Reality Check: Stressing Out Microsoft’s SQL Server

Six months after Microsoft officially shipped SQL Server 2005, First American Title Insurance—which operates one of the biggest SQL Server databases in existence—still hasn’t cut over to the new version.

Why not? Larry Godec, CIO of the title insurance underwriting company, wants to be absolutely certain that the new software won’t disrupt the First American Software Technology (FAST) database, the system the company uses to conduct title searches and handle other business processes.

“We want to make sure, before we flip the switch, that not a single screen will be affected,” he said in an interview last week with Baseline. “We’re actually building a lab to finalize the testing of SQL [Server] 2005 to really make sure it runs faster.”

The FAST database, which currently runs on Microsoft SQL Server 2000, is the central nervous system for First American Title.

The company put it in place four years ago to consolidate data that had been stored in 50 separate title and escrow systems. FAST allows 15,000 employees in North America and 4,000 in India and the Philippines to search through about 5 terabytes of data—representing hundreds of thousands of real-estate documents—using a Web browser. The FAST system currently runs on a Hewlett-Packard Integrity Superdome with 32 Intel Itanium 2 processors.

Last fall, First American Title had put FAST, running on SQL Server 2005, through about eight weeks of what Godec describes as “intense testing” at HP’s and Microsoft’s labs.

But Godec has insisted on putting the software through one final round of stress-testing at First American Title’s Santa Ana, Calif., data center.

Over the next few weeks, the FAST server running on SQL Server 2005 will be pounded by software that emulates the activity of between 20,000 and 30,000 individual users—as if every one of them were accessing the system at the same time. Godec’s team is using Mercury’s LoadRunner and WinRunner software to run the simulation.

“These are scripts to stress every piece of functionality before we put it into production,” Godec says. After the testing is complete, which could take several weeks, First American expects to finally put SQL Server 2005 into service.

Godec’s first look at SQL Server 2005 last year, prior to its official release, wasn’t promising. “We installed FAST—and it crashed SQL in 15 minutes,” Godec recalls. “It wasn’t ready for an application of our size.”

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