All About SQL Server: Advantages, Best Practices, and Tools

By on May 15, 2020

Traditionally, databases were flat, meaning they stored information in long log text files known as tab-delimited files. Every entry in such files contained multiple pieces of information about objects, resources, or employees. Although the information was grouped as a record, it lacked consistency. The data was arranged in a sparse format making it challenging and time-consuming for teams to search for specific information from the file and create customized reports.

Example of Flat Database:

Lname, FName, Age, Salary|Brown, Scott, 41, $265|Smith, John, 35, $280|Doe, Jane, 28, $325

When the relational database came into existence, it became the standard. It stores the information in the form of tables consisting of rows and tables, each having a unique name.

  • A row represents a relationship between a set of values
  • A column represents the collection of links/relationships

The relational database uses filters to find, collect, and sort information based on specific fields so custom reports can be generated. In other words, the relational database finds the relation among values within the data, thereby increasing the speed and versatility of the database. Relational databases available today such as Oracle and Access use Structured Query Language (SQL) as the standard language for database interoperability.

What Is SQL?

Structured Query Language (SQL) is a standard database language extending its functionality to a mature programming language. It’s used to maintain, create, update, modify, and manipulate relational databases. It’s easy to learn and use, integrating with scripting languages, and managing vast volumes of data. As a massive amount of raw data is being generated, collected, and stored every day, it’s crucial to use proper skill set to fetch useful data for various business purposes. SQL is used in modern relational databases not only to help collect and store the data but also to analyze it so teams can make informed business decisions and increase their profits.

What Is SQL Server?

SQL Server is a relational database management system (RDBMS) developed and introduced by Microsoft. It includes its SQL language and Transact-SQL (T-SQL), Microsoft’s proprietary language with capabilities of exception handling, declaring a variable, and stored procedures. SQL Server Database Engine is the core component of SQL Server responsible for controlling, processing, and securing the data storage. The database engine is divided into two segments, the relational engine, which is used to process commands and queries. The second is the storage engine designed to manage various database features such as tables, pages, files, indexes, and transactions.

Advantages of SQL Server

Easy to Install

Microsoft SQL is easy to use and can be installed via setup wizard. Unlike other database servers requiring extensive command-line configurations, SQL server offers a user-friendly installation interface. Besides the one-click installation process, it comes with a readable GUI along with lots of instructions. The prerequisite updates are downloaded by the installation wizard automatically, which reduces manual workloads. Automatic updates not only reduces the maintenance cost but also helps to maintain the database with the current trend. Analytical and database services can be installed separately later.

Enhanced Performance

With built-in transparent data compression and encryption features, SQL server offers enhanced performance. To secure and encrypt the data, users need not modify programs. SQL Server provides efficient permission management tools with access controls designed to help users secure sensitive business information.

Several SQL Server Editions

MS SQL Server comes in several editions to cater to the needs of corporate enterprises and domestic and remote users. Different editions vary in features and price range. Therefore, organizations can choose the version suitable for their operational needs. The editions include:

  • Enterprise – This edition is usually for larger enterprises with greater data storage requirements. It provides data warehousing and web-enabled databases. Enterprise-grade SQL server offers the essential features an organization expects.
  • Standard – Standard SQL Server edition is best for small- and medium-scale businesses. Moreover, it can be used for branch offices and small web servers as a back-end database. The standard version has no user limits.
  • Express – Express SQL server edition is free of cost, has limited user capacity, and includes fewer features compared to standard and enterprise SQL server edition.
  • Developer – The developer SQL server edition works and functions exactly like an enterprise SQL edition. The only difference is the license is used for testing and development purposes. This edition is generally used by developers to build and test applications on top of the SQL server.

Highly Secure

The SQL Server database is highly secure and uses sophisticated encryption algorithms making it virtually impossible to break the security layers. SQL Server is a commercial relational database with additional security features to reduce the risk of attacks.

Excellent Data Restoration and Recovery Mechanism

SQL Server consists of several sophisticated features to help restore and recover lost or damaged data. With the help of advanced recovery tools, it’s possible to recover the complete database. The core component of SQL Server, Database Engine, controls data storage and helps to execute demands and queries of the users, including transactions, files, and indexes. Large organizations commonly use these facilities of SQL Server.

Lower Cost Of Ownership

The effective data mining, disk partitioning, and data management tools of SQL server help to maintain the crucial data and make the storage space available for highly sensitive information.

SQL SERVER Best Practices

Use Advanced Firewall

Setting up Windows Firewall in a SQL Server environment is an important security measure every organization needs to implement. Configuring firewalls on a single SQL Server machine enables IT teams to connect to the other client machines so traffic can easily flow in. This firewall rule helps to specify the IP address of the client’s machine.

Use a Separate SSD Persistent Disk

By default, the SQL server comes preconfigured, meaning it has everything installed on the boot persistent disk mounted on the C: drive. Having an additional or secondary SSD persistent disk helps to store log files and sensitive business data, so it remains secure even if the user deletes the instances.

