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Why You Should Be Upgrading Orion and SQL Server

Level 17

SQL Server upgrades are a pain, I know.

And boring, too. It’s not very exciting to watch a progress bar.

Many people put off upgrading SQL Server. They wait for a business reason or an important security patch. Or, as was the case historically, they wait for the first service pack. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t touch it.

I’m here today to tell you those days are over.

No longer can you sit back and allow systems and applications to lag behind with regards to patches and upgrades. You must stay current. Allowing applications to be more than one major version behind puts you, and your systems, at greater risk for security threats than ever before.

Microsoft has made it easier to upgrade and patch SQL Server. They’ve removed service packs, opting instead for cumulative updates. By shifting to a model that is similar to continuous deployment, Microsoft is able to deliver features, performance improvements, and security enhancements at a faster rate than ever before.

So, if you are waiting for SQL Server 2017 SP1, you’ll be waiting forever.

Don’t wait. Get started on upgrading SQL Server to the latest version today.

Let me help you understand just a few of the reasons why upgrading SQL Server is right for you.

Reasons for Upgrading SQL Server

As I mentioned before, it’s just common sense to stay current with the latest version of SQL Server. Microsoft has built tools like the Database Migration Assistant to help make upgrades easy. Applying cumulative updates has also been simplified. And because Microsoft hosts millions of database workloads inside of Azure SQL Database, you can be assured that these updates have been tested thoroughly.

Here’s a handful of the features available, out of the box, when you upgrade to the latest version of SQL Server.

Automatic database tuning – The ability for the database engine to identify and fix performance problems.

Adaptive query processing – While processing the execution plan, SQL Server will adapt query plans as necessary, essentially tuning itself instead of reusing the same plan.

Data security and privacy featuresAlways Encrypted, Dynamic Data Masking, Row Level Security, Data Discovery and Classification, and Vulnerability Assessment are all new, and all awesome.

Those are just a handful of the improvements. You will also find things like faster DBCC CHECKDB, improved backup security, and a new cardinality estimator. All those are great features worth your time for upgrading.

But there’s one more thing: the Orion® Platform.

See, we’ve been busy refactoring the Orion Platform to take advantage of newer SQL Server features.

Reasons for Upgrading Your Orion Installation

When I’m at an event performing demos, I am surprised how many customers haven’t upgraded to the latest version of the Orion Platform. Of course, I understand the many reasons why upgrades are put on the back burner.

I’m here today to help you understand that there’s more to the latest Orion version than a few fancy screens.

By using columnstore indexes, we have reduced the size of the Orion database (up to 33% less space), the amount of time it takes to perform maintenance (up to 6x faster on average), and the amount of time to retrieve data (up to 10x faster). That’s a lot of performance gains.

Table partitioning allows Log Manager for Orion to scale, accommodating multiple log sources, and the ability to quickly display all logs in time sequential order. As anyone that has had to analyze logs will tell you, it’s important to be able to quickly see all events in the exact order they occurred.

Also, in-memory OLTP helps products that leverage the Orion Platform achieve a high rate of concurrency, accelerating performance and scalability.

Those features sound great, but don’t just take my word for it. You should read about the SQL Server features being used by NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (NTA) over at this FAQ pag....

Now, at the bottom of that page, I want to call out something else that you will find interesting…

“You can install your NTA Flow Storage database and your Orion database in the same instance of MS SQL, provided that instance is an MS SQL 2016 SP1 or later version.”

That’s right, upgrading to the latest version of NTA allows you to consolidate your SolarWinds footprint. For customers paying by the core for SQL Server licensing, this alone should motivate you to upgrade.

I’ll make it easy for you: here’s a link to help you get started. Also, here’s the official upgrade guide located on our Customer Success Center.

I’ve also written some other in-depth posts about tips and tricks on upgrading SQL Server. Have a look—I believe you’ll find the information useful.

Summary

At the end of the day, we want the same thing that any company would want: happy customers.

By upgrading to the latest version of SQL Server, and then the Orion Platform, our customers can see benefits immediately. Not just in performance, but in your wallet.

Continuous improvement is the world in which we live now. Stop thinking of upgrades as a chore or a task to get past. Upgrade because you want to, not because you have to.

The SolarWinds trademarks, service marks, and logos are the exclusive property of SolarWinds Worldwide, LLC or its affiliates. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

14 Comments
Level 11

Love it.  Very nice post. I like how everything is going in the direction of "Continuous Development" lately.

Level 13

Well put.  Thanks!

