Jeff Schwartz continues his series on index tuning, including a section on what happens when you have too many indexes on a table:
Larger numbers of indices create exponentially more query plan possibilities. When too many choices exist, the Optimizer will give up partway through and just pick the best plan thus far. As more indices are added the problem worsens and compilation times, i.e., processor times, increase to a point. This can be illustrated best by reviewing an actual customer example. In this case, one table had 144 indices attached to it and several others had between 20 and 130 indices. The queries were quite complex with as many as fifteen joins, many of which were outer joins. Query and index tuning were impossible because query performance was often counterintuitive and sometimes nonsensical. Adding an index that addressed a specific query need often made the query run worse one time and better the next. Note: Cached query plan issues, e.g., parameter sniffing or plan reuse were not problems in this case. The only solution was to tear down ENTIRE indexing structure and rebuild it with SQL Server’s guidance and nine days’ worth of production queries. Table 5 summarizes the results of the index restructuring project. The performance of 98 percent of the queries was comparable to or better than it was when the large numbers of indices were present.
Don’t be that company.