You Don’t Have to Be an Expert to Use SQL Sentry Part One

Anyone who’s spent much time on a PC has inevitably encountered a situation where they have to kill an errant app or find out which process has suddenly pegged the CPU and Disk at 100%. Whenever this happens, most of us know to invoke Task Manager, as shown in Figure 1 below. Look familiar?

Figure 1: Windows Task Manager Process Tab

Assume when I look at Figure 1 I am trying to find out which process is consuming the most memory. I can apply an ascending or descending sort to any of the columns by clicking on the header of a column, as we can see on the column for Memory.

If, on the other hand, we want to see what our performance issues are over time, we would click on the Performance tab, as shown in Figure 2, to see a graph of the top five areas of performance over time: CPU, Memory, Disk I/O, Network (Ethernet), and GPU.

Figure 2: Windows Task Manager Performance Tab

Task Manager’s interface is so simple and directly informative that an explanation seems unnecessary. They simply make sense, right?

On the other hand, when I talk to data professionals about SQL Sentry there is some hesitation. Usually, the hesitation comes from the sheer volume of data visualizations on the SQL Sentry client interface. I’m quick to tell them if they know how to read Task Manager (as everyone does) then they have all the skills they need to make the most of SQL Sentry!

But there are two easy tips to achieving high productivity using SQL Sentry. And I will teach then to you here.

Step 1: Narrow Your Focus

Before we dive into the colorful visualizations, the very first step for to narrow our focus to a specific timeframe. By default, the SQL Sentry dashboard shows the last 30 minutes. But it’s easy to change. The information shown on each tab is relevant to the time shown on the time range toolbar, as shown in Figure 3. You can use the toolbar to see how the server looked at a given date or time by selecting the desired time in the Start and End drop-down boxes. Select Sync to synchronize all the tabs within the same timeframe.

Figure 3: SQL Sentry Time Range Toolbar

Now, let’s look at the SQL Sentry performance analysis dashboard. This dashboard provides a graphical representation of the monitored server activity through a variety of graphs. Color coded graphs distinguish between what's used by the Windows Server instance versus the SQL Server instance as well any other processes, as shown below in Figure 4. Broadly speaking, the most important graph to focus on is the SQL Server wait statistics (second from the top in the upper right), since that tells you the general area of SQL Server behavior which might be experiencing issues.

Figure 4 : SQL Sentry Performance Analysis Dashboard

Figure 4 shows just how much information is available on this single dashboard within the tool -- before we even look at other interfaces within the product. We have so much information it’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially if we don’t know what all the graphs mean. But as I mentioned earlier when discussing Task Manager, literally half of the dashboard is already common sense to us. We just don’t know it yet.

Take another look at Figure 4 and notice the vertical blue bar on the dashboard interface:

· Left of the blue bar are the Windows Server performance metrics. Basically, it’s Task Manager with extra some information. Just as Task Manager shows CPU, Memory, Disk I/O, Network (Ethernet), and GPU, the left pane shows graphs for CPU, Memory, Disk I/O, Network, but alas no GPU since that’s rare on enterprise server hardware and general-purpose cloud servers. For example, Figure 5 (below) shows a graph for the total amount of Windows disk IO across all disks on the instance:

Figure 5: Windows Disk IO, total

· Right of the blue bar are the SQL Server Performance metrics. Note that the SQL Server metrics on the right are paired to the Windows performance metrics on the left. For example, the bottommost Windows metrics on the left are for Disk IO, while the bottommost metrics on the right are for SQL Server database IO. Similarly, the second from bottom graphs represent Windows memory, on the left, and SQL Server memory, on the right. For example, Figure 6 (below) shows graphs database IO latency, another for transaction log flushes, and finally checkpoints and lazy writes:

Figure 6: SQL Server Database IO

Just knowing both sides of the bottommost graph detail IO is enough to make quick troubleshooting assessments related to the IO subsystem. For example, if you saw a spike in Windows Disk IO on the left but no correlated spike on the right within SQL Server on the right means a process in Windows is consuming all of the resources of the IO subsystem and are likely to deprive SQL Server of the IO resources it needs. Conversely, if you see a spike in Disk IO on the left and SQL Server IO on the right, as appears in Figure 6, then you know any resource consumption is from SQL Server.

Suppose you’re already familiar with SolarWinds Database Performance Analysis (DPA). In that case, the main wait statistics graph of DPA is equivalent to the SQL Sentry Wait Statistics graph, which is the second graph on the right side of the dashboard. So, in effect, SQL Sentry provides you with the same data collected by DPA with much more information beside.

Part two: Correlate.

SolarWinds database solutions help keep your data available and scalable while pinpointing the root cause of performance issues. SolarWinds database observability solutions provide deep insight into your databases, connected apps, and infrastructure to connect performance monitoring and root-cause analysis to your business success.

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