The Challenge of Variable Seasonal Database Usage

by Dec 4, 2020

If the past year has taught us anything, it is that we can never know what’s coming next. Just to survive, we may need to reevaluate our actions and be flexible enough to adapt to a rapidly changing situation. Database administrators can suddenly be tasked with keeping things running under tremendously adverse conditions that lead to increased system usage. Sometimes these usage spikes are totally unpredictable and need to be handled with ad-hoc techniques.

Many database teams working for companies in diverse market sectors have to deal with the challenges of seasonal peaks in database usage. You might immediately think of retailers and the pressures of satisfying customers during the holiday shopping season. But numerous other businesses also have to address seasonal fluctuations in demand on their database environment. A failure to maintain reasonable performance and accessibility can spell disaster for an organization.

An example is a system used by a university to process admissions, tabulate grades, and facilitate course registration. For a good part of the calendar year, the databases are used sparingly to handle students changing classes or transferring from other schools. At other times, such as the weeks before a semester begins and during its final few days, the system is expected to process a substantially larger amount of queries and requests.

The professional sports market has been negatively affected by the pandemic but offers another example where databases experience demand spikes related to certain parts of the year. Systems devoted to ticket sales will be used very heavily before the season, especially if a team has made some news by adding a star player to their roster. Often, the majority of tickets are sold fairly quickly and the database behind the sales applications soon returns to a more normal usage pattern.

The DBAs responsible for these databases have a good idea when demand will start to ramp up and should not be caught off guard. They can take some proactive measures that will help them maintain performance during these periods of heightened database usage.

Preparing for an Uptick in Database Usage

Providing additional capacity is the first step toward ensuring that database performance remains viable during seasonal usage spikes. One of the benefits of housing SQL Servers with a cloud provider is that it is usually easier to add capacity to address fluctuating database demand patterns. Adding capacity can be done in an in-house data center as well as the cloud, but the on-demand nature of cloud provisioning facilitates an efficient method of only using what is needed to get the job done. 

Organizations that have defined seasonal spikes in demand for their database applications can use this knowledge to their advantage and be prepared for the surge in user activity. The database team can make the necessary modifications to satisfy the increased number of queries and transactions that need to be processed before their systems are overwhelmed. Some characteristics of your environment should be at the top of the list when looking to address increased database activity.

  • Network capacity is a crucial factor that can limit the ability of users to get to your system and transfer information efficiently. This issue can be resolved with a temporary increase in network bandwidth. 

  • Space considerations for database objects may need to be adjusted to handle an increase in transactions and the need to process larger temporary files. Space could be permanently allocated to these systems but may sit dormant for most of the year, waiting for the spike. Adding and removing storage capacity to reflect the systems’ needs is a more cost-effective solution.

  • Adding CPU power and memory can help address ill-performing queries that may have been running fine under normal database usage. Here again, a cloud provider will be able to more easily address a changing environment than a traditional data center. 

Monitoring Databases Under Stressful Circumstances

Even the best capacity planning efforts will not guarantee that SQL Server systems will perform up to expectations when faced with significantly increased demand. Database teams still need to monitor their systems and be prepared to handle problems on the fly. SQL Diagnostic Manager for SQL Server provides a versatile tool that can be used to monitor physical and virtual SQL Servers in your data center or the cloud. 

During a database’s peak usage season, there is likely to be an increased focus on system performance by all levels of the organization. C-suite executives that never make an appearance may show up at database team meetings to voice their concerns and make everyone a little more nervous. The information available from SQL Diagnostic Manager will help ensure that enterprise DBAs know exactly where to look if problems arise and satisfy management anxiety with quick resolutions. 

SQL Diagnostic Manager lets your team monitor and alert on database performance issues so they can be addressed before they impact the user community. Its diagnostic and reporting functionality can help plan for next year’s spike by identifying areas that could have been configured more effectively. It’s a tool that will benefit an organization by enabling better SQL Server performance no matter what kind of demands are put on enterprise databases.