MIRRORING, CLUSTERING, OR REPLICATION. WHAT'S THE RIGHT SOLUTION? “High Availability” in any application is a spectrum of choices, which depends on your business requirements and ultimately your budget. Related to the concepts of „Recovery Time Objective‟ and „Recovery Point Objective‟, you have to decide your tolerance for downtime and data-loss. Microsoft SQL Server 2005 offers four solutions to mitigate the risk of hardware failure. In order of data-availability and minimized data-loss, your choices are log shipping, replication, and mirroring or clustering. Log shipping In log shipping, log backups from a primary database server are „shipped‟ to a secondary database server at an alterable, pre-determined interval. As the logs arrive at the secondary server, they are „applied‟ to the database. Before a failover can occur, all unrestored logs must first be manually applied to the secondary server. The advantage of log shipping is that the same logs can be applied to multiple standby servers for multiple purposes, and is an integral component of any disaster recovery plan. The disadvantage is that failover cannot be automated, that downtime can be lengthy, and that there is a distinct possibility of data-loss depending on the shipping interval. Log shipping is supported in all versions of SQL Server 2005, excepting „Express‟ and „Compact‟ editions. Replication Replication is an automated distribution of data to one or more receiving nodes. Microsoft refers to this relationship as a publish-subscribe model—a Publisher (the primary database) pushes its information to a secondary database server called a Subscriber. Subscriber nodes are available for reporting, data warehousing, and backup purposes, and should be considered for any application where the strain of these tasks should not be performed by the primary online node. For online applications that are very lookup-intensive (e.g., searches), connections can be sent to a farm of Subscriber nodes. In that same scenario, database writes (e.g., ecommerce purchases) can be sent to the Publisher for processing. This application architecture ensures proper scalability in the database layer, and is a very effective load- balancing mechanism. SQL Server 2005 supports three types of replication: snapshot, transactional, and merge. Snapshot replication is a good choice when data changes infrequently or the dataset is small. Merge replication is appropriate when multiple environments work independently and on separate sets of data, which later need to be re-integrated (merged). Transactional replication is the best choice when data changes frequently and needs to be pushed to subscribers in near-real-time. Replication is supported by all editions of SQL Server 2005, but only „publishing‟ is not available in the „Express‟ or „Compact‟ editions. Mirroring Database mirroring is new in SQL Server 2005. Mirroring is a form of database clustering to keep an exact real-time copy of the database on a second server. This setup requires three servers: a Principal, a Mirror, and a Witness. The Witness brokers the relationship between the Principal and the Mirror, and initiates a seamless automated failover when necessary. The advantage of mirroring is that it is a cost-effective solution when only one or very few databases need to be maintained, and the entire dataset fits onto the servers‟ disk drives. The drawback is that the Mirror cannot be accessed for reporting or backups (only snapshots). Additionally, Mirroring is not a server but a database clustering technology. This means that the Mirror server must have all the proper logins, SQL Agent jobs, SQL Server Integration Services, and other supporting components and configurations. Lastly, Mirroring is not appropriate for inter-dependent databases, as only one database might failover, breaking the dependencies. Failover Clustering Failover clustering is as much a function of the underlying operating system as it is SQL Server. In failover clustering for SQL Server 2005, the advantages and caveats flip-flop when compared to database mirroring. Failover clustering has higher hardware and resource requirements—such as shared external storage (a SAN)—but can accommodate a much higher volume of data and databases. Windows Server 2003, with Microsoft Cluster Service (MSCS) supports Active/Passive and Active/Active cluster topologies. The “Standard” edition of SQL Server 2005 supports only two nodes in the cluster, whereas “Enterprise” supports up to eight active nodes. An Active/Passive cluster only supports one instance of a database. Should the Active node fail, the Passive node will take over the workload. Up until then, the Passive node has been sitting around idly with nothing to do, except for receiving transaction updates from the Active server. However, in Active/Passive clustering the financial benefit is that the Passive node does not require a separate database license, yet can be used for backup and reporting purposes of the idle database. Active/Active clustering is often misunderstood to be similar to Oracle RAC‟s load- balancing cluster—as with Active/Passive, the clustering is nothing-shared. However, Active/Active clustering supports multiple database instances, meaning that individual nodes in the cluster can be online and actively collecting and manipulating data, and also failover to another node in the cluster. In an Active/Active cluster all nodes need to be licensed.
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