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Indirect Checkpoints in MSSQL: why?

Eric Rouach, Madeira Data Solutions - September 2023



In Microsoft SQL Server, the concept of an indirect checkpoint is pivotal, acting as a meticulous guardian ensuring the safety and stability of the data residing in the system. This mechanism strives to strike a balance between system performance and data protection, thereby optimizing the functionality of databases.



What is a Checkpoint?


In SQL Server's realm, a checkpoint is akin to a vigilant custodian. Its principal task is to ensure that all the modified pages within the buffer cache—referred to as "dirty pages"—are diligently written back to the disk. This safeguarding action is crucial for minimizing the risk of data loss and reducing recovery times in situations where system failures occur.


Diving into Indirect Checkpoints:


Indirect checkpoints elevate the reliability and adaptability of SQL Server by allowing database administrators to exercise enhanced control over the recovery times of individual databases. Unlike traditional automatic checkpoints that operate on a server level, indirect checkpoints operate with precision, focusing on specific databases.


Functioning Mechanism:


Target Recovery Time:

Administrators designate a "Target Recovery Time" for each database, outlining the maximum duration permissible for SQL Server to recover the database post a system failure.


Continuous Operation:

Indirect checkpoints employ a continuous background writer process, methodically writing dirty pages back to the disk to adhere to the prescribed recovery times.


Prioritized Action:

The mechanism gives precedence to the urgency of writing dirty pages back to the disk, ensuring that the specified recovery times are meticulously respected.


Advantages of Indirect Checkpoints:


1. Predictable Recovery:

It provides administrators with the leverage to establish reliable and consistent recovery times, enhancing the overall reliability and manageability of the databases.

2. Optimal Performance:

By modulating the transfer of dirty pages efficiently, it aids in maintaining prime performance, especially beneficial in environments encountering extensive workloads.

3. Fine-Tuned Control:

Offering the flexibility to establish varied recovery times for distinct databases facilitates refined and adaptable resource management.


Setting it Right:


While indirect checkpoints bring forth notable advantages, it is imperative to judiciously set the target recovery time. An exceedingly low value could instigate heightened disk I/O, impacting performance adversely, whereas an excessively high value could elevate the potential for data loss during system failures.


In a Nutshell:


Indirect checkpoints in Microsoft SQL Server serve as an innovative guardian, meticulously moderating the way data is transferred from memory to disk storage. By enabling administrators to specify tailored recovery times, it optimizes the symbiosis between performance and data safety, ensuring each database functions seamlessly within its operational landscape. This refined approach to data management fortifies SQL Server's reliability, allowing organizations to navigate their data-driven endeavors with heightened precision and assurance.

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