Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Conflicting BULK INSERTs

Let me start by saying that this is not a post about concurrent BULK INSERTs into a single table or SELECTs during a BULK INSERT, both of which the SQL CAT has covered pretty effectively, along with many other questions about bulk data loading. My problem is with concurrent BULK INSERTs into different tables on the same database.

Basically, there are two different data sets, one large and one small, that get BULK INSERTed into two different tables in the same DB on different schedules. Like Alan's bicycle in Cryptonomicon, every so often the two schedules will align and the chain will fall off, or more accurately, the big BULK INSERT will hold up the small BULK INSERT. There doesn't seem to be a reason for the SQL engine to block one with the other; they're not hitting the same table, so locking should not be a problem, and the machine in question is a dual quad-core, so SOS_SCHEDULER_YIELDs are not prevalent.

OK, if it's not the SQL engine, it's probably a shared resource issue. Sure enough, an inspection of the wait types during a concurrent execution of these inserts revealed a lot of PAGEIOLATCH_SH, indicating a disk problem. But this database is in Simple recovery mode, so it shouldn't be doing a lot of logging on a bulk-logged operation like BULK INSERT. We should just be writing dirty pages to memory and then checkpointing at our leisure, right? Why are the disks getting hit so hard? Unless we don't have enough memory to write those dirty pages...

Which a perfmon counter log revealed to be precisely the case. The box only has 3.5 GB of RAM, has a number of other applications running, and shows high levels of paging and low Page Life Expectancy. The lack of memory available to SQL means that the larger dataset being BULK INSERTed won't fit into RAM, so checkpointing starts almost immediately and blocks the smaller BULK INSERT from completing until the slow local disks can finish with the bigger one. The easiest and cheapest solution will almost certainly be to add RAM, if only I can talk Systems Engineering into digging some up.

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