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Some thoughts on database locking in Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server


Deadlocks are the bane of those of us responsible for designing and maintaining any type of database system. I’ve written about these before on the dispatcher level. However this time around, I’d like to discuss them a little further “down” so to speak, at the database level. Also in talking to various people about this topic I've found that it’s potentially the most divisive question since “Tastes good vs. Less filling

Database deadlocks are much like application ones, typically come when two processes are trying to access the same database row at the same time. Most often this is when the system is trying to read and write to the row at the same time. A nice explanation can be found here. What we essentially wind up with is the database equivalent of a traffic jam where no one can move. It’s interesting to note that both Microsoft and SQL server handle these locking scenarios differently. I’m not going to go into DB2 at the moment but will address it if there is sufficient demand.

When dealing with SQL Server, management of locks is handled through the use of the “Hint” called No Lock. According to MSDN:

Hints are options or strategies specified for enforcement by the SQL Server query processor on SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, or DELETE statements. The hints override any execution plan the query optimizer might select for a query. (Source)
When NOLOCK is used this is the same as using READUNCOMMITTED which some of you might have be familiar with if you did the NetWeaver portion of the IDM install when setting up the data source. Using this option keeps the SQL Server database engine from issuing locks. The big issue here is that one runs the risk of having dirty (old) data in the database operations. Be careful when using NOLOCK for this reason. Even though the SAP Provisioning Framework makes extensive use of the NOLOCK functionality, they regression test the heck out of the configuration. Make sure you do, too misuse of NOLOCK can lead to bad things happening in the Identity Store database.

There is also a piece of SQL Server functionality referred to as Snapshot Isolation which appears to work as a NOLOCK writ large where database snapshots are held in the TEMPDB for processing (source) This functionality was recommended by a DBA I worked with on a project some time ago. The functionality was tested in DEV and then rolled to the customer’s PRODUCTION instance.

Oracle is a little different in the way that it approaches locking in that the system has more internal management of conflicts through use of rollback logs forcing data to be committed before writes can occur and thus deadlocks occur much less often (Source) This means that there is no similar NOLOCK functionality in the Oracle Database System.

One final thing to consider with database deadlocks is how the database is being accessed, regardless of the database being used.  It is considered a best practice in SAP IDM to use To Identity Store passes as opposed to uIS_SetValue whenever possible (Source)

At the end of the day, I don’t know that I can really tell you to employ these mechanisms or not. In general we do know that it’s better not to have deadlocks than to have them and to do what you can to achieve this goal. In general, if you are going to use these techniques, do make sure you are doing so in concert with your DBA team and after careful testing. I have seen Microsoft SQL Server’s Snapshot Isolation work well in a busy productive environment, but I will not recommend its universal adoption as I can’t tell you how well it will work in yourenvironment. I will however recommend that you look into it with your DBA team if you are experiencing Deadlocks in SQL Server.


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More Stories By Matthew Pollicove

Matt Pollicove is an Identity Management architect, engineer, trainer, project manager, author and blogger with experience in user account provisioning, data synchronization, virtual directory and password management solutions. As a MaXware Technical Consultant and later as a System Engineer, he worked extensively with MaXware (now SAP) software products in large customer environments. In the past Matt has worked with several leading national and international consulting firms and is currently a Sr. Principal Consultant for Commercium Technologies. He is currently the Practice Lead for SAP NetWeaver Identity Management and SailPoint IIQ.

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