Friday, January 13, 2012

Part 2: An Introduction to SSAS Performance and SQL Sentry Performance Advisor for Analysis Services

In the last post, I spoke about the fact that SQL Sentry Performance Advisor for Analysis Services (PA for SSAS) “lifts the veil” from the black box known as SQL Server Analysis Services. But, there is little information available that helps someone new to the technology easily interpret all this new information in order to optimize the performance of their servers. In an effort to provide some insight into this new source of information, I wrote about the SSAS engine and how it handles incoming requests. In part 2 of this series, I want to dig deeper into the common sources of bottlenecks and what information is available to troubleshoot these issues.

What can impact MDX performance?

For the purposes of this post, I’ll break down into six categories what can impact MDX performance on your SSAS server.

Those categories are:

· Processing

· Unoptimized code

· CPU

· Memory

· Disk

· Network

I’ll tackle each one by giving an explanation and refer to specific metrics, primarily performance counters, that can be used to analyze the given issue.

Processing

I mentioned in the last post that processing involves the creation and updating of cubes with new data and/or recalculating and reorganizing existing data. I related it to maintenance on SQL Server and many of the same factors you consider when you implement maintenance in SQL Server apply to processing in SSAS.

Processing primarily involves the Storage Engine (SE), which you’ll remember is multi-threaded, and can obviously be a resource intensive operation. Since processing may involve new data or recalculation of existing data, cached data will become outdated and will be flushed. This then means that the next time a query runs that requires that data, the SE will have to query the file system to retrieve needed data from the Windows cache or the disk system to replace the flushed data.  This will result in a performance hit to the query on its first run after processing. Querying while processing is occurring on the same cube can lead to blocks. Querying any cube while processing is occurring can lead to general resource contention on the server.

Monitoring Processing

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So how can we tell when processing is occurring on the server? While there are many performance metrics that have varying levels of usefulness, I’ll mention a handful for each topic that will give you better insight for that topic. Don’t infer that if I don’t mention it, it’s not useful or vice versa. The point of this series is to give you a better understanding of what’s going on in SSAS and how to make better use of the information tools like SQL Sentry’s PA for SSAS provide.

· Processing: Rows written/sec tells you the rate of rows written during processing.

· Proc Aggregations: Rows created/sec more specifically tells you the rate aggregation rows are created during processing.

· Proc Indexes: Rows/sec tells the rate of rows from MOLAP files used to create indexes.

So, a non-zero value for these counters confirms that processing is taking place. These metrics can also help determine the effectiveness of any processing tuning efforts.  If your tuning efforts are effective, you should see an increase in these values accordingly.

Improving Processing Related Performance

So how do you improve performance related to processing? I mentioned earlier that you can relate SSAS processing with maintenance in SQL Server. Many of the same techniques applied in SQL Server maintenance apply here as well.

· Scheduling – If possible, schedule processing activities during time of least querying activity on the server to avoid blocks and resource contention.

· Processing Type – Use the most appropriate processing commands. Just as there are different types of backup strategies in SQL Server such as Full, Log, Differential, etc. the same applies in SSAS processing. For example, use ProcessData and ProcessIndex where appropriate instead of ProcessFull.

· Partitioning – If you’re working with Enterprise Edition, be sure to take advantage of the ability to break Measure Group data into partitions. Not every partition may need to be processed every time. Partitioning can serve to reduce the overall amount of work that is done. Remember that the SE is multi-threaded, so architect your data to take advantage of parallel processing capabilities.

For more information see the Analysis Services Processing Best Practices article in TechNet.

We’ve really just scratched the surface with the series.  In the next installment I’ll discuss identifying and understanding issues related to unoptimized MDX, and from there we’ll finish with server resource bottlenecks.  Stay tuned!

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