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10 more do's and don'ts for faster SQL queries

Sean McCown | Sept. 18, 2014
Everyone wants faster database queries, and both SQL developers and DBAs can turn to many time-tested methods to achieve that goal. Unfortunately, no single method is foolproof or ironclad. But even if there is no right answer to tuning every query, there are plenty of proven do's and don'ts to help light the way. While some are RDBMS-specific, most of these tips apply to any relational database.

I once had a client that loved nesting views. The client had one view it used for almost everything because it had two important joins. The problem was that the view returned a column with 2MB documents in it. Some of the documents were even larger. The client was pushing at least an extra 2MB across the network for every single row in almost every single query it ran. Naturally, query performance was abysmal.

And none of the queries actually used that column! Of course, the column was buried seven views deep, so even finding it was difficult. When I removed the document column from the view, the time for the biggest query went from 2.5 hours to 10 minutes. When I finally unraveled the nested views, which had several unnecessary joins and columns, and wrote a plain query, the time for that same query dropped to subseconds.

3. Do use table-valued functions

This is one of my favorite tricks of all time because it is truly one of those hidden secrets that only the experts know. When you use a scalar function in the SELECT list of a query, the function gets called for every single row in the result set. This can reduce the performance of large queries by a significant amount. However, you can greatly improve the performance by converting the scalar function to a table-valued function and using a CROSS APPLY in the query. This is a wonderful trick that can yield great improvements.

Want to know more about the APPLY operator? You'll find a full discussion in an excellent course on Microsoft Virtual Academy by Itzik Ben-Gan.

4. Do use partitioning to avoid large data moves

Not everyone will be able to take advantage of this tip, which relies on partitioning in SQL Server Enterprise, but for those of you who can, it's a great trick. Most people don't realize that all tables in SQL Server are partitioned. You can separate a table into multiple partitions if you like, but even simple tables are partitioned from the time they're created; however, they're created as single partitions. If you're running SQL Server Enterprise, you already have the advantages of partitioned tables at your disposal.

This means you can use partitioning features like SWITCH to archive large amounts of data from a warehousing load. Let's look at a real example from a client I had last year. The client had the requirement to copy the data from the current day's table into an archive table; in case the load failed, the company could quickly recover with the current day's table. For various reasons, it couldn't rename the tables back and forth every time, so the company inserted the data into an archive table every day before the load, then deleted the current day's data from the live table.


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