Monitor Transaction Logs

One of the major causes of intermittent database slowdowns and its poor performance is the unmanaged growth of transaction logs. Therefore, monitoring the growth of transaction logs on every system is important. It can be done by disabling autogrowth. Besides, setting the log files to a fixed size based on the average of daily log accumulation helps manage transaction logs.

Schedule Backups of the Transaction Log

Even if the teams can manage logs easily using growth settings, scheduling regular backups of transaction logs is important. Backup of log files not only restores the crucial data in case of data loss but also allows the system to reuse the existing file space by replacing the old log entries. This helps in the maintenance of log files and eliminates the risk of performance issues during peak traffic times.

Defragment Indexes

Fragmented indexes can lead to poor performance of the database and queries involved. With a regular maintenance schedule, the fragmentation of indexes can be controlled. Using a defragmentation method on a regular basis helps reorganize the indexes available on heavily modified tables. To collect data from the number of indexes on modified tables and their fragmentation percentage, teams can run T-SQL script on the database.

Format Secondary Disks

SQL Server stores the crucial data in storage units known as extents. These extents are made up of eight memory pages, each having a size of 8 KB, making the overall extent size of 64 KB. When the secondary disk is formatted, it gives a huge space (64 KB) to the SQL Server to read and write extents more efficiently, which increases the performance of the disk. Formatting can be done by running PowerShell commands.

Perform Backups Regularly

Having a proper understanding of a solid backup, maintenance, and recovery plan is most crucial. A good backup helps to restore and recover your sensitive business information from the disasters. It also protects the critical business data from unusual database upgrades causing table corruptions and other unintentional system issues. While taking regular database backups, make sure not to consume a huge amount of persistent disk—Input Output Operations Per Second (IOPS). Instead, use a local SSD for backups capable of being further pushed to the cloud for secure storage.

Use Monitoring Tools

Database monitoring helps find performance issues, applications issues, device issues, and more. Finding issues proactively helps teams keep the database healthy and accessible. Monitoring databases helps to keep track of various components such as storage availability, resource consumption, measurement of throughput, Monitor Expensive Queries, track database changes, and monitor logs. Using data collection capabilities offered by advanced monitoring tools, users can tune specific information they need to monitor. However, choosing a monitoring tool is a challenging task, with so many options available. It’s advisable to make an informed decision, keeping in mind the business requirements, budget, and the features a business would be more likely to use.

Test Configuration

Setting up a new database server comes along with several challenges. Teams need to explore database features, functionalities, and how it’s used to make the most out of it. Before starting to use a database, it’s advisable to validate the configuration and run several performance tests before the final usage. There are free SQL Server health check scripts available for evaluating the SQL Server configurations to validate it performs as expected.

Enable Table and Index Compression

Although this might seem unusual, compressing tables and indexes can indeed increase the speed and performance of the system. The process takes a small amount of CPU cycle to compress the data. This helps to remove free disk space required to read and write bigger blocks. The less space, the better the database performance. Index compressions eliminate the duplicate copies of the predefined number of indexes on both cache and disk.

SQL Server Issues

The SQL Server database is a critical component of various small, medium, and large enterprises. If the business network, application, and system performance are slowing down, there may be an issue. In most cases, performance issues are related to databases for which organizations need to drill down and find out the actual faults. Organizations can also plan the diagnosis and tuning of various components using SQL monitoring tools to detect server issues in a streamlined way. SQL Server pain points such as insufficient indexing, memory usage, deadlocks, and security breaches are considered the most common issues that can easily be taken care of with SQL monitoring tools.

5 Best SQL Server Monitoring Tools

There are a plethora of SQL Server tools organizations can use to monitor and secure the health of their database. These performance tools consist of rich features such as customized dashboards, summarized reports, and real-time alerts. The best thing about using a database monitoring tool is it’s extremely easy to use. Let’s take a look at some of the top SQL Server monitoring tools used by most organizations.

  1. SolarWinds Database Performance Analyzer (DPA)
  2. SQL Sentry
  3. Paessler SQL Monitoring Software
  4. dbWatch Database Control
  5. Spiceworks SQL Server Monitoring

1. SolarWinds Database Performance Analyzer (DPA)

screenshot of solarwinds database performance analyzer's performance report

SolarWinds® DPA is one of the best and complete SQL Server monitoring platforms. With a single monitoring solution, organizations can monitor multiple databases such as Oracle, MySQL, SQL Server, and cloud servers from a centralized location. It offers outstanding features such as customizable alerts, quick identification of performance issues, round-the-clock monitoring, and a user-friendly interface. DPA not only optimizes the databases on VMware, AWS, and Azure, but also makes the development process and scaling easier with agentless architecture. Besides identifying the bottlenecks, it compares various aspects like activities, SQL statements, memory usage, and wait types—along with historical data to find the root cause of an issue, and to identify and prevent anomalies. Moreover, the Response Time Analysis also helps in providing insights into applications and database performance slowdowns. Organizations get a detailed and graphical representation of data collected with a data collection engine. The dashboard and reports display the performance trend over time in five unique ways – CPU, memory, summary, disk, and network.

