SSAS 2008 R2– Little Gems

December 3, 2010 Leave a comment

I have spent the last few days working with SSAS 2008 R2 and noticed a few small enhancements which many people probably won’t notice but i will list them here and why they are important to me.

New profiler events

Commit: This is a new sub class event  for “progress report end”. This represents the elapsed time taken for the server to commit your data. It is important because for the duration of this event a server level lock will be in place blocking all incoming connections and causing time out. You can read about the server level lock here. Prior to 2008 R2 the only way to calculate the duration of the commit is to subtract the end time of the batch completion event from the event immediately preceding it. You want to be looking out for this event if people are complaining about connectivity……

File Load and Save: This is a whole new category with its own events but you must remember to tick the boxes to show all the categories to see it though otherwise its hidden. Anyway as soon as i saw it i thought awesome! As the name describes it exposes the file activity and gives a whole new level of insight into the black box known as SSAS Open-mouthed smile. You may be wondering how it is useful to know what files are being accessed but when your trying to understand what’s going on under the hood and where a bottleneck might be its invaluable and i have been using it these past 2 days whilst working on a problem which i will discuss in a future post.

Vertipaq SE Query: Not much to say here other than i would expect them to be fast…..

Other enhancements

In august 2009 i posted about The cost of SSAS Metadata management and discussed a hidden performance penalty. Well i am pleased to say that Microsoft have fixed this particular problem and when you process a partition it will not check for dependencies across every partition in the database any more…… Now before you get excited and decide to create thousands of partitions and throw away your partition merging scripts you should wait for the post i allude to earlier in this post as there are other significant costs & penalties for having to much metadata………

Last but not least a big thank you to MS for improving the time it takes to expand an object in SSMS! With SSAS 2005 & 2008 i could be waiting 30 seconds to a couple of minutes to expand a node in SSMS which is very frustrating when your in a rush but with SSAS 2008 R2 node expansion is now instantaneous! So thank you again, it may be a small fix but its a big time saver!

SSAS Native v .net Provider

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Recently I was investigating why a new server which is in its parallel running phase was taking significantly longer to process the daily data than the server its due to replace.

The server has SQL & SSAS installed so the problem was not likely to be in the network transfer as its using shared memory. As i dug around the SQL dmv’s i noticed in sys.dm_exec_connections that the SSAS connection had a packet size of 8000 bytes instead of the usual 4096 bytes and from there i found that the datasource had been configured with the wrong provider but what was really interesting and the point of the blog is the performance difference which i have shown below.

Rows per second
.Net SqlClient Data Provide 30,000
SQL Server Native Client 10 240,000

That’s right! For a single partition, the native client was able to process 240,000 rows per second where as the .net client maxes out at 30,000. That means the SQL Native Client is 800% faster! I knew that the .net providers were slower but I had never gathered any metrics before. If your looking after a SSAS server I would definitely recommend taking a few minutes to check which provider is configured in the datasource.

Another point to consider is you may have a custom solution that is doing your ETL and utilising the .net providers. This would also be impacted by the .net provider throughput limits and a switch over to SSIS could dramatically improve your ETL.

Server Side Aliases

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Over the years i have come across a few situations where server side connections to SQL server fail when you use a DNS alias that points back to the server your initiating the connection from but you can connect remotely.

Its an annoying problem which has a very unhelpful error message that changed in different versions of SQL. In SQL 2000 you are presented with

"Login failed for user ‘(null)’. Reason: Not associated with a trusted SQL Server connection."  and in SQL 2005 + SQL 2008 its “Login failed. The login is from an untrusted domain and cannot be used with Windows authentication”.

You will also see eventid 537 in the security logs

One of the most common reasons a system is setup with an alias pointing back on itself is because a consolidation has taken place and you don’t want to change the connection strings. However some people simply got burnt when Microsoft first released the security patch which introduced this change and i still find people being burnt today.


NTLM reflection protection was introduced as part of security fix MS08-068. This causes a local authentication failure when using a dns alias which bubbles up and becomes the error described above.

