Kevin Kline and Brent Ozar Sound Off on SQL Server Virtualization

Virtualization, cloud computing, and SQL Server 2008 R2 seem to be popular topics of conversation in the SQL Server community lately and rightfully so. Virtualizing your SQL Server instances is becoming easier to do, cloud computing is available in the form of SQL Azure and has been integrated into Visual Studio, and SQL Server 2008 R2 was just released and contains some big new BI features. At TechEd 2010, I got the chance to sit down with Kevin Kline, strategy manager for SQL Server at Quest Software, and Brent Ozar, a SQL Server DBA expert for Quest Software, to talk about how the virtualization market has evolved, whether cloud computing is just a fad or the next big thing, what they think about the NoSQL movement, and which features they would like to see in the next SQL Server release. In the first part of this series, you’ll hear what Kevin and Brent had to say about SQL Server virtualization. (To see what Kevin and Brent had to say about cloud computing, NoSQL, and the next SQL Server release, watch for the rest of the series on the Database Administration blog.)

Megan Keller: Kevin, you and I spoke at PASS a couple of years ago about SQL Server virtualization, and at the time it wasn’t taking off. What are you seeing in the market today regarding SQL Server virtualization?

Kevin Kline: The shift is definitely coming to pass. The virtualization vendors got overhead under control and once that happened we began to see, I won’t say the flood gates open, but a lot of people wanted proof that this was going to perform effectively. But once they were assured that the amount of overhead was manageable and predictable—it wasn’t an outrageous amount—we saw a lot of people shift to production SQL Server on the virtual machine.

Brent Ozar: There were so many revolutions in processing recently that suddenly it didn’t really matter if you were paying a 5 or 10 percent premium on CPU power. If you lost 5 percent but you were going to an amazingly powerful CPU, who cares? You get so many more management improvements under virtualization, and we see so many people that don’t have the budget to improve all of their old SQL Server 2000 and 2005 instances; they’re having to just let them limp along. If you throw those under virtualization, it’s an easy process and suddenly you have high availability and disaster recovery. So I’ve been really impressed by how many people have quickly used it to what I call “Just take care of the dinosaurs;” all these machines that they had no budget for. Suddenly, they’re just more reliable and faster under virtualization. All of the out-of-maintenance hardware and all of the out-of-warranty hardware just goes away as well.

Kline: One thing that people I think didn’t see as a main benefit to virtualization—primarily they’re looking for a chance to consolidate and save some money; that was a big thing—but there’s so many cool benefits now with VMotion on the VMware side and, what’s Hyper-V’s equivalent?

Ozar: Live Migration.

Kline: Live Migration. So you have much better opportunities for high availability on virtual machines because you can do something like your service packs and so forth in a way that you’re not taking down your server. Everybody’s happy; you’ve got more nines of uptime, depending on where you put the decimal point, so it can be very good on a number of other measurements.

Ozar: Another thing that was neat that they showed in the first [TechEd 2010] keynote was the preview of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2011 [v.Next] I think it was called, where you can design your infrastructure with drag and drop, something that is only possible with virtualization because we couldn’t just go drag new hardware into our data center. It gives people so much more flexibility on architecture to, with a click of a mouse, say “I want a three-tier application infrastructure” and boom, it’s taken care of. Instead of this old cumbersome design process where you had to know firewalls, you had to know infrastructure, you had to know networks; now they’re really trying to take the management headaches out of that, and that’s something that is only possible with virtualization.

Keller: Are you seeing people implement Hyper-V in their SQL Server environments?

Ozar: It’s interesting; I think the shops that wanted virtualization went in long ago with VMware ESX. And nobody who went into VMware is now switching over, saying “I see something in Hyper-V that I can’t get anywhere else.” At this point, I think that Hyper-V is picking up the late adopters who say, “I have a really strong agreement with Microsoft; I want one throat to choke for support.” So they’re able to come in late and say, “This is better than the bare-metal hardware that I used to have. Maybe it’s still not as good as VMware, but it’s good enough for me and I’ve got Microsoft behind it.”

Kline: Yeah, I would add that I do see a pretty strong majority on VMware. Probably 75 percent of the people I talk to are [using] VMware. But it’s very much like the SQL Server adoption curve; those were largely bigger shops. So what I’m seeing now with Hyper-V is that the smaller shops that, as Brent said, didn’t rush into the adoption are now like, “Oh we can consider this; this is really neat.” So we are seeing small and middle-tier companies, 400 people or less, really starting to get a great return on that investment and looking at the Microsoft stack rather than something like a VMware product.

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