SQL Server 2008 fails to send database mail, Sparse columns with filtered indexes, Upcoming Events, and – as usual – catching up (i.e. cookies)!

OK, so, I don't blog very often. I don't know what it is… I think it's that I feel like I always need to blog huge posts and the thought of writing my huge post makes me not want to blog… so, sometimes my time-between-blogging (TBB :) is long. I'm going to turn over a new leaf (no, really… I'm *really* going to try this time!!) and I'm going to try and write smaller posts and more of them. And, yes, don't worry, I'll still write the long in-depth ones but I'll at least try to give you a few tidbits of things that I encounter – more frequently. And, that's partially why I'm posting this entry…

I've been working quite a bit with SQL Server 2008 and yesterday I went to test of a few things with database mail. Normally this gets setup quite early and gets setup with a lot of other things so restarts of the server/agent happen because of saving/tweaking my test VPC. I don't usually go in and setup Database Mail and then immediately try to send mail. Yesterday, I did… and, guess what, it didn't work. I got error [264] An attempt was made to send an email when no email session has been established. So, I felt like I had seen that before… and, with a bit of web searching I landed on Gops Dwarak's blog for a known issue of SQL Server 2005: http://blogs.msdn.com/gopsdwarak/archive/2006/04/25/583434.aspx. And, yes, restarting the SQL Server Agent solved the problem. I'm surprised that this is still a bug in 2008 but it's not entirely the worst I could come upon. However, having said that, I also thought that there was a general initiative for software to stop requiring restarts of services and/or the OS. And, yes, it's *just* an Agent restart so it won't directly impact your server's availability but, I'm still surprised that it wasn't resolved. Has anyone else found a bug (or even a documented "issue") that requires a service to be restarted – and you think it shouldn't?

And, well, that's definitely not the most interesting thing I've learned/found with SQL Server 2008, there's lots more (yes, I know – I need to blog a lot of it :). The most fun I've had has probably been learning sparse columns and filtered indexes. For right now, I want to give you some quick key points about some of the changes around indexes and in particular around sparse columns/filtered indexes:

  1. Do NOT create non-clustered indexes on sparse columns without filters (a filter that says WHERE sparsecolumn IS NOT NULL) because indexes do NOT have sparse columns in their definition. So, if you don't use a filter you will end up storing all of the NULL values in the index – which will waste a tremendous amount of space.
  2. A non-clustered index on a sparse column (without a filter) will be the same size as a nonclustered index on a non-sparse column (which is essentially the same point as above but, this might help clarify it a bit).
  3. Do NOT think that the increase in total indexes (from 250 in 2005 to 1000 in 2008) is because you should have more indexes… it's NOT. It's specifically because you might have a lot more columns (these changed as well from 1024 in 2005 to 30000 in 2008) because even that increase should not be used unless you're using sparse columns… So, you STILL want to use a lot of the best practices we've recommended in past webcasts, whitepapers, etc. and you still want to care about row size (and page density) and therefore work to create narrower tables (in general and relatively speaking – depending mostly on usage patterns). However, if you have a need for *lots* of wider tables BECAUSE you have an interesting set of properties that only some rows will have (i.e. the main reason to use sparse columns) then using sparse columns to handle these columns that will largely be filled with NULLs is a good thing. It's a good thing because a row that has a NULL for a sparse column will take ZERO BYTES. Absolutely no space is used for a sparse column that is NULL. So, this allows your tables to be wide (in definition) but your rows to be narrow (in practice). And, with well defined indexes you can VERY efficiently and effectively search on these properties.

