Plan freezing and other plan guide enhancements in SQL Server 2008

One of the nifty new SQL Server 2005 features was called "plan forcing". You could acheive plan forcing by using the USE PLAN query hint but this made such a hideous query that the better way to do this is to use a plan_guide. A plan_guide is a named database object (like table or view) that associates a query hint with a particular query.

In SQL Server 2008 there have been some enhancements made for plan_guides and plan forcing. The biggest change is that you can create a plan from the plan cache directly, rather than using the rather long set of steps that you needed in SQL Server 2005. You only need a few lines of boilerplate code, setting up and invoking sp_create_plan_guide_from_cache, and the plan guide is automatically created. See SQL Server 2008 Nov 2007 for details and copious examples. The concept of creating a plan guide from a query plan already in cache is known as "plan freezing".

You can also validate that a plan guide will still be used (after dropping an index, for example) by using the new sys.fn_validate_plan_guide function. In addition, its easy to see if a Plan Guide is being used or not with the profiler trace events "Plan_guide_successful" and "Plan_guide_unsuccessful", located under the "Performance" category. These can also be monitored over time with two new perfmon counters "Guided Plan Executions/sec" and, what has to be the most humorous perfmon counter "Misguided Plan Executions/sec".

One other plan guide enhancement that doesn't seem to be mentioned in BOL is that you can use plan guides for INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE, or even MERGE statements in SQL Server 2008. This feature works in the SQL Server 2008 Nov CTP (CTP5).

As always the standard disclaimer is "query hints are (usually) evil" but if you're desperate enough to need plan forcing or plan freezing, its good to know that its there.

One reason why I've seen people use plan freezing is as a hedge against plan instability that can result from what's known as "parameter sniffing". Parameter sniffing is usually a good thing; the query processor sniffs the parameter values the first time you execute a parameterized stored procedure and uses the statistics based on those parameters accordingly. However, if your "first time execution" was based on uncommon parameter values, you're now stuck with a suboptimal plan. Plan freezing can be use to freeze a plan that's most optimal and "override" parameter sniffing. You just have to catch such a plan in the cache.

The drawback is, of course, that you are stuck with the same plan even if the statistics change. I'm sometimes accused of liking plan guides and plan forcing too much, but perhaps it's because I'd oftentimes get a call when parameter sniffing (or a service pack: yes, it does happen every now and again) changed to a query plan that is suboptimal. For those trouble calls (ie, "my query just starting running 4 times slower today and the plan is different from yesterday") plan_guides/forcing let you change the plan without changing the underlying code. When the fix arrives, you just disable the plan guide to let the optimizer go on its merry way.

One thought on “Plan freezing and other plan guide enhancements in SQL Server 2008

  1. The more common solution for problems that are sometimes caused by parameter sniffing is to use a local variable for the parameter to "disable" parameter sniffing.

    If a query or SP is not called that often, it often makes sense to use OPTION (RECOMPILE), which will give you a better plan for each execution at the cost of some CPU.

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