SQL Server 2016 SP1 Standard Edition Enhancements

I seldom get excited about service packs but the changes released with SQL Server 2016 SP1 are the most significant I’ve seen in a SQL Server service pack in 20+ years. Microsoft announced this week at the Microsoft Connect(); developer’s conference that SQL Server 2016 SP1, which is available for download immediately, allows features previously available only in Enterprise/Developer Editions to be used in lessor Standard, Web, Express, and LocalDB Editions too. Features like table partitioning, In-Memory OLTP, and columnstore are now options for developers and DBAs using SQL Server Standard Edition and even the free Express Edition in production. See SQL Server 2016 Service Pack 1 (SP1) released !!! for the complete matrix of programmability features by edition along with other cool SP1 information.

The implications are huge now that SQL Server has the same programmability surface area among editions. The choice of the production edition can be made independently based on operational needs rather than programmability features. Developers can use a free edition (i.e. LocalDB, Express or Developer) without fear a feature won’t be available in production as long as prod is running SQL Server 2016 SP1 or greater. DBAs can now choose the appropriate edition for production based on other considerations like advanced high availability, TDE, Auditing as well as performance features like higher supported memory, more number of cores, and advanced scanning. This separation of concerns avoids the need to lock in the production edition early in the application lifecycle, making development easier and production implementation more flexible.

Real World Use Case Scenario
I work with an ISV with hundreds of customers running a mix of Standard and Enterprise Edition. Their needs vary widely and SQL Server Enterprise Edition is not an option for some due to budget constraints. Some tables are often quite large so partitioning is required for manageability and, for their reporting workload, partitioning also improves performance of large scans due to partition elimination. The ugliness though, is that table partitioning (and/or columnstore) is the right tool for the job but was not an option for customers on Standard Edition.

The ISV initially compromised and used view partitioning instead of table partitioning so that the same code would run regardless of edition. Although that provided the expected manageability benefits, there were some downsides. Compilation time increased significantly as the number of partitioned view member tables increased as did the query plan complexity. This sometimes resulted in poor query plans against very large tables and especially impacted larger and most valued customers, most of which were running Enterprise Edition.

To address the problem before SQL Server 2016 SP1, the ISV added conditional code to the application so that either view or table partitioning could be used depending on the SQL Server edition. This wasn’t ideal as it added code complexity and doubled the number of QA test cases for application features that performed partition maintenance. However, since the resultant benefits for their larger customers on Enterprise Edition were quite significant; the additional costs of development and testing were well-justified.

Now that table partitioning is available in SQL Server 2016 SP1 Standard Edition, they plan to require SQL Server 2016 SP1 (or later) going forward, use table partitioning unconditionally, and perhaps introduce usage of other features like columnstore that were previously Enterprise only. Not only will this simplify the code base and test cases, customers on Standard Edition will be happier with their experience and can upgrade to Enterprise if they so choose without reinstalling or reconfiguring the application. It will of course take some time before all their customers upgrade to the latest product version and SQL 2016 SP1+ but the future is much brighter now.

Perform Due Diligence
If you are new to features previously available only in Enterprise Edition, I suggest you perform due diligence before using these features. Memory-optimized features like columnstore and In-Memory OLTP require additional physical memory and insufficient memory with memory-optimized features will be a production show-stopper. Make sure your hardware is sized appropriately regardless of edition and, in the case of editions other than Enterprise or Developer, memory requirements don’t exceed the maximum capacity limits for that edition. Although very powerful, In-Memory OLTP is a fundamentally different paradigm that you might be accustomed to regarding transactional behavior and isolation levels. Be sure you fully understand these features before using it in development or production.

Summary
I hope these changes are enough motivation for you to consider upgrading to SQL Server 2016 SP1, especially if you are running Standard Edition or are currently on an older SQL Server version. Together with the fact that SQL Server 2016 just runs faster, the time and effort spend in upgrading is a solid investment that will pay dividends regardless of edition.

SQL Saturday – St. Louis 2016

Please join us for SQL Saturday, St. Louis 2016. We have 25 sessions scheduled covering a wide range of topics on the Microsoft Data Platform stack.

As in the past few years, the event will be held at the SLU Center for Workforce & Organizational Development, 3545 Lindell Blvd , Saint Louis, Missouri 63103. Visit the event home page for registration, directions and session details.

See you there!

SSMS 2016 is Free

The general available release of SQL Server Management Studio 2016 is free. No SQL Server license is required to install and use it for either development or production purposes. This GA version supports SQL Server versions 2008 through 2016 plus Azure SQL Database. You might be able to use it against earlier SQL versions too but that’s not officially supported and features will be limited. SSMS 2016, now based on the Visual Studio 2015 isolated shell, can be downloaded from the SSMS Download Page.

Prior to SQL Server 2016, one typically installed SSMS from the SQL Server installation media and was upgraded only by CUs, service packs, or SQL Server version upgrades. This changed with the release of SQL Server 2016; SSMS is a now a separate download. After installation, regular updates are made available (monthly) and can be installed from the SSMS Tools–>Check for Updates… menu option. These frequent updates allow the tooling to stay aligned with both on-prem and Azure SQL Database while delivering enhancements and bug fixes to SSMS much more quickly. I am quite impressed by the responsiveness of the SSMS development team in this regard, having used it since the initial preview versions of the VS 2015 isolated shell were made available.

An important change in this GA version compared to earlier versions of SSMS is that SET XACT_ABORT ON is now the default session setting. That’s a good thing, in my opinion, because it helps ensure one doesn’t accidentally leave a transaction open in a query window following an error (I have many horror stories about that). But it does change script execution behavior because queries, with or without error handling, will generally not continue after an error with XACT_ABORT ON. Be aware of this when running scripts from SSMS. This and other SET options can be specified from the SSMS Query–>Query options–>Execution–>Advanced. I strongly recommend specifying SET XAT_ABORT ON unless you have a specific reason not to do so.

Kudos to the Microsoft for providing SSMS as a free tool and to the SSMS development team for their ongoing commitment to SQL Server tooling improvements and timely delivery.