Does High-End Scalability Really Matter?

In my last column, I discussed Microsoft's newest SAP Sales and Distribution (SD) Standard Application Benchmark score, in which a 32-CPU Unisys ES7000 running SQL Server 2000 and Windows 2000 outperformed a 64-CPU Sun ES10000 running Oracle. I know that many of you think the super high-end benchmark scores are meaningless for your organizations. But here's why I believe that all SQL Server professionals—no matter what their scalability requirements—should follow the latest and greatest benchmark news.

To set the stage, consider this typical reader comment about high-end benchmark scores: "I see too many benchmarks from IBM, Informix, Microsoft, and Oracle. Companies tell me to buy their products because the latest benchmark brings them to the top, but I've learned to be skeptical. It's the real world, man. Don't bombard us with these fantastic benchmarks that cost millions of dollars to build when most of us support $10,000 servers with one or two processors."

True, most of us will never have a business problem that requires the processing power of these benchmark behemoths. And most of us will never need to scale a single application beyond the limits of today's 8-CPU Intel-based systems. So if our business needs will never approach the power of these systems, why should we care about high-end scalability? The answer is simple.

I've worked with SQL Server in the Microsoft Solution Provider world for the past 10 years. At sales calls, I demonstrate how SQL Server's performance capabilities can meet the client's business needs. The prospective customer's side of the conversation often goes like this: "SQL Server can absolutely meet all my current and foreseeable performance needs. Plus, SQL Server will cost me a heck of a lot less than a UNIX database. But what if I suddenly need a LOT more processing power than I could ever possibly imagine under any conceivable business scenario? I know a UNIX system will cost a lot more than SQL Server, but I'd better pick a UNIX database. My boss won't fire me if our UNIX server can't scale to meet those impossible business needs. But he might fire me if choose SQL Server and we have even a hint of scalability trouble."

You might never need a 32-CPU server for your SQL Server database. But I guarantee that many of you have managers and colleagues who have avoided SQL Server-based solutions because they don't know about SQL Server's true performance capabilities. High-end performance benchmarks are your safeguard against outdated beliefs that Wintel SQL Server solutions can't scale to meet your needs.

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