Three Rounds with Microsoft’s Paul Flessner

Microsofttook Windows and SQL Server to new heights on the Transaction ProcessingPerformance Council’s TPC-C benchmark this year. Using what it calls ascale-out approach, or database partitioning, Microsoft vaulted from far backin the TPC-C raw performance rankings to the top spot in February and hasretained a No. 1 or No. 2 ranking since.

Like mostthings Microsoft does, the company’s approach has come under intense criticism.Oracle and Sun Microsystems have stepped up as the primary critics. Oracleargues that Microsoft’s clustering methodology is unrealistic; Sun saysdistributed databases are much harder to administer and don’t work in manylarge database scenarios.

PaulFlessner, senior vice president for Microsoft’s .NET enterprise serverdivision, oversees SQL Server 2000. In his former role as vice president ofdatabase and data access, Flessner drove development of SQL Server and wasclosely involved with the benchmarking efforts. He has a lot to say about theTPC-C controversy.

ENT’sAlicia Costanza caught up with Flessner at the recent SQL Server conference inSan Francisco and asked him to respond to some of Microsoft’s critics.

ENT: What are your thoughts on Oracle’sbashing of how Microsoft does its partitions?

Flessner: [Oracle is] a shared-everythingdatabase vendor, and their story is to scale to Sun. And that was a great storya year ago, that was really the only story in the market. They demanded thishuge premium in the market for it. Now we’ve come along and really kind ofexploded it. You saw our benchmark. They’re doing half the number oftransactions that we are for the same cost, so that makes them twice asexpensive for doing the same amount of work. That’s a very bad position to havein the market. And when you’re in a bad position in the market, the classicthing to do is to try to discredit it, and say, “Oh, people don’t doscale-out.” Well, people have been doing scale-out for 20 years. Every time youhave your credit card processed, you’re going back to a Tandem machine -- thefinancial industry is built on Tandem. Shared-nothing is proven, and has beenfor a long time. So Oracle is attacking the TPC benchmark which it hasparticipated in -- which they helped to fund, they pay to support it. They justpublished another benchmark number last week. So it’s just kind of classic.

ENT: What do you think about what people aresaying about Microsoft altering the TPC benchmark to turn out lower prices?

Flessner: The benchmark is not rigged. We have togo through the audit just like everyone else. We don’t control that. We belongto the TPC, and I think it’s a great organization. Really, the databaseindustry is extremely lucky to have it, because it is a standard, independentorganization with independently audited results. It is the only fair benchmark,quite honestly, in the industry. I now have the privilege to manage otherproducts, [including Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000], and theydon’t have the same organization that they can go to and get a certifiedbenchmark. The ISV application benchmarks -- SAP and PeopleSoft -- reallyaren’t independent, and they aren’t independently audited. The companies runthose benchmarks. We’re really very lucky to have the Transaction ProcessingCouncil, and the fact that Oracle discredits it, I find foolish, honestly. Theypay to belong to it, and it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

With TPC,we’ve got the best benchmark in the world; TPC-W, the new Internet benchmark,we’re the only vendor to publish and own the record today; and TPC-H, the adhoc query, we own the hundred gigabyte, and I believe other competitors ownsome of the larger 1 TB scale. So it’s fair. You know, benchmarks are tough. Ifyou’re not winning, you’re losing, and nobody likes to lose. That’s kind ofwhere Oracle is today.

As far aspricing, that’s structured to be a realistic environment. If you wanted to godeploy an environment, there’s a full disclosure appointed that would allow youto go out and do what you needed to replicate the environment. You can get itfor the same price that it’s audited at, and that’s a guarantee that the vendorhas to provide. It’s stated in the TPC. I don’t criticize the TPC, I complementthem. I was losing until a year ago, and went through five years of bloodynoses because we weren’t in the top 10 in terms of raw performance. I didn’tdiscredit it then, I complemented it then. It’s a fair benchmark.

ENT: Can you talk a little bit about SQLServer 2000’s scale up ability?

Flessner: With Windows 2000, scale up is an SMPgame, and SMP is more processors. To keep more processors happy, well-fed, ittakes a lot of memory. Until Windows 2000 we were really pretty much constrainedto the 32-bit architecture, which means 3 GB of addressable memory to thedatabase. And you’re really not going to keep a 16-way or 32-way SMP machinehappily fed with that amount of memory. It really takes about a gigabyte ofmemory to keep a fast processor happy. With Windows 2000, AWE [AdvancedWindowing Extensions], and the Extended Memory Architecture, we now have accessto about 16 TB of addressable memory. With Windows 64-bit, we’ll have, Ibelieve, one Petabyte of addressable memory. It’s some unreasonable number, butit will give us the scalability of the 16-way, 32-way, and eventually the64-way machines.

Unisys hasa 32-way in the market today, and they’re OEMing it to Compaq and others. Wewill see proliferation of scale up, as well. I am excited about that. I thinkboth models [scale up and scale out] are valid. Customers want both, and we’regoing to happily engineer our products for both models. Some competitors, suchas IBM, have chosen to follow our lead. IBM came out with a shared-nothingarchitecture on the benchmark after we did. Oracle is still not there. They’restill fighting it, wanting to stay with that old business model of lots of golfwith [Sun CEO] Scott McNealy.


Go to for an extended version ofthis Q&A covering several other topics, including the move to a handheldversion of SQL Server, the new per-processor licensing model, and competitionwith Oracle9i and IBM DB2. The expanded online piece also contains links toENT’s coverage of Microsoft’s TPC-C results and the surrounding controversy.


Please check out the rest of Paul Flessner's interview, found only exclusively online at ENT.

MicrosoftCorp., Redmond, Wash.,
Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif.,
Sun Microsystems Inc., Palo Alto, Calif.,
Transaction Processing Performance Council, San Francisco,