Index Tuning Week: Getting Blocking? Play “Hot or Not.”

This week, we’re all about tuning indexes. So far, we’ve covered Brent’s 5 and 5 Rule and The D.E.A.T.H. Method. Today, let’s talk about reducing blocking and deadlocking.

Normally, when we think about the causes of blocking or deadlocks, we use badly written queries that modify different tables in the wrong order, resulting in a Mexican standoff series of blocks. They don’t even have to be delete/update/insert (DUI) queries, either – even selects can win deadlocks. So we usually use sp_BlitzLock to look at which queries are involved in a deadlock, and think about how we can tune those queries to reduce blocking.

But before you go making extensive, expensive changes to queries, take a quick look at your indexes and ask, “Am I indexing a hot field?”

In my free How to Think Like the Engine class, I use the Stack Overflow dbo.Users table to demonstrate how clustered and nonclustered indexes work. Along the way, we constantly run queries like this:

In that class, in order to make some queries go faster, we create an index:

Sure, that makes the SELECT go faster – but it comes at a price. Say that every time a logged-in Stack Overflow user visits a page, our application updates their LastAccessDate:

By itself, in the code we’ve shown so far, that isn’t really a big deal. Sure, we need to update the clustered index of dbo.Users to reflect their new LastAccessDate, and we also need to update the IX_LastAccessDate index – but who cares?

Indexing “hot” fields has interesting side effects.

People think that when you include a field in an index – not as part of a key, but just included – that it’s somehow magically delicious. Take this index, for example:

We’re just including LastAccessDate and the user’s Reputation score – but we’re not sorting the data in that order, so it’s not a big deal, right? Wrong – every time either LastAccessDate or Reputation is updated, we have to:

  • Get the IX_Location page in memory
  • Lock the row for this user
  • Make the change to LastAccessDate and/or Reputation
  • Commit and release our lock (only after we’ve changed all of the relevant data pages)
  • Write the data page to disk

And I’m not even including the transaction log work, just simply the changes to the data page! It’s not a lightweight change – it’s a big deal. To make matters worse, imagine a setup with 5 different indexes on dbo.Users, and we’ve decided to include the LastAccessDate and Reputation fields on every index. We have to lock & write all of ’em every time any of these fields change!

This blocks queries that might have otherwise been able to use the Location index, and didn’t even need LastAccessDate or Reputation – just a seek on Location – but they’re not allowed to make progress on rows where we’re modifying LastAccessDate or Reputation.

Depending on our workloads, we might be better off making a rule to say, “Never include LastAccessDate or Reputation in any index – if you need that, you need to do a key lookup, because we can’t afford the penalty of updating it across lots of indexes.”

SQL Server doesn’t tell you whether a column is hot or not.

When you get missing index recommendations in query plans or in the DMV, SQL Server will happily tell you to index hot fields – fields that are constantly updated. There’s no way it can flag problem fields for you.

That’s where your own business knowledge has to come in. That’s why, when I talk about how many servers one person can manage, I say that if you’re going to go really deep in index performance tuning, there are only so many applications you can tune. You’re going to need business knowledge about the app.

As your application workload grows, it can be hard to strike the right balance of indexes. You want enough indexes to make your read queries fast, but not so many that they slow down your DUI queries. When you start to hit a wall, it’s time to learn to master index tuning.

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Index Tuning Week: Fixing Nonaligned Indexes On Partitioned Tables
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Index Tuning Week: Missed Missing Index Opportunities

6 Comments. Leave new

  • Stephen Morris
    October 12, 2018 5:32 am

    re : SQL Server doesn’t tell you whether a column is hot or not
    – isn’t the information in sys.dm_db_index_operational_stats aimed at answering this question ?

    Reply
    • Stephen – think through that a little deeper. If I have an index with 3 key fields and 4 included fields, and that index is getting a lot of writes, how can I tell which field(s) are changing?

      Reply
      • Stephen Morris
        October 12, 2018 9:17 am

        modification_counter in sys.dm_db_stats_properties ? Going to be a fun query to fetch the columns in the index and then work out which statistic relates to which column though (lets ignore multi column statistics )

        Reply
  • Stephen Morris
    October 12, 2018 11:01 am

    Something like this but obviously you get odd semi-cartesian joins when there are multiple columns in indexes or multiple columns in statistics plus I haven’t even thought about partitioning.

    SELECT OBJECT_SCHEMA_NAME(ixs.object_id), OBJECT_NAME(ixs.object_id), *
    FROM sys.dm_db_index_operational_stats(DB_ID(),OBJECT_ID(‘Fact.f_AdsPipeline’), NULL, NULL) AS ixs
    JOIN sys.index_columns AS ixc ON
    ixs.object_id = ixc.object_id AND
    ixs.index_id = ixc.index_id
    LEFT OUTER JOIN sys.stats_columns AS sc ON
    ixc.object_id =sc.object_id AND
    ixc.column_id = sc.column_id
    CROSS APPLY sys.dm_db_stats_properties(sc.object_id, sc.stats_id)
    ORDER BY ixc.index_id, ixc.column_id

    Reply

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