OK, I hope to get some examples posted as well. Between Paul and I and our upcoming events – where we're demo'ing/discussing a lot of these principles, we'll plan to post a demo or two on how effective these really can be. And, I know… some of you will fight back with the thought that sparse columns introduce bad database design practices… I know, you want (instead) tables that have name/value pairs – which are the way most of us did this in all versions prior to 2008. However, name/value pairs tables become fragmented messes that also have fragmented indexes and therfore overall poor performance (for both inserts and queries). Not to mention, they can be difficult to query/join with (because you need to join multiple times to retrieve multiple properties) and the code gets messy quickly. Anyway, sparse columns – while they may not seem quite right at first – can really be a *MUCH BETTER* way to design (and perform!!!) around this problem.

And, speaking of events. We have a bunch of upcoming events… I'll give you the short bulleted list here because I'm sure many of you also read Paul's blog and he's mentioned quite a few of these coming up. Also, if you're interested in learning more details for these, the full abstract/links for many of these can be found on our Upcoming Events page. However, specific links are also listed below!

  • Best Practices in Performance and Availability for SQL Server 2005/2008, 1-3 September 2008 in Hatfield, England. You can get more details/register here
  • Dublin SQL Server User Group, Index Internals and Fragmentation, 4 September 2008, Dublin, Ireland. Bob Duffy blogged about this here and you can get more details/register here.
  • Microsoft SQL Academy 2008 – Session 1, 5 September 2008, Dublin, Ireland. You can get more details/register here.
  • Indexing for Performance in SQL Server 2000/2005/2008, 8-9 September 2008, Edinburgh, Scotland. You can get more details/register here.
  • SQL Connections "Power Workshops Series" Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Overview for Database Professionals (Hands-on — Bring Your Own Laptop), 6-8 October 2008, San Francisco, CA, USA. You can get more details/register here.
  • Microsoft Tech Ed EMEA ITPro, 3-7 November 2008, Barcelona, Spain. You can get more details/register here.
  • SQL Connections Fall Conference, 9-14 November 2008, Las Vegas, USA. You can get more details/register here.
  • PASS Community Summit 2008, 17-21 November 2008, Seattle, WA, USA. You can get more details/register here.
  • And, the last thing I'll leave you with is a recipe for the best darn Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies *ever*. OK, I did a web search for exactly that (ok, it all started when Paul (who really doesn't really like sweets) decided that for his birthday he wanted Choc Chip Oatmeal Cookies (we asked becuase the girls and I wanted to bake something)). The search led me to here. And, they're definitely right that these are the best cookies ever! And, they make a few really good points:

    1. Don't microwave the butter… set it out for an hour before you're going to make the cookies. It's definitely different/better when the butter is naturally soft.
    2. Definitely take the cookies out when they look like they have a few more mins to go…

But, Paul's birthday was in July… and, it was not the only time we've made these cookies… mostly because *everyone* we introduce to these cookies is addicted – yes, the girls, me, Paul, my Mother, Brian Randell (who was forced to take some "togo" after a BBQ here) and countless of our other friends since this is now our "when-we-entertain" dessert ;-). So, since I've had the opportunity to tweak the recipe myself, here's what I do differently…

  1. I add less chocolate – usually 1-1.5 cups of chocolate chips. Sometimes I mix half/half semi-sweet and milk chocolate but I always use closer to 1 cup…
  2. I add about 1 cup of coconut – right at the end, with the chocolate chips…
  3. I make a single 12×18 cookie sheet "uni-cookie" and then I cut it up like brownies. As for the cook time, I've found that this giant cookie takes right about 14 minutes (but, you'll have to experiment with your oven… I usually take the giant cookie out when it's puffed up and the edges are just starting to go lightly brown). Oh, and you don't have to spread this out perfectly to the edges – it will expand and fill in. Just get somewhat close. The nice thing about this form factor is that it's a lot faster than making 36 individual cookies and then you get to choose the size(s) when you cut up the uni-cookie.

Oh, and don't blame me when you make 10 batches of these things and get all of your friends addicted as well. They really are yummy!!

Next up… installing Data Dude CTP16 with SQL 2008 and Visual Studio… what works with what and what's the best install order!!!

Thanks for reading!

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