Columnstore Partitioning In SQL Server 2016

Niko Neugebauer demonstrates some performance improvements to partitioned columnstore indexes in SQL Server 2016:

266ms was the partitioned table under SQL Server 2016 (compatibility level 120) while 353ms of the total elapsed time was obtained on SQL Server 2014! This represents a solid 25% improvement

All execution plans will have the same iterators, but will differ on the overall estimated cost (the non-partitioned queries will be way lower than the partitioned ones), as well as the distribution of the estimated costs within the execution plan, but as for the rest – it will be quite similar, like the one shown on the image below:

These improvements were swamped by the aggregate predicate pushdown improvements in 2016, at least in Niko’s example, but I’ll take a free 25%-33% performance improvement.

Partitioning Basics

Kim Tripp explains partitioning:

So, you’d still need to determine if this is the right approach. But, the main point – partitioning really isn’t designed to give incredible gains to your queries. It’s meant to be better for data management and maintenance. However, some partitioning designs can lead to query performance benefits too.

This is a nice introduction and makes a good point:  performance benefits to partitioning are incidental to the real benefit, which is simplicity of administration.

Viewing Partitions

Kendra Little has a query to view partitions:

This helps make sure that you’re designing your tables correctly, and it also helps you avoid goofs like merging the wrong boundary point and causing a bunch of data to move into another– which can be slow and painful.

All this information is available in TSQL, it’s just an ugly query, and it doesn’t come in any built-in reports or views.

So I’ve got an ugly query for you!

Having a script like this is very helpful if you use partitioning for anything.

Switching Instead Of Renaming Tables

Kendra Little has an interesting solution to when you need to swap out an old table for a new version:

This pattern works in SQL Server 2014 and higher. And it even works in Standard Edition of 2014.

Some folks will see the word ‘Switch’ in this pattern and assume the pattern that I’m suggesting is Enterprise Edition only for versions before SQL Server 2016 SP1.

However, oddly enough, you can use partition switching even in Standard Edition, as long as the tables only have one partition.

And all rowstore tables have at least one partition! That happens automagically when you create a table.

Read the whole thing.

Deleting SSAS Partitions

Chris Koester shows how to use TMSL and Powershell to delete an Analysis Services tabular model partition:

The sample script below shows how this is done. The sequence command is used to delete multiple partitions in a single transaction. This is similar to the batch command in XMLA. In this example we’re only performing delete operations, but many different operations can be performed in sequence (And some in parallel).

Click through for a description of the process as well as a script to do the job.

Columnstore Partitioning

Niko Neugebauer warns against partitioning small tables with clustered columnstore indexes:

Needless to say that looking at the execution plans you notice that the actual execution plan shows 10 times difference between them, even though both tables contain the very same data!
The query cost for the partitioned table is staggering – it is around 10 times bigger (~8.8) vs (~0.81) for the first query.
The execution times reflect in part this situation: 12 ms vs 91 ms. Non-partitioned table performs almost 9 times faster overall and the spent CPU time is reflecting it: 15 ms vs 94 ms. Remember, that both tables are Columnstore Indexes based ! Partitioning your table in a wrong way will contain a huge penalty that might not be directly detectable through the execution plan of the complex queries. Well, you might want to use the CISL, just saying

If you can’t fill a single rowgroup, your partition is too granular.  Even then, I’d like to see double-digit rowgroups per partition, though that’s just me.

Partitioned Views With Polybase

I look at using SQL 2000-style partitioning with a set of external tables:

Using a view, we were able to create a “partitioned” Polybase experience, similar to what we had in SQL Server 2000.  This form of poor man’s partitioning allows us to segment out data sets and query them independently, something which can be helpful when storing very large amounts of data off-site and only occasionally needing to query it.  The thing to remember, though, is that if you store this in Azure Blob Storage, you will need to pull down the entire table’s worth of data to do any processing.

This leads to a concept I first heard from Ginger Grant:  pseudo-StretchDB.  Instead of paying for what Stretch offers, you get an important subset of the functionality at a much, much lower price.  If you do store the data in Azure Blob Storage, you’re paying pennies per gigabyte per month.  For cold storage, like a scenario in which you need to keep data around to keep the auditors happy but your main application doesn’t use that information, it can work fine.  But if you need to query this data frequently, performance might be a killer.

For Polybase tables without the ability to perform external pushdown, coming up with a good partitioning strategy is probably one of the two best ways to improve performance, with creating a Polybase scale-out cluster the other method.

Partition Handling In Spark 2.1

Eric Liang, et al, discuss a change to Spark 2.1 which will make certain partitioned table access faster:

In Spark 2.1, we drastically improve the initial latency of queries that touch a small fraction of table partitions. In some cases, queries that took tens of minutes on a fresh Spark cluster now execute in seconds. Our improvements cut down on table memory overheads, and make the SQL experience starting cold comparable to that on a “hot” cluster with table metadata fully cached in memory.

This looks like a nice improvement in Spark.

Quickly Reloading Tables

Kenneth Fisher uses table partitioning to perform fast loads of data:

Now if this table is paritioned you’d use SWITCH and bring in a new partition.

For those that don’t know, when a table is partitioned, you can create a new empty partition, and a new empty table, load the table, make the table exactly match the partition (structure, check constraints, & indexes for example) and you can SWITCH it in. The SWITCH part is a metadata operation and is fast!

But what do you do if the table isn’t partitioned? Well, I was having a conversation with Andy Mallon (b/t) and he reminded me of something.

Read on for the details.  The upshot is that you can take your time loading the second table and once you’re ready to swap out, it’s a quick metadata change.  That’s really useful for ETL scenarios.

Table Partitioning And Performance

Kendra Little has a video on table partitioning:

Learn why SQL Server’s table partitioning feature doesn’t make your queries faster– and may even make them slower.

In this 20 minute video, I’ll show you my favorite articles, bugs, and whitepapers online to explain where table partitioning shines and why you might want to implement it, even though it won’t solve your query performance problems.

Articles discussed are by Gail Shaw, Remus Rusanu, and the SQL Customer Advisory Team (SQLCAT). Scroll down below the video for direct links to each resource.

Check out the video.


April 2017
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