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IT Briefcase Exclusive Interview: Microsoft SQL Server Sprawl…The Light at the End of the Tunnel

January 11, 2018 No Comments

Microsoft SQL Server is undoubtedly one of the most widely deployed database management system platforms, and there is plenty of research that backs that up. According to the analyst firm Gartner, SQL Server captures over 20 percent of the $34.4 billion DBMS market. It is second only to Oracle. And SQL Server is quickly growing. In 2016, Microsoft SQL Server revenue grew by 10.3% – even greater growth than Oracle and the overall market. And, while SQL offers significant benefit to its users, it can also present pain. Luckily, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and this pain can be overcome. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with DH2i’s Connor Cox, Director of Business Development, to discuss this important topic.

  • Q: As mentioned above, Microsoft SQL Server is one of the most widely deployed DBMS platforms on the market due to its undeniable benefits. However, until recently these benefits were accompanied by seemingly unavoidable pain. Can you explain?

A: One of the major pain points that SQL Server users encounter is what is known as “SQL Server Sprawl.” This is the explosive, uncoordinated growth of SQL Servers in the enterprise. As customers have new database demands, this means they oftentimes need a new instance of SQL Server. Usually, a new instance means a new physical or virtual server (as most IT organizations deploy one instance per server). This can get out of control very quickly as the SQL Server footprint multiplies.

The pain that is often a result of sprawl is multifold. There is a tremendous cost to the organization’s bottom line from SQL Server sprawl. SQL Server licensing (while a relative bargain compared to Oracle) can be expensive – especially considering some licensing rule changes that have come up over the last number of years. As the number of SQL Servers increases, oftentimes so does the SQL Server bill. And with big multi-core servers being the norm these days, per-core SQL Server licensing can cause a significant sting.

The personal pain inflicted on the admins tasked with managing these servers is also quite painful. Patching, updating, doing migrations, troubleshooting, maintaining security, and other maintenance tasks are becoming a larger percentage of overall work that these admins must complete. Not only are these less desirable activities for most folks, these tasks must take place during planned outage windows that often happen during nights or on the weekend.

  • Q: As sprawl is such a key pain point, how are organizations currently dealing with it?

A: There are a few typical approaches employed to combat sprawl, each not without its own set of challenges:

–        Large Enterprise Edition WSFC Clusters: By creating large Windows Server Failover Clusters with multiple nodes, customers can create a consolidation platform. However, there is a high cost of Enterprise Edition, all the servers must be the same version, and WSFC has many complexities for deployment and management.

–        Database merging: This approach involves moving multiple databases into the same instance. It can reduce the number of instances, and by effect, cut the number of servers. It is relatively high risk because it becomes more difficult to coordinate planned outages and can affect many users if an instance or server unexpectedly fails.

–        Instance stacking: Because Microsoft allows for the installation of up to 50 SQL Server instances per OS, sometimes IT shops use this technique to help reduce OS numbers and licensed core counts. Unfortunately, this creates an “all your eggs in one basket” scenario where an outage can impact many instances. It is also difficult to move instances if you get the stacking ratio wrong the first time.

  • Q: Do you agree with these approaches?  Or, would you suggest an alternative?

A: Each of these approaches can help to combat sprawl, but each carry some pretty significant hard and/or soft costs. An alternative I’d recommend taking a look at is DH2i’s software-based approach to consolidation and cost savings. Our solution helps customers to safely stack on average 5-15 SQL Server instances per licensed OS. Some customers are even running 50. This possible because the solution gives customers the ability to easily move instances between hosts, either manually or automatically due to failure. The savings from the physical and logical consolidation is twofold. First, customers save operationally on management time—admins simply have fewer servers to manage. Additionally, there are fewer cores to license for SQL Server – resulting in significant hard cost savings.

There are a variety of other benefits to using the DH2i solution beyond combatting sprawl. They include the avoidance of costly SQL Server Enterprise Edition, support for mixed-version clusters, built-in HA, easy DR, and simplified patch and upgrade management. It is a no-compromise way for SQL Server users to achieve both HA and cost savings within a simplified management framework for all of their workloads. And because it’s just software, customers can use their existing infrastructure and SQL Server instances.

  • Q: Do you have a use case you could offer to illustrate?

A: DH2i has customers of all different sizes across many industries. But they have a couple of things in common: they all have SQL Server and now better manage SQL Server costs and availability.

One example of an organization who is using our approach is Asante, a health system in Southern Oregon and Northern California. Before deploying DxEnterprise, they had large WSFC clusters, Enterprise Edition everything, and a pending Microsoft true-up. The true-up was approximately $400,000. Asante then deployed our software, did a consolidation on the platform, and are now running 15-20 instances per server. Doing consolidation with DH2i caused their true-up to become only $20,000—a huge cost avoidance compared to the original $400,000 bill. And they got built-in HA as a bonus.

  • Q: Anything else you want to add?

A: Thank you for taking the time to chat about SQL Server! If any of your readers are struggling with SQL Server costs and management complexity and are interested in receiving an analysis of their sprawled environment, please have them email, or they can visit to learn more about the DH2i approach.

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Connor Cox is a technical business development executive with extensive experience assisting customers transform their IT capabilities to maximize business value. As an enterprise IT strategist, Connor helps organizations achieve the highest overall IT service availability, improve agility, and minimize TCO. He has worked in the enterprise tech startup field for the past 5 years. Connor earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Colorado State University and was recently named a 2017 CRN Channel Chief.

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