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How to Perform a SQL Server Performance Audit - SQL Server Configuration Performance Checklist: Part 1
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Performance Audit Checklist

SQL Server
Configuration Settings
Default Value
affinity mask Yes Yes 0
awe enabled Yes Yes 0
cost threshold for parallelism Yes No 5
cursor threshold Yes No -1
fill factor (%) Yes Yes 0
index create memory (KB) Yes No 0
lightweight pooling Yes Yes 0
locks Yes Yes 0
max degree of parallelism Yes No 0
max server memory (MB) Yes No 2147483647
max text repl size (B) No No 65536
max worker threads Yes Yes 255
min memory per query (KB) Yes No 1024
min server memory (MB) Yes No 0
nested triggers No No 1
network packet size (B) Yes No 4096
open objects Yes Yes 0
priority boost Yes Yes 0
query governor cost limit Yes No 0
query wait (s) Yes No -1
recovery interval (min) Yes No 0
scan for startup procs Yes No 0
set working set size Yes Yes 0
user connections Yes Yes 0

Enter your results in the table above.

Most SQL Server Configuration Settings Should Not Be Changed

In this section, we are going to take a look at some of the performance-related SQL Server configuration settings. These are SQL Server-specific settings that can be modified using either Enterprise Manager or sp_configure.

As the title of this section says, in most cases, you should not modify the default SQL Server configuration settings. This is because most of the default settings provided will provide the optimum performance for most SQL Servers. And most of all, if you are not exactly sure of what the implications are of changing a setting, it is possible to hurt your server's performance instead of boosting it.

If this is the first time you have dealt with this particular SQL Server, one of your first steps should be to review the various configuration settings and then compare them to default settings in order to see which ones, if any, have been changed from the defaults. Once you have identified any of the changed settings, your next goal should be to find out why they were changed. If you can't find out why, or if you do find out why, but the reasoning behind the change is flimsy, then you will want to change the settings back to the default values. Once you have done this, your next step is to review all of the other settings (those that were set to default when you started) and evaluate each one in order to see if there might be a benefit of changing the value from the default value to a more appropriate value.

The focus of this article will be SQL Server 2000, although most of the advice applies equally to SQL Server 7.0. Before trying any of these suggestions under SQL Server 7.0, you will want to review the configuration setting section in the SQL Server 7.0 Books Online just to be sure.

There are a total of 36 different SQL Server configuration settings in SQL Server 2000. We will only focus on 23 key performance-related ones here.

Getting Started

The easiest way to begin your audit of a SQL Server's configuration settings is to run the following command, for each of your servers, in Query Analyzer:


The first column, "name," is the name of the SQL Server configuration setting. The second column, "minimum," is the smallest legal value for the setting. The third column, "maximum," is the largest legal value for the setting. The fourth column, "config_value," is what the setting has been set to (but may or may not be what SQL Server is actually running now. Some settings don't go into effect until SQL Server has been restarted, or until the RECONFIGURE WITH OVERRIDE option has been run, as appropriate.) And the last column, "run_value," is the value of the setting currently in effect. If you have not changed any of these values since the last time you restarted SQL Server, then the values in the last two columns will always be the same.

Unfortunately, the default values for these settings are not listed when you run sp_configure. For your convenience, this article lists the default values of those configuration settings we discuss here (see chart above).

How to Change SQL Server Configuration Settings

Most, but not all, of the SQL Server configuration settings can be changed using Enterprise Manager. But one of the easiest ways to change any of these settings is to use the sp_configure command, like this:

sp_configure ['configuration name '],
[configuration setting value ]


configuration name = The name of the configuration setting (see the name in the table above). Note that the name must be enclosed in single quote marks (or double quote marks, depending on Query Analyzer's configuration).

configuration name = The name of the configuration setting (see the name in the table above). Note that the name must be enclosed in single quote marks (or double quote marks, depending on Query Analyzer's configuration).

configuration setting value = The numeric value of the setting (with no quote marks).

