SQL Server can scale

If you work in large enterprises you often come across the attitude that Microsoft SQL Server can’t scale.  People therefore turn to vendors such as Oracle and Teradata for solutions at very high cost.  This attitude often comes from in-house experience of a growing SQL database which hits something between 5 and 10TB and starts slowing down and becoming difficult to work with.  These databases are often run on multi-instance servers with shared SAN access and little thought to data fragmentation.  Its no wonder that their environment has problems!

Microsoft Strategy

I was recently invited to a Microsoft partners event which aims to challenge these attitudes and give partners better information to discuss large scale SQL implementations. Their strategy is to use partnership with HP to give SQL server a balanced hardware configuration to run on.  This will solve the major bottleneck which gives SQL Server the performance problems people perceive are with the software.  They have created a range of solutions together to allow SQL server to scale effectively to meet any need.   The first of these solutions was released a couple of years ago and there are more in the pipeline.  There are real world case studies available from Microsoft detailing the success of this strategy for many early adopters. These solutions are targeted at the workloads they need to run and are detailed below.


< 5TB – HP Business Data Warehouse Appliance

20TB – 80TB – Fast Track Data Warehouse

126TB – 500TB – HP Enterprise Data Warehouse Appliance

Applications/ Consolidation/Private Cloud

100VM’s- 10,000VM’s


On the way shortly – Will scale to the worlds largest OLTP Implementations

These solutions are all positioned such that they are going to be significantly cheaper than almost any other vendor while providing equal or better performance.  The appliances also provide excellent improvements in time to market, drastically reducing required configuration time.  I would also recommend the 5TB box to anyone building a data warehouse of any size.  This give you the confidence that you are buying a competitively priced server which is optimised for a SQL workload and you are not going to hit any hardware bottlenecks which you might come across on a shared or custom build server.  The evolution of the Microsoft appliance and fast-track structure has also produced predictable benchmarks.  You can choose the performance you need by picking the right server and if you follow the best practices you can be sure that you will achieve the throughput and response time needed.

Oracle’s Exadata platform claims to be able to manage any workload at any scale.  What they don’t specify in the sales briefs is the amount of configuration required to match the platform to the workload in your environment.  This means you need to invest in a lot of time for your Oracle DBA’s to tune and configure the hardware correctly.  It is then not a comparable product to a SQL server installed on a spare bit of hardware which has very little time invested in it.

With a balanced hardware configuration and best practice ETL Microsoft SQL Server can meet any scale requirement asked of it.  So next time you come across the “SQL can’t scale” attitude don’t be afraid to let people know that they are out of date and SQL will be able to meet their requirement at a far lower cost than the competitors.

(There is another appliance out for self service BI but it deserves a post all of its own – BDA )