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SQL Server's Scalability Run Stalls

SQL Server 2000 64-bit and Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition 64-bit had a great run, but it looks like Microsoft's challenge to Unix and Oracle on scalability is over for now.

Ever since the April launch of Windows Server 2003, every major benchmark run by Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition and SQL Server 2000 64-bit set a new record for raw performance.

It was a heady time for Microsoft. Company officials could claim, without caveat, that Windows was the most scalable operating system and SQL Server the most scalable database on the TPC-C benchmark, which is widely acknowledged as the king of the scalability measures.

With the publication of a new benchmark result Wednesday evening that merely brings the Windows/SQL combo back to No. 2 on performance, Microsoft appears to be backing off from its run on Unix scalability. Now Microsoft is returning to its traditional stronghold, dominance on price-performance near the high end.

The Performance Numbers

The raw performance number to beat right now on the Transaction Processing Performance Council (www.tpc.org) benchmark is 824,164 transactions per minute on the TPC-C benchmark (tpmC). That figure was set by the HP-UX 11.iv2 Unix operating system running a pre-release version of the Oracle Database 10G Enterprise Edition on July 30. The result was achieved on an HP Integrity Superdome with 64 Itanium 2 "Madison" processors and 512 GB of RAM.

On Wednesday, Microsoft roared up from its previous best of 707,102 tpmC, a record when it was published in May, to 786,646 tpmC, an 11 percent improvement in raw performance. Both benchmarks were run on the same HP Integrity Superdome hardware used by HP-UX and Oracle 10G. The result vaulted Microsoft past an IBM eServer pSeries 690 system result from June 30 using IBM's AIX flavor of Unix and IBM's DB2 database that hit 763,898 tpmC.

But it wasn't enough to take on HP-UX and Oracle. The Microsoft software stack still sits about 5 percentage points behind HP-UX and Oracle on raw performance.

The Price Numbers

Where Microsoft has always been strong the TPC-C is on a metric called price-performance, calculated by dividing total system cost by tpmC. The recent round of results continue that trend.

While the HP-UX/Oracle system cost $6.8 million, and the IBM p690-led configuration hit $6.3 million, the recent Microsoft configuration weighs in at about $5.1 million. That leaves Microsoft about 20 percent ahead of its competitors on price-performance, with a price per tpmC of $6.49 for Microsoft compared with $8.28 for HP-UX/Oracle and $8.31 for IBM.

The Outlook

Microsoft's basic problem moving forward on the benchmark is that it has run out of hardware headroom. First off, it has nowhere else to go. HP's big Integrity Superdome box represents the top of the line for the current generation of Microsoft software. Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition, 64-bit edition, is rated for 64 processors and 512 GB of RAM, exactly what the HP Integrity Superdome carries. At the moment, no other hardware vendor offers more than 32-processor scalability on an Itanium-based system.

As this latest benchmark run shows, it's going to be difficult for Microsoft engineers to out-tune HP-UX engineers on HP's own server hardware. Any further enhancements that Microsoft can get out of faster chips or storage should be quickly duplicated and narrowly exceeded by HP-UX.

Meanwhile, IBM represents a scalability threat with its RISC processors. IBM has two directions to break out on scalability. Its highest benchmarks are competitive with 32 processors in the back-end server instead of the 64 used in the HP Integrity Superdome. IBM's results also rely on an older generation chip that is being replaced by faster newer ones.

Still, Microsoft's run at the top has been far from a waste. In the past, Microsoft's best efforts for non-clustered scalability petered out with Microsoft somewhere in the range of 25 percent to 50 percent of the top-end scalability of the highest-end systems. No longer. This time SQL Server and Windows Datacenter appear to have topped out at 95 percent of the raw-performance capacity of the top systems -- way beyond the real-world requirements of even the most demanding systems.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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