Relevant MS Articles are MS08-068 & and cause extract is:

This problem occurs because of the way that NT LAN Manager (NTLM) treats different naming conventions as remote entities instead of as local entities. A local authentication failure might occur when the client calculates and caches the correct response to the NTLM challenge that is sent by the server in local "lsass" memory before the response is sent back to the server. When the server code for NTLM finds the received response in the local "lsass" cache, the code does not honour the authentication request and treats it as a replay attack. This behaviour leads to a local authentication failure.


You either need to use the local name rather than DNS alias or there are steps described in the resolutions section of the articles to disable the protection totally or for a specific alias.

SSAS <PreAllocate>: What you should know

July 18, 2010 2 comments

Preallocating memory for SSAS running on Windows 2003 is a good thing but as with all good things it is essential to know the behavioural changes you will experience, some of which may not be so obvious.

My observations relate to SSAS 2008 SP1 CU8 running on Windows 2003 SP2.

Why PreAllocate?

In my opinion there are 2 reasons which i detail below.

  • The first is the widely stated performance reason surrounding Windows 2003 memory performance. In a nut shell, Windows 2003 did not scale well with many small memory allocations due to fragmentation etc so allocate it up front. Life gets better in Windows 2008 as detailed by the SQLCAT team.
  • The second reason is to ensure SSAS is going to get a slice of the memory and this is very important if your not running on a dedicated SSAS box.

So, what i should i know?

  • When the service starts (don’t forget server startup), if you have assigned "Lock Pages in Memory" to your service account, expect your server to be totally unresponsive for a period of time. Do not panic, the duration of the freeze depends on the amount of memory preallocated but once its done the server becomes responsive again. Make sure the people working with the server know this……
  • Never ever set PreAllocate equal to or greater than <LowMemoryLimit> because if you do the memory cleaner thread is going to spin up and remove data pretty much as soon as it gets into memory. This will seriously hurt performance as your effectively disabling any caching.
  • The shrinkable and nonshrinkable perfmon memory counters are no longer accurate. The counters have “value” when troubleshooting but you must factor in the fact that at least their starting points are wrong.
  • When a full memory dump occurs that dump will be at least the size of the preallocated memory. So, if you preallocate 40gb but SSAS has only written to 2GB of memory its still going to be a 40GB dump so make sure you have the disk space! Hopefully though this is not a situation you should find yourself in very often.

I hope you find this information useful!

SSAS – Synchronisation performance

April 8, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve always thought of SSAS synchronisation as a clever file mirroring utility built into SSAS and i have never considered the technology as bringing any performance gains to the table. So, its a good job I like to revisit areas…. 🙂

I decided to compare the performance of robocopy and SSAS Synchronisation between 2 Windows 2003 servers running SSAS 2008 SP1 CU7 with 1gb network links. For the robocopy of the data directory i used the SQLCat Robocopy Script. The results are shown below.

  SSAS Sync Robocopy
Full DB (138gb) 58 min 96 min
Single Partition (10gb) 3 min 37s 7 min 46s

The Full DB copy is as it says, no data is present so synchronise the lot.

Single Partition is where after the full db is processed i then process a single partition (and yes the partition is around 10gb) and then run the synchronisation.

The results left me gobsmacked! At first i simply could not believe that the SSAS sync could copy the data that much faster than robocopy but i repeated my tests a number of times and it does!

Yes, SSAS Synchronisation is between 100% and 50% faster than Robocopy… I’ve got to say that when Microsoft did the rewrite for 2008 they certainly did a fine job!

Before I finish up with this blog entry I must say there are always considerations as to whether synchronisation is appropriate for you and i will be posting soon about all the different options and the considerations.

Exploring backup read io performance

January 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I was recently exploring how to increase the backup read throughput on one of our SQL servers. Below are some interesting facts i found.

I would say that one of the most important reminders that came from the exercise is, do not assume that 2 databases being backup up on the same server using an identical backup command means that the processes are identical under the hood.