Level 7

sqlrockstar

"By using columnstore indexes, we have reduced the size of the Orion database (up to 33% less space), the amount of time it takes to perform maintenance (up to 6x faster on average), and the amount of time to retrieve data (up to 10x faster)." 

What is your baseline for these stats?  Server 2008 and SQL 2008 R2?

We plan on upgrading SQL from 2012 to 2016.  We're running Orion 2018.2 HF6.  I'm curious what sort of performance gains we could see upgrading only SQL?

Thanks!

Level 12

We have upgraded, am curious to see the performance.

Thanks,

Excellent post, as always, sqlrockstar

I do have a question for you, though. If you had a client, who has upgraded from 11.x and before to 12.1, has had significant stability issues with that version... would you recommend that they upgrade their Orion database (assume that they are on SQL 2016 SP1 or higher already), or start again? How many schema changes are involved in going from 12.x to 12.4, and would upgrades for these legacy customers benefit fully with 12.4 and SQL 13.0.4001.0 and above?

I have a number of such customers, many with an Orion history and database which dates back to NPM 10, and with the new SQL features, I'm curious if legacy databases can benefit fully, or if they would benefit more from a parallel run on a fresh build, and decommission of the old? Monolithic instances would find this challenging (think 7+ APEs), so I'm hoping your answer will be "everyone benefits equally, regardless of their database" age

Level 17

Those are great questions. I'm afraid I don't have specific answers though. I would suggest you open a support ticket and get some feedback from someone on the engineering team.

I will do so, cheers Tom.

Level 13

Very nice article.  It's great motivation for us to get our upgrade done even faster.  I do have a question about this line here though:

That’s right, upgrading to the latest version of NTA allows you to consolidate your SolarWinds footprint. For customers paying by the core for SQL Server licensing, this alone should motivate you to upgrade.

NTA hasn't used SQL in a very long time (it has been using it's own proprietary Fast-bit storage database for many versions now), so how would upgrading NTA to the latest version save a SQL license?  If someone already has an Orion environment with NTA they were already using only one SQL license.  Moving NTA into the SQL database from its fast-bit database would mean they are still using just one SQL instance.  Am I missing something or was that just an oversight in your article?

Level 8

Regarding the memory optimized tables for OLTP, we have found that the size of the IN_MEM filegroup as created by the installation script seems to be too small.  We monitor our Orion DB with SolarWinds. 

The in_mem filegroup is set for unlimited growth, the out of the box alerts for SQL filegroups running low on space continues to fire.  The alert message is:  The database file "E:\MSSQL13.MSSQLSERVER\MSSQL\DATA\SolarWindsOrion_IN_MEM" is running low on space...

Microsoft's recommendation is that the filegroup should be at least 4x the size of all memory optimized tables.

The problem is there seems to be no way to change the size or growth parameters of the in_mem filegroup after creation.  I reached out to a DBA friend and she thinks the only option is to recreate the filegroup.

Also, I've run some database tuning reports and there are suggestions to convert additional tables to memory optimized, but that due to dependencies of natively compiled stored procedures, converting these tables may break the application.

Has anyone else seen this?

MVP
MVP

Hey Jez, Did you get anywhere with this one?

Not as yet Dave. There are significant challenges with the client in question, mainly due to a lack of appetite in upgrading on a regular basis due to bad experiences in the past, which has left them somewhat behind the curve, and facing the possibility of interim upgrades between where they are now and Core 2018.4 to get to SQL Server 2016 /w SP1. The complexity of the instance means that the "start afresh and run parallel" method isn't really possible for them, so my above question is moot.

I will try to get a general answer from support though, and post it here for the benefit of others

MVP
MVP

Thanks Jez silverbacksays - I've had many customers in a similar situation, be good to hear other opinions. Also not sure if you saw my post about SQL Collation? Maybe you could weigh in? You too sqlrockstar

SQL Server Collation

I'll take a look and wade in if I feel I have anything useful to say

Level 13

I'm curious about this bit: "Table partitioning allows Log Manager for Orion to scale, accommodating multiple log sources, and the ability to quickly display all logs in time sequential order. "

If it was this much improved, any reason why the 1000 EPS is still in place and why Solarwinds has still a 7 days default retention for logs?

About the Author
Thomas LaRock is a Head Geek at SolarWinds and a Microsoft® Certified Master, SQL Server® MVP, VMware® vExpert, and a Microsoft Certified Trainer. He has over 20 years experience in the IT industry in roles including programmer, developer, analyst, and database administrator.