Once sp_configure has run, you must perform one additional step. You must either run the RECONFIGURE option (normal settings) or the RECONFIGURE WITH OVERRIDE option (used for settings that can get you into trouble if you make a mistake), otherwise your setting change will not go into effect. Rather than trying to remember when to use each different version of the RECONFIGURE command, it is easier to just use RECONFIGURE WITH OVERRIDE all the time, as it works with all configuration settings. If you use Enterprise Manager to change a setting, it will execute RECONFIGURE WITH OVERRIDE automatically, so you don't have to.

Once you do this, most, but not all, settings go into effect immediately. For those that don't go into effect after RECONFIGURE, the SQL Server service has to be stopped and restarted. The table above tells you which of the performance-related configuration settings require that the service be restarted once they have been changed.

Before we are finished with this topic, there is one more thing you need to know. Some of the configuration settings are considered "advanced" settings. Before you can change these options using the sp_configure command, you must first change one of the SQL Server configuration settings to allow you to change them. The command to do this is:

sp_configure 'show advanced options', 1

Only after you have run the above code may you now run sp_configure to change an advanced SQL Server configuration setting. The table above tells you which of the performance-related configuration settings are "advanced" settings.

Now that you know how to change the SQL Server configuration options, let's take a look at those that are related to performance.

Affinity Mask

WhenSQL Server is run under Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000, a SQL Server thread can move from one CPU to another. This feature allows SQL Server to run multiple threads at the same time, generally resulting in better load balancing among the CPUs in the server. The only downside to this process is that each time a thread moves from one CPU to another, the processor cache has to be reloaded, which can hurt performance in some cases.

In cases of heavily-loaded servers with more than 4 CPUs, performance can be boosted by specifying (to a limited degree) which processor(s) should run a specific thread. This reduces the number of times that the processor cache has to be reloaded, helping to eek out a little more performance of the server. For example, you can specify that SQL Server will only use some of the CPUs, not all of them available to it in a server.

The default value for the "affinity mask" setting, which is "0," tells SQL Server to allow the Windows Scheduling algorithm to set a thread's affinity. In other words, the operating system, not SQL Server, determines which threads run on which CPU, and when to move a thread from one CPU to another CPU. In any server with 4 or less CPUs, the default value is the best overall setting. And for servers with more than 4 CPUs, and that are not overly busy, the default value is also the best overall setting for optimum performance.

But for servers with more than 4 CPUs, and are heavily loaded because of one or more non-SQL Server applications are running on the same server as SQL Server, then you might want to consider changing the default value for the "affinity mask" option to a more appropriate value. Please note that if SQL Server is the only application running on the server, then using the "affinity mask" to limit CPU use could hurt performance, not help it.

For example, let's say you have a server that is running SQL Server, multiple COM+ objects, and IIS. Let's also assume that the server has 8 CPUS and is very busy. By reducing the number of CPUs that can run SQL Server from 8 to 4, what will happen is that SQL Server threads will now only run on 4 CPUs, not 8 CPUs. This will reduce the number of times that a SQL Server thread can jump CPUs, reducing how often the processor cache as to be reloaded, helping to reduce CPU overhead and potentially boosting performance somewhat. The remaining 4 CPUs will be used by the operating system to run the non-SQL Server applications, helping them also to reduce thread movement and boosting performance.

For example, if you have a 8 CPU system, the value you would use in the sp_configure command to select which CPUs that SQL Server should only run on are listed below:

Decimal Value

Allow SQL Server Threads
on These Processors

1 0
3 0 and 1
7 0, 1, and 2
15 0, 1, 2, and 3
31 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4
63 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5
127 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6

Specifying the appropriate affinity mask is not an easy job, and you should consult the SQL Server Books Online before doing so for additional information. Also, you should test what happens to your SQL Server's performance before and after you make any changes to see if the value you have selected hurts or helps performance. Other than trial and error, there is no easy way to determine the optimum affinity mask value for your particular server.

