Why can I not produce the same plan with a copy of the production database?

This question has been asked multiple times for SQL Server 2005/2008 environments. Well, the answer is SQL Server has become a bit smarter when it comes to the Query Optimizer. Now it takes into account the hardware environment and database session state also. (Sometimes, the optimizer may be a bit too smart for it’s own good 🙂 but that is discussion not being addressed in this thread)

To determine an optimal query plan, SQL Server 2005 and 2008 uses the following information:

  1. The database metadata – The table statistics should hold the same information i.e. same of data distribution.
  2. The hardware environment – Is the Physical Memory (RAM) and the number of Processors identical to the letter on the two machines.
  3. The database session state

Typically, you must simulate all these same types of information if you want to reproduce the behavior of the query optimizer on a test system. If you are lucky, then without 2 & 3 being satisfied, you might land up with the same plan. In scenarios where you don’t, Option 2 & 3 would be a good option to simulate before running off to solve the question:

Why is Server A generating a better plan than Server B?

With the advent of Virtualization, the simulation of the physical memory and CPU processors is not that big a deal as before. Just thought I would answer this question because many time I have been asked to explain why the same database backup doesn’t produce the same plan as Server A. The first option is to always create statistics-only copy of your database and see if you can reproduce the plan that you see on your production server. If yes, then you can safely proceed to the next step of troubleshooting the bad plan i.e. find out the most expensive part of the plan and take necessary steps to tune it like adding covering indexes, defining statistics, re-placing the join order, adding query hints etc.

Very often SQL CSS team would require a statistics clone of your database, so that they can reproduce the issue in-house. This would not contain any data from the tables but a clone of the database metadata. So, in case you need to troubleshoot a performance issue where you suspect the query plan to be the culprit, you also use a statistics clone and use that on a test server to check if you reproduce the so-called “bad” plan. The reason I mention a test environment because sometimes it is not possible to troubleshoot a query performance issue on a production server. And generating a database statistics clone for a few tables is much faster than a backup restore of the entire database.

You can use the information mentioned in the article below to create a statistics clone of your database:

How to generate a script of the necessary database metadata to create a statistics-only database in SQL Server 2005 and in SQL Server 2008


One thought on “Why can I not produce the same plan with a copy of the production database?

  1. Pingback: Performance benchmarking: Explicit vs Implicit Transactions « TroubleshootingSQL

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