The low overhead cost of system resources makes it one of the best SQL monitoring tools. The tool isn’t only scalable but can also be integrated with other essential tools such as SolarWinds Storage Monitor and SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor based on the organization’s requirements. It also offers a free trial for 14 days.

2. SQL Sentry

screenshot of sentryone's dashboard

SentryOne SQL Server Database monitoring tool follows a classic approach to monitor SQL monitoring queries and performance issues. The tool can be used to evaluate performance metrics of servers within a network and identify potential issues such as storage and resource bottlenecks. With this precious information, teams can make proactive decisions to resolve server-related issues. SentryOne also offers the block analysis to capture the SQL blocking details with the blocking SQL grid or a hierarchical view. This type of view shows the relationships of the blocked SPIDs in a SQL blocking chain and helps to find the root cause of the issues faster, thereby helping teams to stay ahead of the curve.

SentryOne SQL server monitoring tool offers around a hundred alerting conditions. Each alert can be customized to display specific information. The process of customizing alerts is simple and can be handled through the condition pane. When it comes to its pricing, the Sentry SQL database monitoring tool is a licensed product and can also be purchased on a subscription basis. It offers a 30-day free trial version and includes the following features:

  • Enterprise scalability
  • Low overhead
  • Guidance
  • Query performance and tuning
  • Alerting
  • Tracking vital system metrics
  • Historical baselines

3. Paessler SQL Monitoring Software

screenshot of prtg network monitor showing an overview of device exchange mail server

Paessler SQL monitoring software comes under the PRTG network monitoring suite offering various SQL monitoring functionalities. This tool helps to monitor performance degradation of databases such as Oracle SQL, Microsoft SQL, PostgreSQL, and MySQL. PRTG can monitor popular databases due to the presence of preconfigured sensor templates. PRTG includes the following sensors, all equipped with unique functionalities:

  • Microsoft SQL v2 Sensor
  • Oracle SQL v2 Sensor
  • MySQL v2 Sensor
  • PostgreSQL Sensor
  • ADO SQL v2 Sensor

These sensors offer key metrics of individual servers. For instance, some of these indicate the downtime, request execution time, query execution time, and number of affected rows. PRTG offers additional features such as notifications, scheduled alerts, easy-to-understand dashboards, and accurate reports. Teams can set alerts based on the priority and severity of the event and receive notifications for performance issues in the form of SMS, email, and push messages. The PRTG SQL monitoring software comes in a free version for Windows devices and monitors up to 100 sensors without any cost being involved. Although the premium versions are paid, they also provide a 30-day free trial period for users to get an idea of its features and functionalities.

4. dbWatch Database Control

screenshot of dbwatch's performance report

dbWatch Database Control is a specialized database monitoring system and isn’t a part of any application monitoring system. It’s a universal solution capable of monitoring multiple databases simultaneously, such as Postgres, Sybase, SQL Server, MariaDB, Oracle, and MySQL databases. It can keep track of Oracle and SQL clusters. It can handle cloud databases and hybrid databases and onsite implementations. Using dbWatch database control, teams can view live streaming of data on any database for events. However, the events can only be viewed on a per-database basis. The in-built reports cover all the instances of a database in the form of logs. The best thing about using a dbWatch database monitor is, no matter where the organization’s database is located, onsite, or on the cloud, it locates them in a centralized location to provide better access.

The tool is available for enterprises of all sizes due to its scalable pricing and features. Although its different pricing models work excellent, they may differ in their features. For instance, the lowest model covers ten databases, which might not be suitable for small organizations. The tool comes in three pricing models to be installed and downloaded on Mac OS, Windows, or Linux servers.

  • dbWatch Essentials (free for 30-days)
  • dbWatch Professional
  • dbWatch Enterprise

5. Spiceworks SQL Server Monitoring

screenshot of spiceworks' inventory dashboard

Spiceworks SQL Server Monitoring is an open-source tool perfect for small organizations. It helps track various SQL Server metrics such as speed, SQL Server size, connection, and the overall health of the database. The tool includes an easily customized dashboard. The dashboards and reports display crucial information in the form of easy-to-grasp graphs and charts.

  • Automatically collects data about the server
  • Access overall database health quickly
  • Create multiple widgets to monitor exactly the parameters what an organization needs
  • Monitor SQL Server size, connection, speed, and more

The Final Verdict

The highlighted tools above are some of the best SQL Server monitoring tools to help organizations monitor database performance issues, resolve them, and revive the system back to its normal functionality. While every tool has its unique advantages and features, it’s advisable to rely on SolarWinds Database Performance Analyzer. It’s not only a reliable tool but also scales as the organization grows. Moreover, there’s an open window to try SolarWinds DPA for free for 14 days to ensure it’s suitable for your organization’s database monitoring needs.

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