As part of your audit, if you find that an affinity mask is being used, try to find out why. If there are no good answers, remove it, and return to the default value.

Awe Enabled

If you are using SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition under Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 (any version), or are running SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition under Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 Server, or if your server has less than 4GB or RAM, the "awe enabled" option should always be left to the default value of 0, which means that AWE memory is not being used.

The AWE (Advanced Windowing Extensions) API allows applications (that are written to use the AWE API) to run under Windows 2000 Advanced Server or Windows 2000 Datacenter Server to access more than 4GB of RAM. SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition (not SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition) is AWE-enabled and can take advantage of RAM in a server over 4GB. If the operating system is Windows 2000 Advanced Server, SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition can us up to 8GB of RAM. If the operating system is Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, SQL Server 2000 Enterprise can use up to 64GB of RAM.

By default, if a physical server has more than 4GB of RAM, Windows 2000 (Advanced and Datacenter), along with SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition, cannot access any RAM greater than 4GB. In order for the operating system and SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition to take advantage of the additional RAM, two steps have to be completed.

Exactly how you configure AWE memory support depends on how much RAM your server has. Essentially, to configure Windows 2000 (Advanced or Datacenter), you must enter one of the following switches in the boot line of the boot.ini file, and reboot the server:

  • 4GB RAM: /3GB (AWE support is not used)
  • 8GB RAM: /3GB /PAE
  • 16GB RAM: /3GB /PAE
  • 16GB + RAM: /PAE

The /3GB switch is used to tell SQL Server to take advantage of 3GB out of the base 4GB of RAM that Windows 2000 supports natively. If you don't specify this option, then SQL Server will only take advantage of 2GB of the first 4GB of RAM in the server, essentially wasting 1GB of RAM.

AWE memory technology is used only for the RAM that exceeds the base 4GB of RAM, that's why the /3GB switch is needed to use as much of the RAM in your server as possible. If your server has 16GB or less of RAM, then using the /3GB switch is important. But if your server has more than 16GB of RAM, then you must not use the /3GB switch. The reason for this is because the 1GB of additional RAM provided by adding the /3GB switch is needed by the operating system in order to take advantage of all of the extra AWE memory. In other words, the operating system needs 2GB or RAM itself to mange the AWE memory if your server has more than 16GB of RAM. If 16GB or less of RAM is in a server, then the operating system only needs 1GB of RAM, allowing the other 1GB of RAM for use by SQL Server.

Once this step is done, the next step is to set the "awe enabled" option to 1, and then restart the SQL Server service. Only at this point will SQL Server be able to use the additional RAM in the server.

One caution about using the "awe enabled" setting is that after turning it on, SQL Server no longer dynamically manages memory. Instead, it takes all of the available RAM (except about 128MB which is left for the operating system). If you want to prevent SQL Server from taking all of the RAM, you must set the "max server memory" option (described in more detail later in this article) to a figure that limits SQL Server to the amount or RAM you specify.

As part of your audit process, you will want to check what this setting is and then determine if the setting matches your server's configuration. If not, then change the setting appropriately.

Cost Threshold for Parallelism

Using parallelism to execute a SQL Server query has its costs. This is because it takes a little additional overhead to run a query in parallel than to run it serially. But if the benefits of running a query using parallelism is higher than the costs, then using parallelism is a good thing.

As a rule of thumb, if a query can run serially very fast, there is no point in even considering parallelism for the query, as the extra time required to evaluate it for possible parallelism might be longer than the time it takes to run the query serially.

By default, if the Query Optimizer determines that a query will take less than 5 seconds to execute, parallelism is not considered by SQL Server. This 5 second figure can be modified using the "cost threshold for parallelism" SQL Server option. You can change this value anywhere from 0 to 32767 seconds. So if you set this value to 10, this means that the Query Optimizer won't consider parallelism for any query that it thinks will take less than 10 seconds to run.

