Cardinality Estimation And Hints

Aaron Bertrand uses a Visual Studio Online outage to talk about query hints:

These are all things that may have been necessary under the old estimator, but are likely just tying the optimizer’s hands under the new one. This is a query that could have, and should have, been tested in their dev / staging / QA environments under the new cardinality estimator long before they flipped the switch in production, and probably could have gone through series of tests where different combinations of those hints and options could have been removed. This is something for which that team can only blame themselves.

Also check out Aaron Morelli’s comment on the post.

Plan Cache Spelunking

Ed Pollack digs into the plan cache:

The data in the plan cache is not static, and will change over time. Execution plans, along with their associated query and resource metrics will remain in memory for as long as they are deemed relevant. Plans can be removed from cache when there is memory pressure, when they age out (they get stale), or when a new plan is created, rendering the old one obsolete. Keep this in mind as we are looking around: The info we find in the plan cache is transient and indicative of a server’s current and recent activity and does not reflect a long-term history. As a result, be sure to do thorough research on the plan cache prior to making any significant decisions based on that data.

The plan cache is one of the best ways of figuring out what’s going on in your SQL Server instances, but there’s a little bit of complexity to it.

Sorting Power Pivot Data On Load

Matt Allington suggests pre-sorting results to reduce load in Power Pivot:

Imagine you have 50,000 products in your data table and you have 50,000,000 rows of data.  Power Pivot will take the first 1 million rows it comes to (1 segment worth), work out how to sort and compress the columns, and then compress the data into a single segment before moving to the next 1 million rows it comes to (in the order they are loaded).  When it does this, it is highly likely that every product number will appear in every single segment – all 50 segments.  If we assume an equal number of product records for each product (unlikely but OK for this discussion), then there would be 1,000 records for each product spread throughout the entire data table,and each and every segment is likely to contain all 50,000 product IDs.  This is not good for compression.

This is an interesting result and not something I would have thought intuitive.

Beware ROWLOCK Hints

Kendra Little points out that ROWLOCK hints might make blocking worse:

Note that the logical reads are the exact same and neither query is doing physical reads (the execution plans are the same– the optimizer doesn’t care what locks you are using). The queries were run with SET STATISTICS IO,TIME OFF and Execution Plans turned off, just to reduce influencing factors on duration and CPU.

The database engine is simply having to do more work here. Locking the pages in the clustered index is less work than locking each of the 1,825,433 rows.

Even though our locks are more granular, making queries run longer by taking out individual locks will typically lead to more blocking down the road.

Kendra follows up with several optimization possibilities, so read the whole thing.

Runaway Queries

Aaron Bertrand talks about “runaway” queries:

Sometimes people will start a query, wait five seconds, and then declare that this must be a runaway query. Sometimes a query’s runtime can vary based on other things going on in the system, so four seconds on one run and six seconds on another is not necessarily “running forever.” Be sure that you’ve given a query adequate time to start returning results before giving up on it, and remember that Management Studio might seem “stuck” before it starts to render any grid results, especially if the resultset is large. If you feel you’ve waited a reasonable amount of time, and you’ve tried both Results to Grid and Results to Text, then…

This is a big question and can take years of experience to get correct.  Aaron’s post is introductory-level on purpose and does a great job of answering the initial “what are some things I can try?” question after you determine that yes, there is a problem.

Plan Explorer Row Estimates

Joey D’Antoni shows how in SQL Sentry Plan Explorer, estimated counts can differ from what SSMS shows:

I quickly honed into the fact that the bad query was doing a lazy spool with 6 BILLION rows versus the 229 million in the good query. However, my friend who was looking at Management Studio was asking where I was getting those numbers. This is what the XML from the original plan showed:

<RelOp AvgRowSize=”51″ EstimateCPU=”0.00889634″ EstimateIO=”0.01″ EstimateRebinds=”0″ EstimateRewinds=”139581″ EstimatedExecutionMode=”Row” EstimateRows=”48868″
LogicalOp=”Lazy Spool” NodeId=”55″ Parallel=”true” PhysicalOp=”Table Spool” EstimatedTotalSubtreeCost=”1242.86″>

This is a helpful feature in scenarios like this, where operator weight is skewed because it only shows a single run but in reality happens more than once.

Keep Predicates Meaningful

Gail Shaw shows that adding a valueless predicate to change a scan operation into a seek operation does not guarantee a performance improvement:

I remember a forum thread from a while back. The question was on how to get rid of the index scan that was in the query plan. Now that’s a poor question in the first place, as the scan might not be a problem, but it’s the first answer that really caught my attention.

Since the primary key is on an identity column, you can add a clause like ID > 0 to the query, then SQL will use an index seek.

Technically that’s correct. If the table has an identity column with the default properties (We’ll call it ID) and the clustered index is on that identity column, then a WHERE clause of the form WHERE ID > 0 AND <any other predicates on that table> can indeed execute with a clustered index seek (although it’s in no way guaranteed to do so). But is it a useful thing to do?

Time for a made up table and a test query.

Anything Gail writes is a must-read; this is no exception.

Trusting Constraints

Dennes Torres talks about whether a constraint is trustworthy:

If the check constraint is trustable, it can be used by the query optimizer. For example, if the check constraint avoid values below 100 in a field and a query for 50 arrives, the query optimizer uses the check constraint to stop the query.

The query optimizer can only use the check constraint if it’s trustable, otherwise it could exist in the table records with values below 100, according to our example, and the query would loose these records.

Dennes then goes on to show how you can have non-trustworthy constraints and how to fix the issue.

Scalar Function Single-Threadedness

Erik Darling has another blog post showing that scalar functions inside computed columns are a very, very bad thing:

The first couple times I tried, the DBCC check never went parallel. Since I’m on my laptop, and not a production server, I can set Cost Threshold for Parallelism to 0. You read that right, ZE-RO! Hold onto your drool dish.

Friends don’t let friends write scalar functions.

Cursors: The Hidden Performance Problem

Michael Swart notes that cursor performance can be hidden from monitoring tools:

The OPEN statement is missing from sys.dm_exec_query_stats. I want to demonstrate that.

There are a few workarounds, and Michael even provides us a handy table, so read the whole thing.

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