Upgrading SQL Server–Server Hardware

For Day 4 of this series, I want to talk briefly about server hardware. If you are running a legacy version of SQL Server, it is very likely running on old, probably out of warranty hardware. This presents several problems.

First, older server hardware is less reliable and is more apt to have component failures. Depending on the age of the hardware, you may have difficulty getting new replacement components from the server vendor in a timely fashion or at all. You may even be forced to buy used components, which may or may not work, and could take longer to find and deliver. All of this can impact your availability SLA metrics and increase the workload on your server admins.

Second, depending on the age of the server hardware, and the wisdom of the person who selected the components, you may be missing out on a significant amount of performance and scalability compared to what a new server can deliver. A previous, poor hardware selection could have caused you to pay a lot more in SQL Server license costs than was actually necessary.  It is also likely that a legacy server is much less efficient in terms of performance/watt than a new server, which increases your electrical and cooling costs.

Let’s take a quick look at a legacy system vs. a possible new system.

Legacy System

For example, imagine you have a Dell PowerEdge R910 11th generation, four-socket database server that your organization bought back in August 2010. This was a good server in it’s day, with good reviews, but it is long out of warranty now. You are running SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition on Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition on this old server, both of which are out of mainstream support from Microsoft.

Your server has four 45nm Intel Xeon X7560 eight-core Nehalem-EX processors and 512GB of DDR3 RAM. There is an actual TPC-E OLTP benchmark submission for a similar Fujitsu Primergy RX600 S5 four-socket system with four of these Intel Xeon X7560 processors that has a raw score of 2,046.96 (which is a measure of the CPU capacity of the system). This server has 32 physical processor cores, so if we divide that raw score by 32, we will have an indication of the single-threaded performance of that particular processor, which is 63.97.

New System

Lenovo recently submitted a TPC-E benchmark result for a Lenovo ThinkSystem SR650 two-socket system, with two 14nm Intel Xeon Platinum 8180 28-core Skylake-SP processors and 1.5TB of DDR4 RAM. This system had a raw score of 6,598.36, and it has 56 physical processor cores. If we divide that raw score by 56, we get a score/core of 117.83. Of course the obvious issue here is that this new two-socket system has 56 physical cores vs. 32 physical cores for your legacy four-socket system (which means much higher SQL Server license costs). This is an artifact of the habit of the server vendors only submitting a TPC-E score for the “flagship” processor with the highest physical core count, so that they can get the best raw TPC-E score. We can be smarter than that when we select our hardware for SQL Server usage!

We could purposely select a lower core count Intel Xeon Gold processor with a higher base clock speed, such as the Intel Xeon Gold 6144 eight core processor that is less expensive per processor, and will also have much lower SQL Server license costs. Using my proprietary calculations to adjust for the core count and base clock speed difference (compared the the Intel Xeon Platinum 8180), I believe that a two-socket system with the Intel Xeon Gold 6144 would have an estimated raw TPC-E score of 2639.32. Dividing this raw score by 16, we get a score per core of 164.95, which is 2.58 times higher than your legacy system.

This new two-socket system would also have about 29% more CPU capacity than your legacy four-socket system. It will also have all of the other platform advances such as DDR4 memory, and PCIe 3.0 support compared to the legacy system.

I will talk much more about hardware in future posts in the series, believe me!

Additional Resources

I have a new Pluralsight course, SQL Server: Upgrading and Migrating to SQL Server 2016 has just been published. This is my eleventh course for Pluralsight, but the complete list of my courses is here.

Building on this online course is a new three day class, IEUpgrade: Immersion Event on Upgrading SQL Server, taught by myself and Tim Radney. The first round of this course will be taught in Chicago from October 11-13, 2017.

Finally, I will be presenting a half-day session called Migrating to SQL Server 2017 at the PASS Summit 2017 in Seattle, WA from October 31- November 3, 2017.

Here is a link to the complete series about upgrading SQL Server.

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