How to: SQL Server Performance Monitoring

server performance monitoring

SQL Server performance monitoring is critical for any organization relying on this database server. By keeping track of key metrics, you can optimize server resources, troubleshoot issues proactively, and ensure your applications have the resources they need. In this guide, we’ll explore the fundamentals of SQL Server monitoring and how to get started.


The Importance of Monitoring

Monitoring is the process of collecting, analyzing, and reporting data about a system’s performance and health. For SQL Server, this means tracking metrics related to hardware utilization, query execution, user connections, and more. Without effective monitoring, server problems can go undetected until they cause slowdowns or outages. Proactive monitoring enables DBAs to:


  • Spot performance bottlenecks before they impact users
  • Identify queries that are taxing server resources
  • Get alerted to issues like failed jobs, memory pressure, and bloated databases
  • Correlate performance changes with application deployments or usage patterns
  • Inform capacity planning and identify needs to scale up or out

Key Server Performance Metrics

Many factors influence SQL Server performance. The most important metrics to monitor include:


  • CPU utilization: Consistently high CPU usage indicates insufficient processing power. Track usage for total CPU and per core.
  • Memory consumption: Monitor total memory, page life expectancy, buffer cache hit ratio, and other memory-related counters. Watch for memory pressure.
  • Disk I/O: High disk queue lengths or latencies point to potential I/O bottlenecks. Monitor reads/writes for throughput.
  • Query response time: The duration of query execution impacts user experience. Track averages and outliers.
  • Blocking and locks: Blocking occurs when a query is waiting on a resource held by another query. This points to contention issues.
  • Wait stats: Which wait types (resource waits) are most prevalent can pinpoint bottlenecks. Top waits include PAGEIOLATCH, ASYNC_NETWORK_IO, CXPACKET, and more.
  • Database size: Growth trends help inform storage needs and potential issues like file fragmentation.
  • Transactions: Monitor transaction throughput, response time, and active transactions. Watch for spikes that could indicate problems.
  • Connections: Connection failures or reaching connection limits can prevent access. Monitor active concurrent connections.
  • Alerts and errors: Server-wide alerts and error logs should be monitored for early warning of failures.


This covers some of the most essential metrics. The components to watch depend on your specific SQL Server version, hardware, and applications.


Monitoring Approaches

There are several options for monitoring SQL Server, including:


  • Operating system monitoring: The Windows or Linux OS hosting SQL Server provides performance counters like CPU, memory, disk, and network utilization. An OS-layer view is important but insufficient on its own.
  • SQL Server performance counters: Hundreds of built-in SQL performance objects and counters report on buffer manager, memory, locks, latches, databases, queries, transactions, and more. This is a key data source.
  • Dynamic management views (DMVs): DMVs provide deeper database and query insights than standard counters. Use DMVs for information on wait stats, active sessions, query execution plans, and other granular data.
  • Server monitoring software: Third-party tools like SolarWinds Database Performance Analyzer integrate data from SQL Server, operating systems, and add-ons like VMware. They provide centralized monitoring, historical reporting, alerts, and more features.
  • Log analysis: SQL Server error logs and extended events contain detailed performance and troubleshooting information. Collecting and analyzing logs helps identify issues.
  • Query auditing: Auditing long-running queries, frequent queries, and other outliers helps optimize database performance.
  • Tracing: Profiler traces execution of individual queries and batches while extended events monitors operations like locks, sessions, and transactions.
  • Visualization: Graphing performance metrics over time makes it easier to spot trends. Dashboards let admins view multiple indicators in one glance.


For comprehensive monitoring, the best practice is to utilize a combination of these tools.


Key Features of Server Monitoring Tools

Advanced server monitoring tools go beyond built-in Windows or SQL Server options to provide:


  • Preconfigured dashboards to monitor all key SQL performance metrics
  • Automated diagnostic sessions that run on demand or on a schedule to detect problems
  • Alerting for memory pressure, long-running queries, failed jobs, high CPU, and other issues
  • Historic performance analysis using metric baselines and visual trending
  • Query tuning through identification of high-cost queries
  • Capacity forecasting to project future storage and resource needs
  • Correlated metrics analysis to find cause-effect relationships among counters
  • Reporting to track performance over time and share with stakeholders
  • Agentless monitoring that doesn’t impact server workloads


The right tool provides a centralized way to monitor, alert, analyze, and report on SQL Server performance from a single pane of glass.


Monitoring Strategies by Server Type

SQL Server monitoring approaches may vary depending on your server architecture:


  • Physical servers: Monitoring agents can be installed on the OS or SQL Server. Agentless tools use WMI, SNMP, APIs. Watch resource usage for potential bottlenecks.
  • Virtualized servers: Monitor at the virtual machine and hypervisor layer. Look for resource contention between VMs. Ensure adequate resources are allocated.
  • Cloud-based servers: Use native cloud tools in addition to SQL Server metrics. Monitor overall database usage, scaling needs, cost.
  • Containers: Monitor at container orchestrator and OS layers. Track CPU, memory, and storage for the container and total usage.
  • Web servers: Measure response time, requests per second, errors, network throughput. Correlate with backend database monitoring.


The environment and hardware setup should inform what metrics to prioritize for monitoring.


Getting Started with SQL Monitoring

Follow these steps to start monitoring SQL Server performance:


  1. Identify critical databases to monitor based on business importance and activity levels.
  2. Determine key metrics to track for each database: CPU, memory, I/O, query response time, wait stats, etc.
  3. Establish baselines for metrics to determine normal vs abnormal levels.
  4. Set up default dashboards in your monitoring tool to easily view key metrics daily.
  5. Configure alerting thresholds for metrics based on baselines like sustained high CPU usage.
  6. Schedule diagnostic sessions to proactively detect problems like blocking queries.
  7. Audit expensive queries and queries with high resource usage.
  8. Set up reporting to share monitoring data with other teams.
  9. Correlate performance metrics with application usage data.
  10. Tune the server per the monitoring findings.


Effective SQL Server monitoring combines real-time monitoring, historic reporting, alerting, and analysis. Following SQL Server best practices optimizes monitoring and ensures your databases have the necessary resources. A centralized tool makes it easier to spot and address developing issues before they disrupt users. Monitoring lays the foundation for peak database performance.

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