That Means What?

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
– Princess Bride

If you are like me, you are constantly reading up on the latest hardware. Each site has it’s own spin on what makes up its review. All of them use some kind of synthetic benchmarking software. Some don’t rely to heavily on them because they can show the real world performance using playback tools. This method is used heavily on gaming hardware sites like [H]ard|OCP where they decided long ago that using purely synthetic benchmarks were at best inaccurate and at worst flat misleading. In the graphics card and processor space this is especially so. Fortunately, on the storage side of the house things are a little simpler.



What’s In A Workload

In the processor space measuring performance is a complicated beast. Even though every processor may be able to run the same software they can vary wildly in how they do it. On the processor side of things I favor Geekbench right now since it uses known mathematical algorithms. John Poole is very open on how Geekbench works Are the benchmarks relevant to database workloads? I’ll be exploring that in a future post.

In the storage space we have a pretty standard benchmarking tool in Iometer. This tool was initially developed by Intel and spread like wildfire throughout the industry. Intel quit working on it but did something very rare, turned it over to the Open Source Development Lab for continued development. You may ask why I favor Iometer over SQLIO? The answer is simple, complexity. Iometer allows me to simulate diffrent read/write patterns in a very predictable manor. SQLIO doesn’t simulate complex patterns. It does reads or writes, random or sequential for a fixed duration. This is fine for finding the peak performance of a specific IO size but doesn’t really tell you how your storage system might respond under varying workloads. You my notice that they only sites that use SQLIO are SQL Server sites. While the rest of the world generally uses Iometer. The problem is none of the sites that I regularly visit publish the exact Iometer settings they used to get the results they publish. Tom’s Hardware, Anandtech, Ars Technica and Storage Review all use Iometer in some fashion. Doing some digging and testing like hard drives I think most of the sites are using a mix 67% reads 33% writes 100% random at an 2KB block which was defined by Intel and represents an OLTP workload. Storage Review did a nice writeup a decade ago on what they use for I/O patterns and Iometer. This isn’t the best fit for a purely SQL Server workload but isn’t the worst ether. By moving from a 2KB block to an 8KB block we are now squarely in SQL Server I/O land.

SQL Server Specific

Now we are starting to get to the root of the problem. All the main hardware review sites don’t focus on us at all. If we are lucky there will be a single column marked “Database workload”. So what do we do? You read, research and put together your own test suite. SQL Server I/O access patterns are pretty well documented.  So, I put those general patterns in a Iometer configuration file and keep it in my back pocket. I have posted a revised file in the My Tools section here on the site.

For the storage stuff that is fine but what about CPU and memory throughput? Things get a little murky here. Like Glenn Berry(blog|twitter) and I you can use Geekbench to get a baseline on those two things but again, this isn’t a SQL Server specific tool. In most cases sampling a workload via trace getting a baseline on performance then replaying that same workload on different servers will help but only tells you about your application. If you are looking for general benchmarks I personally wouldn’t put much stock in the old TPC-C tests anymore. They aren’t a realistic assessment of database hardware at this point. It is pretty easy to stack a ton of memory and throw a bunch of CPU’s at the test to get some ridiculous numbers. I personally look at TPC-E for OLTP tests since there is a decent sampling of SQL Server based systems and TPC-H for data warehouse style benchmarks. As always don’t expect the exact same numbers on your system that you see on the TPC benchmark scores. Even TPC tells you to take the numbers with a grain of salt.

My Personal Reader List

I personally follow Joe Chang (blog) for hard core processor and storage stuff. He has a keen mind for detail. I also read Glenn Berry(blog|twitter) he has some deep experience with large SQL Server deployments. Also, Paul Randal (blog|twitter) because he has more hardware at his house than I do and puts it to good use. I would advise you to always try and find out how the benchmark was performed before assuming that the numbers will fit your own environment.

What’s On My Todo List

I wrote a TPC-C style benchmark quite a while back in C#. I’m currently building up instructions for TPC-E and TPC-H using the supplied code and writing the rest myself in hopes of building up a benchmark database. This will be in no way an official TPC database or be without bias. I’m also always updating my Iometer and SQLIO tools as well with full instructions on how I run my tests so you can validate them yourself.

As always if you have any suggestions or questions just post them up and I’ll do my best to answer.