Michael J. Swart

November 10, 2017

Postponing Our Use of In Memory OLTP

Filed under: Miscelleaneous SQL,SQLServerPedia Syndication,Technical Articles — Michael J. Swart @ 9:30 am

Devops, Agile and Continuous Delivery

Sometimes I get asked about work and our software development practices. Often these questions use words like agile, devops, or continuous delivery as in “Are you agile?” or “Do you do continuous delivery?”. But these questions rarely have yes or no answers. I always want to answer “It’s a work in progress”.

One of the things I like best about the PASS Summit is the opportunity to talk to people to find out how they do development. After speaking with others, it seems like everyone’s processes are always going to be works-in-progress. But I’ve come to realize that at D2L, we’re pretty far along. Here are just some of the things we do:

Things We Do

  • Deployments to production are scheduled and almost completely automatic. This lets us deploy way more often than we used to.
  • All code – including procedures and table definitions – are checked in.
  • Automatic tests are run on every pull request and merge.
  • Safety is a huge concern. We use feature flags and other techniques, but it remains difficult to maintain large complicated systems safely.
  • We use blue-green deployments for zero downtime.
  • The database layer is an exception to this blue-green technique. So it’s very important to be able to rollback any changes or configuration.

Sardines and Whales

This means we must also support thousands of copies of our main database. They’re used for client sites, test sites, qa sites, or whatever. So that leads to a variety of server configurations that I refer to as sardines and whales:

Look at those sardines. They’re quite happy where they are. The server can handle up to a thousand databases when there’s almost no activity.

But that whale is on a huge server and is extremely busy. Because of the high volume of transactions, we sometimes encounter tempdb contention due to our frequent use of table valued parameters. One technique I’ve been looking forward to evaluating is using memory optimized table types.

Maybe We Can Use In Memory OLTP?

I’m actually not very interested in memory optimized tables. I’m much more interested in the memory optimized table types. Those types can be used for table valued parameters. I can’t tell you how excited I was that it might solve my tempdb pet peeve.

But our dreams for the feature died

We’re leaving the feature behind for a few reasons. There’s an assumption we relied on for the sardine servers: Databases that contain no data and serve no activity should not require significant resources like disk space or memory. However, when we turned on In Memory OLTP by adding the filegroup for the memory-optimized data, we found that the database began consuming memory and disk (about 2 gigabytes of disk per database). This required extra resources for the sardine servers. So for example, 1000 databases * 2Gb = 2Tb for a server that should be empty.

Another reason is that checkpoints began to take longer. Checkpoints are not guaranteed to be quick, but on small systems they take a while which impacts some of our Continuous Integration workflows.

At the PASS Summit, I talked to a Hekaton expert panel. I also talked to a couple people in the Microsoft SQL Server clinic about some of my issues. They all recommended that we upgrade to SQL Server 2016 (which we can’t yet). Maybe I didn’t phrase my questions well, but I didn’t come away with any useful strategy to pursue.

I later talked to a Speaker Idol contestant Brian Carrig (@briancarrig) after hearing him talk briefly about his experiences with In Memory OLTP. He mentioned his own hard-fought lessons with In Memory OLTP including some uncomfortable outages.

The final nail in the coffin, as it were, is that once you turn on In Memory OLTP, you can’t turn it off. Once the In Memory OLTP filegroup is added, it’s there for good. Like I said, safety is a huge concern for us so we’re giving up on the feature for now.

Resurrecting the Feature?

The feature was designed for whales, not sardines. Maybe someday we will try to get those sardine servers to not fail with In Memory OLTP. Until then, the feature goes back on the shelf.

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