In most cases, you should not change this setting. But if you find that your SQL Server runs many queries with parallelism, and if the CPU rate is very high, raising this setting from 5 to a higher figure (you will have to experiment to find the ideal figure for your situation), will reduce the number of queries using parallelism, also reducing the overall usage of your server's CPUs, which may help the overall performance of your server.

Another option to consider is to reduce the value from 5 seconds to a smaller number, although this could hurt, rather than help performance in many cases. One area where a smaller value might be useful is in cases where SQL Server is acting as a data warehouse and many very complex queries are being run. A lower value will allow the Query Optimizer to use parallelism more often, which can help in some situations.

You will want to test changes to the default value thoroughly before implementing it on your production servers.

If SQL Server only has access to a single CPU (either because there is only one CPU in the server, or because of an "affinity mask" setting, parallelism is not considered for a query.

If you find in your audit that the cost threshold for parallelism is being used, find out why. If you can't get an answer, move it back to the default value.

Cursor Threshold

If your SQL Server does not use cursors, or uses them very little, then this setting should never be changed from its default value of "-1".

A "cursor threshold" of "-1" tells SQL Server to execute all cursors synchronously, which is the ideal setting if the result sets of cursors executed on your server are not large. But if many, or all of the cursors running on your SQL Server produce very large result sets, then executing cursors synchronously is not the most efficient way to execute a cursor.

The "cursor threshold" setting has two other options (besides the default) for running large cursors. A setting of "0" tells SQL Server to run all cursors asynchronously, which is more efficient if most or all of the cursor's result sets are large.

What if some of the cursor result sets are small and some are large, then what do you do? In this case, you can decide what large and small is, and then use this number as the cutoff point for SQL Server. For example, let's say that we consider any cursor resultset of under 1000 rows as small, and any cursor resultset of over 1000 rows as large. If this is the case, we can set the "cursor threshold" to 1000.

When the "cursor threshold" is set to 1000, what happens is that if the Query Optimizer predicts that the result set will be less than 1000, then the cursor will be run synchronously. And if the Query Optimizer predicts that the result set will be more than 1000, then the cursor will be run asynchronously.

In many ways, this option provides the best of both worlds. The only problem is what is the ideal "cursor threshold". To determine this, you will need to test. But as you might expect, the default value if often the best, and you should only change this option if you know for sure that your application uses very large cursors and that you have tested this option and know for sure that by changing it, it has helped, not hurt performance.

As a part of your audit, you may also want to investigate how often cursors are used, and how large the result sets are. Only by knowing this will you know what the best setting is for your server. Of course, you could always eliminate the use of cursors on the server. This way, the setting can remain at the default value, you wouldn't have to worry about the overhead of cursors.

Fill Factor (%)

This option allows you to change the default fill factor for indexes when they are built. By default, the fill factor setting is set to "0". A setting of "0" is somewhat confusing, as what it means is that leaf index pages are filled 100% (not 0%), but that intermediate index pages (non-leaf pages) have some space left in them (they are not filled up 100%). Legal settings for the fill factor setting range from 0 through 100.

The default fill factor only comes into play when you build new indexes without specifying a specific fill factor. If you do specify a fill factor when you create a new index, that value is used, not the default fill factor.

In most cases, it is best to leave the default fill factor alone, and if you want a value other than the default fill factor, then specify it when you create an index.

As a part of your audit, note if the fill factor is some figure other than the the default value of "0". If it is, try to find out why. And if you can't find out why the default value was changed, or there is not a good reason, switch it back to the default value. Also, if the value has been changed, keep in mind that any indexes created after the default value was changed may be using this default fill factor value. If so, you may need to reevaluate these indexes to see if the fill factor used for creating them is appropriate.

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