General discussion of SQL Topics; aimed for the novice-intermediate level Microsoft SQL Server User. Currently focuses on using SQL Server 2005.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Optimizing Indexes


Optimizing Indexes is quite a complicated subject. There are many techniques; and what is the most difficult is that there are so many different scenarios as to when and how to optimize your indexes. Instead of trying to describe a method of how to optimize, I am going to discuss how to identify when optimizing indexes should be considered and where to go to find the different options.

The first step is NOT to just rebuild all indexes, or to defrag them all. There are some people that believe that rebuilding all indexes is the way to solve this; don't listen to them!! PLEASE DON"T!!! I'm rarely the person to give advice on not listening to other people; most people can help you learn about what's good or bad...but if you go the route of rebuilding and defraging all your indexes, you can in fact be causing additional problems that you didn't have to cause. In particular using system resources that don't need to be used, and causing unneeded fragmentation on the OS level! Any decent DBA is always concerned with using system resources, remember that system resources is always a precious commodity and should never be wasted.

The first step is to analyze the database. The next step is to identify the queries that can/will benefit from optimizing the index(es). The third step is to optimize the index. The final step is to periodically review these methods to identify when optimizing indexes will be required; this will be an ongoing project and will ultimately require re-iterrating through your queries to identify when an index has become warranted for optimization. There is no cut and dry method to warn you, prevent indexes from becoming out of tune, or to auto-optimize the queries and indexes.

Analyzing the Database:

So, how do you analyze a database to determine if an index needs to be rebuilt or should run a defrag on the index? Well, first you need to understand how indexes are built and what is causing them to become fragmented. Review my blog entry "Introduction To Indexes" to learn about how indexes are built. Also, take the time to review this white paper called "Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Index Defragmentation Best Practices"; even though it is written for SQL Server 2000, it will still apply the same to SQL Server 2005. It is a long read, but will help out well beyond the scope of this blog entry.

Here, in a nutshell, is how to determine when your index is fragmented. Use SQL Profiler to identify poor performing queries; in particular use the template "SQLProfilerTSQL_Duration", this will already contain the traces needed to identify the offending queries. Once the queries are identified you can then start looking into which indexes there queries are accessing; especially queries that are retrieving ranges instead of singletons. These queries are the highest risk of having fragmented indexes, remember though that this is just a method to determine the potential problem areas. Your own judgement will be best to make the final determination.

When to Consider Optimizing Indexes:

The first key in detecting that you should optimize your index is when you are observing performance degradation and have no absolute culprit to cause this. Now, keep in mind that just because you are seeing performance degradation doesn't immediately indicate that there is index fragmentation. This can only be determined by analyzing your database properly. Next, identify which queries are utilizing the most I/O; these are the next candidates. Then consider queries that have workloads that are suspected to benefit from index defrags; this can be quite difficult and should be carefully determined.

All of these are covered in the MSDN white paper called "Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Index Defragmentation Best Practices"; mentioned earlier. This paper even goes into very good detail on how to make these determinations, which will probably be enough to get your through while you gain experience.

Getting Help:

Sometimes it's nice to have someone more experienced help out, if that is how you feel then go with that feeling and seek out that someone.

If you don't have physical access to an experienced DBA then seek advice from trusted websites, forums, and/or discussion groups. Remember when seeking advice they can only provide an answer with quality that matches the information you provided. Such as stating you have a database that needs indexes rebuilt or defragged, will most likely get you answers stating to use DBCC commands or some other commonly used index rebuilding command. The purpose of seeking advice is to provide detailed information to get an answer that is specific to your scenario; so be sure to provide as much information as possible without breaking any company policies.


As you can see, Indexes can be fairly simple to optimize. It's determining when to optimize and what to optimize that becomes difficult.

There are methods to fine-tune the auto-index handling of your indexes, this is covered in the white paper I mention in the next section. You'll always find different opinions and experiences, embrace all you can and mix and match what works best for you and your situation. There is no one-size fits all for optimizing indexes, just as there isn't one-size fits all for database solutions. It's all about customizing to your needs, and utilizing your available resources to make your work easier and more enjoyable.

I can't stress enough that reading the "Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Index Defragmentation Best Practices" white paper will help out tremendously. This paper covers the topic so well, that originally I had planned on providing tips on how to identify the queries that required indexes to be rebuilt, and how to find additional help on this topic. During my research I came across this white paper and it covered absolutely everything and more than I had planned to cover!

Until next time, Happy Coding!!

Additional Resources:

Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Index Defragmentation Best Practices (
SQL Server Best Practices (
How To: Optimize SQL Indexes (
Database Journal: Reducing SQL Server Index Fragmentation (
SQLServer Performance: SQL Server Index Fragmentation and Its Resolution (

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