Database mirroring pseudorandom ramblings

I liked database mirroring since it appeared in SQL Server 2005. In fact, it’s the only HA technique I feel comfortable with (apart from it’s obvious limitations). It’s neither as blunt as log shipping, as random as replication nor as complex as clustering. It either works or it doesn’t – and you know it straight away after you set it up – you don’t have to wait for snapshot to be generated, sent over the network and applied on a subscriber or for a backup to be copied and restored on your secondary.

The incentive for this post was one by Glenn Berry, which held one answer to my mirroring-related questions. The database mirroring is considered deprecated in SQL Server 2012; it’s going to be available in 2012 and the next version, but then it will be removed from SQL Server and replaced by AlwaysOn Availability Groups. Given the releases of new major versions of SQL Server my totally wild guess it would be like… 2018? Later? All in all, it’s not the major point of concern right now, but something worth remembering and planning when time comes.

What gives me second thoughts is the second part of deprecation note saying “If your edition of SQL Server does not support AlwaysOn Availability Groups, use log shipping”. What I understand is – combining it with new SQL Server licensing model – you can get replication and log shipping in Standard Edition, clustering and AlwaysOn in Enterprise Edition, but what about mirroring? I would like it to remain in Standard Edition, but to be 100% sure I asked on MSDN forums and I’m waiting for an answer. On the other hand, if it were to go to Enterprise Edition, I would expect dramatic costs increase due to per-physical-core licensing model, which would not be very welcome by most organizations.

When it comes to facts about database mirroring apart from standard source of knowledge (Books On-Line) I also recommend the following:

  1. The forementioned post and it’s sequel by Glenn Berry – a detailed introduction and complete checklist of points to be considered while implementing database mirroring.
  2. Pro SQL Server 2008 Mirroring – a book by Robert Davis and Ken Simmons, which apparently is not only about mirroring, but also about other high availability techniques as well.
  3. Blog posts by Robert Davis tagged with database mirroring – lots of additional information.
  4. An MCM video followed by a demo presented by Paul Randal – to give an insight how the mirroring works internally.
  5. Microsoft KB article 2001270 on things to consider while implementing mirroring, mentioning exact Performance Objects to watch out for in case of performance issues.

Now few words why I like mirroring in SQL Server:

  1. It works.
  2. It allows you to do automatic client redirection in case of failure (provided you have a high safety scenario with a witness) – see an example of implementation, works with SQL Native Client, ADO.NET and SQL Server JDBC driver.
  3. You can run it on Standard Edition and you don’t need extra hardware for that (unlike clustering).
  4. In high safety mode, you can have zero data loss (unless your mirroring is broken).
  5. You can have it working even if you are not in a domain, or you don’t have trust relationship between domains in which mirroring partners are – I have recently presented an example during local SQL Server user group meeting based on Books On-Line example available here. It’s completely opposite to simple scenario in one domain when it comes to implementation, but I recommend trying that one out.

For the other side of the coin – things to remember when implementing database mirroring:

  1. There was only one Redeemer! 🙂 you can have only one mirror server – this limitation is overcome in 2012’s AlwaysOn, where you can have 4 replicas, but it has it’s costs.
  2. Mirror is not easily accessible but you can use snapshots to query it.
  3. Server-level objects are not transferred with mirroring – you have to take care of logins, Database Mail profiles, SQL Server Agent jobs or Maintenance plans yourself. See Books On-Line article on jobs and logins.
  4. Mirroring requires full recovery model so you have to be absolutely sure about the transaction log of mirrored databases. Index maintenance, for example, can kill mirroring performance if you have 100GB of log records related to index reorganize sent to the mirror (and it will kill you twice – first the network, then the mirror server).
  5. In SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 FILESTREAM and mirroring don’t work together. You can’t have both in one database. To be checked – SQL Server 2012’s FileTables and mirroring.
  6. The failover is not instant – see Paul Randal’s post and Books On-Line. In short – it depends on the length of your REDO queue, so if you’re not monitoring it, then please do, just for the sake of not being surprised in the event of failover.
  7. The failures not detected automatically – there are four cases here (again, I’m quoting Paul Randal):
    • SQL Server unavailability – detected in a second
    • Machine unavailability – default is 10 seconds, you may increase it using ALTER DATABASE SET PARTNER TIMEOUT
    • Unavailable log drive – it takes 20 seconds for a warning, and next 20 seconds (total 40 seconds) for database to be taken offline
    • Page corruption – might not even be detected 😦
  8. It’s not the witness who performs the failover, but the mirror! The mirror and the witness agree that the principal cannot be contacted and the mirror switches to a principal. If you don’t believe, set three Profiler sessions on all three mirroring participants and watch out for ALTER DATABASE statements when failover occurs.

Wrapping it all up, database mirroring is a really useful high availability technique (especially when combined with other methods – be it clustering or replication). It is easy to implement, does not have extra hardware requirements. Though it’s marked as deprecated in SQL Server 2012, it is going to be available and useful for at least couple of years, but it has it’s downsides which should be carefully considered when planning.

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3 thoughts on “Database mirroring pseudorandom ramblings

  1. Pingback: Database mirroring rambling follow-up « Yet another SQL Server DBA…

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