dynamic system changes. Database Snapshot uses a technology called copy-on-write. This mechanism captures in the Snapshot Database only data pages that have changed. This makes the snapshot very lightweight. A development team could take a snapshot before applying any schema changes.

Another tool for managing infrastructure change is the Setup program. Now in SQL Server, an administrator can make changes to database features, including adding them to and removing them from failover clustering using the Setup dialogs. (Setup is discussed in depth in the section "What’s New in Setup?")

Database Snapshot

Database Snapshot is a read-only copy of the database. Database Snapshot isn’t meant to be used for reporting or as a snapshot of the database from which to develop new schema. It is actually a sparse file with pointers to the original data pages. Only when the pages change does the snapshot absorb the original page. At creation time, Database Snapshot creates a sparse file and bitmap. They are stored in memory in the buffer cache memory allocation. The size of the bitmap is directly related to the size of the source database. This is an important consideration on smaller RAM systems. In a system with a total of 4GB of RAM, if the database is large, the memory pool could have pressure applied to it via too many snapshots residing in the buffer pool. It makes sense to implement a policy that all changes to the server, except RAM and hard drives, should be accomplished after a Database Snapshot is created. It’s also a good practice to delete any unneeded Database Snapshots.

With their simplicity of use, snapshots are easily abused, so you should use them carefully. The files need understandable names. If you generate a lot of them, consider a naming convention like this:

Databasename_datatype_year_day_militaryhour_.sht

The file extension can be almost anything. Books Online uses SS. I use sht. You can see how easy it is to create a snapshot in the following sample:

CREATE DATABASE AdventureWorks_dbss1800 ON
( NAME = AdventureWorks_Data, FILENAME =
'C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL 
Server\MSSQL.1\MSSQL\Data\AdventureWorks_data_1800.sht' )
AS SNAPSHOT OF AdventureWorks;
GO

What’s New in Setup?

In SQL Server 2005, Setup has dramatically improved over previous versions. This is due largely to the move from a third-party installer to Microsoft Windows Installer. The core Windows Installer technology resides on all Windows operating system installations and provides an excellent backbone for installing SQL Server. SQL Server Setup has two installation modes:

  • Unattended Setup is used for remote installations. It includes the ability to set up failover clustering on a remote server.
  • Attended Setup is done interactively through a wizard. The new wizard takes users through each step of the installation process. One of the most important gains from the new Setup tools is a higher level of security. The Setup Wizard ensures that all the features are installed securely by default.

Windows Installer

The Windows Installer installs all components in a single feature tree. Minimum and typical installation modes are no longer implemented. Instead, Setup displays a feature tree with default options selected. Administrators can then customize the installation by selecting and clearing items on the feature tree and specifying installation paths. This version of Windows Installer also supports remote Setup and multiple instance configurations.

SQL Server 2005 uses Add or Remove Programs in Control Panel to add or remove individual features and to remove instances of SQL Server. Maintenance of existing SQL Server instances is supported via the Setup user interface, the command line, Microsoft Systems Management Server, or with an .ini file.

SQL Server and its supporting components—Analysis Services, Reporting Services, and Notification Services—are now integrated into a single feature tree. Setup for SQL Server 2005 provides advanced detection logic to identify previous component installations, simplifying installation of additional components or instances and upgrade of existing instances of SQL Server. One of the most exciting new features of Setup is the Consistency Checker.

Setup Consistency Checker

SQL Server 2005 provides Setup Consistency Checker (SCC), a new feature that checks and validates the target computer before Setup begins. Using Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) technology, SCC prevents Setup failures due to unsupported configurations on local, remote, and clustered target computers. If Setup can fix failed check items, the user can allow Setup to take the necessary action. Otherwise, SCC guides the user to a solution for each blocking issue before Setup can continue. SCC provides a rich reporting interface that allows you to click through to help files. Additionally, the report can be copied to the clipboard or e-mailed from the Report window. SCC’s profile changes according to the feature selected for installation.

Customizable Installation Path

Setup allows administrators to specify custom installation paths for the main features of SQL Server, including Analysis Services, Reporting Services, SQL Server Relational Database, and Client Tools. In addition, administrators can customize install paths for SQL Server log files and tempDB. The ability to customize installation paths is useful in the following scenarios:

  • An administrator wants to install tempDB and the log files to different volumes on a file system. During setup, the administrator can configure custom installation paths for tempDB and the log files.
  • An administrator wants to install Analysis Services to a different location than the default defined in Setup. The administrator can configure a custom installation path for Analysis Services.

Failure Reporting

One of the biggest headaches for DBAs is when Setup fails. In previous versions of SQL Server, if the installation failed, you simply had to check the log files and hope you could figure out what happened from the cryptic log text. With SQL Server 2005, significant work has been done to make Setup as painless as possible.

Setup for SQL Server 2005 includes improved failure reporting and extensible alerts. If an error occurs during installation, Setup determines a failure exit code, provides a descriptive error message, recommends corrective actions to take for resolution, and points the user to the Setup log. Setup also saves the log from each installation.

For example, suppose that while upgrading from SQL Server 2000 to SQL Server 2005, an administrator receives a Setup error. The administrator is presented with an informative alert stating that a specific dynamic link library (DLL) failed to register on the system. The administrator clicks OK, and Setup rolls back the failed installation. When Setup is done rolling back the failed installation, the administrator sees a dialog box that asks if he or she wants to report the problem to Microsoft and is directed to any additional help available. The administrator can report the problem on the Microsoft Support website and receives a link to a related Knowledge Base article. The article presents the administrator with a possible workaround for the problem.

Watson Integration

SQL Server 2005 extends exception handling in replication components to include local minidump files for Dr. Watson 1.0 integration. In earlier versions of SQL Server, if a replication agent hit an exception, a stack dump was generated. This dump provided debug information but was not generated in a format that could be loaded in Visual Studio and debugged. In SQL Server 2005, a Visual Studio–compatible minidump file is generated.

Applications can produce user-mode minidump files that contain a useful subset of the information contained in a crash dump file. Applications can create minidump files quickly and efficiently. Because minidump files are small, they can be easily sent over the Internet to technical support for the application.

The dump file is stored in the mssql\log folder for replication executables and in the current directory for any .exe using replication ActiveX components. In addition to the local minidump, replication components also call Dr. Watson to generate a cab file with debug information.

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