Eight-Way Xeons Help SQL Server Scale

REDMOND, Wash. -- Microsoft Corp. is pushing to get SQL Server 7.0 into the back offices of large enterprises. The company hopes Intel Corp.’s recently announced eight-way Xeon chipsets will improve the database’s performance enough to help it earn a spot among heavyweights, such as Oracle8 and DB2.

"We haven’t focused as much on the enterprise edition as we plan to because we were waiting for eight-way servers," says Tom Kreyche, a SQL Server product manager with Microsoft.

SQL Server 7.0 was branded an enterprise-class database by Microsoft from day one. Now the company has been running SQL Server 7.0 on eight-way Xeon servers to test how the database will fare on the new systems when it comes to benchmarks.

"The preliminary benchmarks we’ve run on applications such as SAP look good," Kreyche says. "SQL Server 7.0 is definitely going to get a big boost out of these [eight-ways]."

Kreyche declined to reveal the preliminary benchmark results.

While benchmarks like TPC-D from the Transaction Processing Council (www.tpc.org) are often disregarded because they are created by a council of hardware vendors and can be manipulated for better results, vendors that use SAP benchmarks are playing by SAP’s rules. Unlike the TPC test, SAP’s benchmark is not particularly memory dependent, so companies can’t just throw in more memory to get better results.

"These improved benchmarks are part of the evolutionary path that SQL Server is on. With every new iteration and with new hardware improvements, the database gets better and more capable of handling enterprise needs," says Dwight Davis, an analyst at market analysis and consulting firm Summit Strategies (www.summitstrat.com).

Kreyche explains that the performance gains eight-way systems offer to SQL Server are neither reliant on Windows 2000, nor are they reliant on future versions of SQL Server.

One of the scalability improvements claimed from running SQL Server 7.0 on an eight-way box is support for databases of up to 3 TB, which is more data than commonly associated with the product.

Davis points out that using SQL Server 7.0 with 3 TB of data raises performance questions, such as how many simultaneous users can access that database and what the response time those users experience is. These are questions that Microsoft has not publicly answered with a 3 TB database.

The company has, however, shown what SQL Server can do with the TerraServer, a Web-accessible database of more than 1 TB of aerial and satellite images of Earth. After a rocky launch in which scalability problems arose, TerraServer appears to be running more smoothly. Additionally, two third-party companies, Unisys Corp. (www.unisys.com) and Data General Inc. (www.dg.com), also have demonstrated databases greater than 1 TB running on SQL Server 7.0.

Critics speculate that TerraServer and the third-party databases don’t simulate a real-world database because they are limited in capabilities and performance. Microsoft maintains that their existence proves SQL Server 7.0 can scale, and that will only improve with eight-way servers.

"Beyond the pure performance increases eight-way servers provide, the reliability improves as well," Davis says.