  1. Backup read threads are spawned 1 per physical device used by the database. (This is documented in Optimising Backup & Restore Performance in SQL Server)
  2. Multiple database files on 1 disk will not increase throughput because 1 disk = 1 thread and the thread works through the database files 1 at a time.
  3. Backup read buffers are evenly distributed across the number of read threads.
  4. Backups are pure IO operations, they do not read pages from the buffer pool.
  5. When passing in @MaxTransferSize it appears to be a suggestion rather than implicit and SQLServer will assign the requested value if it can otherwise it can pick another lower value.
    So, quite a few statements there… Where is the proof? Well the best find had to be trace flag 3213 which outputs information regarding backup decisions made. Below is an extract of this output which i will then talk through.
    2010-01-22 12:00:02.45 spid78      Backup/Restore buffer configuration parameters
    2010-01-22 12:00:02.45 spid78      Memory limit: 32765MB
    2010-01-22 12:00:02.45 spid78      Buffer count:               40
    2010-01-22 12:00:02.45 spid78      Max transfer size:          448 KB
    2010-01-22 12:00:02.45 spid78      Min MaxTransfer size:       64 KB
    2010-01-22 12:00:02.45 spid78      Total buffer space:         17 MB
    2010-01-22 12:00:02.45 spid78      Buffers per read stream:    10
    2010-01-22 12:00:02.45 spid78      Buffers per write stream:   8
    2010-01-22 12:00:02.45 spid78      Tabular data device count:  4
    2010-01-22 12:00:02.45 spid78      FileTree data device count: 0
    2010-01-22 12:00:02.45 spid78      Filesystem i/o alignment:   512
  • Red covers the max transfer size. I actually asked for 1mb but only got 448 KB. Additionally i also noticed that where i kick of multiple backups (but all requesting 1mb) that the transfer size tends to decrease the more backups you have. So, no one backup is necessarily the same.
  • Green covers buffer distribution. So, i asked for 40 buffers. The database being backed up has data devices on 4 physical disks so gets 4 read threads. Buffers per read stream is 10 which is (40 buffers / 4 threads).
  • Blue covers read threads. The database backed up had data files on 4 physical disks. This is exposed as the Tabular data device count and confirms the statement in point 1 that you get 1 read thread per physical device as documented by MS.

So, what about statements 2 & 4? Well, i monitored the reads to the individual files using  sys.dm_virtual_io_file_stats and took a number of snapshots whilst performing a backup. There are plenty of scripts you can download to take the snapshots yourself such as this one. Once the backup completed i looked at the time slices and you can see the following.

  • Total mb read during backup = total data held in the file. From this i drew the conclusion its not reading any of the data held in the buffer pool which makes a lot of sense as the backup includes the transaction log.
  • Querying the statistics at different time intervals you see the first datafile MB’s growing and then the second data file mb’s don’t start growing until first is complete hence its going 1 file at a time. However, if you have multiple files on multiple disks you do see 1 file on each disk being read from. I’ve not mentioned increasing the number of backup devices and changing block sizes as my case specifically did not call for it but you can read about that here.

The last thing i want to say since i have touched on single threaded backup reads is that i`m keen not to spawn any new urban legends. Whilst this is true for the backups in the context of per physical disk device, that’s it! Its worth reading this article about urban legends around SQL threads.

Categories: Backup, Performance, SQL Server

SSAS 2008 – INI Files and in place upgrades

September 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Being the suspicious person i am i wondered if there would be any differences in the MSMDSRV.ini of an instance upgraded from 2005 as opposed to a clean install.

Now obviously i expect an in place upgrade to preserve my settings and add any new ones because it should not overwrite anything since i might have change from defaults for a good reason…….

Below is what i found followed by my thoughts….

IN Place Upgrade Value (Effectively 2005)







2008 Clean Install Value







Looking at what has changed they appear to be settings which may well have been tuned as a result of lessons learnt at Microsoft. The removal of AggregationPerfLog i suspect is cosmetic and the setting probably does nothing since there is another one called AggregationPerfLog2 which i suspect replaces it. Its also quite likely the same is the case with MinCalculationLRUSize.

An important thing to take away here is that an in place upgrade may not perform/behave the same way as a clean install because by default its ini file is going to be different. In my case i`m checking out the impact of the settings with a view to adding a step to our upgrade path to change them to the clean install values.

One more thing to get you thinking. If the settings did change based on lessons learnt, maybe its worth porting these back to 2005 and taking them for a spin…………. Test test and test some more!