SQL Server Always On  is one of the intersting feature introduced with SQL Server 2012 version. I am listed the Questions with answers which are asked on Always On Feature in the SQL Server DBA interviews.

1. What is Always on in SQL Server 2012?

AlwaysOn Availability Groups feature is a high-availability and disaster-recovery solution that provides an enterprise-level alternative to database mirroring. Introduced in SQL Server 2012, AlwaysOn Availability Groups maximizes the availability of a set of user databases for an enterprise. An availability group supports a failover environment for a discrete set of user databases, known as availability databases that fail over together. An availability group supports a set of read-write primary databases and one to four sets of corresponding secondary databases. Optionally, secondary databases can be made available for read-only access and/or some backup operations.

2. What are Availability Groups?

A container for a set of databases, availability databases, that fails over together.

3. What are Availability Databases?

A database that belongs to an availability group. For each availability database, the availability group maintains a single read-write copy (the primary database) and one to four read-only copies (secondary databases).

4. Which SQL Server Editions include AlwaysOn Availability Group functionality?

SQL Server Enterprise Edition

5. What editions on Windows server support Always ON Functionality?

Windows Enterprise Edition

6. How many replicas can I have in an AlwaysOn Availability Group?

Total 5-1 Primary and up to 4 Secondaries.

7. How many AlwaysOn Availability Groups can be configured in Always ON?

Up to 10 availability groups is the recommendation, but it’s not enforced

8. How many databases can be configured in an AlwaysOn Availability Group?

Up to 100 is the recommendation, but it’s not enforced

9. What is Availability mode in Always ON?

The availability mode is a property of each availability replica. The availability mode determines whether the primary replica waits to commit transactions on a database until a given secondary replica has written the transaction log records to disk (hardened the log).

10. Do we need SQL Server Cluster instances to configure Always ON?

No we don’t need SQL Server Cluster instances to configure Always ON.

11. Do we need shared storage to configure Always ON?

No, we don’t need shared storage.

12. How many Availability modes are supported by Always ON?

Always ON supports below availability modes.

  • Asynchronous-commit mode
  • Synchronous-commit mode

13. What is the Difference between Asynchronous-commit mode and Synchronous-commit mode?

Asynchronous-commit mode

An availability replica that uses this availability mode is known as an asynchronous-commit replica. Under asynchronous-commit mode, the primary replica commits transactions without waiting for acknowledgement that an asynchronous-commit secondary replica has hardened the log. Asynchronous-commit mode minimizes transaction latency on the secondary databases but allows them to lag behind the primary databases, making some data loss possible.

Synchronous-commit mode

An availability replica that uses this availability mode is known as a synchronous-commit replica. Under synchronous-commit mode, before committing transactions, a synchronous-commit primary replica waits for a synchronous-commit secondary replica to acknowledge that it has finished hardening the log. Synchronous-commit mode ensures that once a given secondary database is synchronized with the primary database, committed transactions are fully protected. This protection comes at the cost of increased transaction latency.

14. What is called Primary replica?

The availability replica that makes the primary databases available for read-write connections from clients and, also, sends transaction log records for each primary database to every secondary replica.

15. What is called Secondary replica?

An availability replica that maintains a secondary copy of each availability database, and serves as a potential failover targets for the availability group. Optionally, a secondary replica can support read-only access to secondary databases can support creating backups on secondary databases.

16. What is Availability Group listener?

A server name to which clients can connect in order to access a database in a primary or secondary replica of an AlwaysOn availability group. Availability group listeners direct incoming connections to the primary replica or to a read-only secondary replica.

17. What are Readable Secondary Replicas?

The AlwaysOn Availability Groups active secondary capabilities include support for read-only access to one or more secondary replicas (readable secondary replicas). A readable secondary replica allows read-only access to all its secondary databases. However, readable secondary databases are not set to read-only. They are dynamic. A given secondary database changes as changes on the corresponding primary database are applied to the secondary database.

18. What are the benefits of Readable Secondary Replicas?

Directing read-only connections to readable secondary replicas provides the following benefits:

  • Offloads your secondary read-only workloads from your primary replica, which conserves its resources for your mission critical workloads. If you have mission critical read-workload or the workload that cannot tolerate latency, you should run it on the primary.
  • Improves your return on investment for the systems that host readable secondary replicas.

In addition, readable secondaries provide robust support for read-only operations, as follows:

  • Temporary statistics on readable secondary database optimize read-only queries. For more information, see Statistics for Read-Only Access Databases, later in this topic.
  • Read-only workloads use row versioning to remove blocking contention on the secondary databases. All queries that run against the secondary databases are automatically mapped to snapshot isolation transaction level, even when other transaction isolation levels are explicitly set. Also, all locking hints are ignored. This eliminates reader/writer contention.

19. How many synchronous secondary replicas can I have?

We can have up to 2 synchronous replicas, but we are not required to use any. We could run all Secondaries in Async mode if desired

20. Can we use a secondary for reporting purpose?

Yes. An active secondary can be used to offload read-only queries from the primary to a secondary instance in the availability group.

21. Can we use secondary replicas to take the db backups?

Yes. An active secondary can be used for some types of backups

22. What all types of DB backups are possible on Secondary Replicas?

  • BACKUP DATABASE supports only copy-only full backups of databases, files, or filegroups when it is executed on secondary replicas. Note that copy-only backups do not impact the log chain or clear the differential bitmap.
  • Differential backups are not supported on secondary replicas.

23. Can we take Transaction log backups on the secondary replicas?

Yes, we can take transaction log backups on the secondary replicas without COPY_ONLY option.

24. What is “Failover” in Always ON?

Within the context of a session between the primary replica and a secondary replica, the primary and secondary roles are potentially interchangeable in a process known as failover. During a failover the target secondary replica transitions to the primary role, becoming the new primary replica. The new primary replica brings its databases online as the primary databases, and client applications can connect to them. When the former primary replica is available, it transitions to the secondary role, becoming a secondary replica. The former primary databases become secondary databases and data synchronization resumes.

25. How many types of Failover are supported by Always ON?

Three forms of failover exist—automatic, manual, and forced (with possible data loss). The form or forms of failover supported by a given secondary replica depends on its availability mode,

26. What are the Failover types supported by Synchronous-commit mode?

  • Planned manual failover (without data loss)
  • Automatic failover (without data loss)

27. What is planned manual failover?

A manual failover occurs after a database administrator issues a failover command and causes a synchronized secondary replica to transition to the primary role (with guaranteed data protection) and the primary replica to transition to the secondary role. A manual failover requires that both the primary replica and the target secondary replica are running under synchronous-commit mode, and the secondary replica must already be synchronized.

28. What is Automatic failover?

An automatic failover occurs in response to a failure that causes a synchronized secondary replica to transition to the primary role (with guaranteed data protection). When the former primary replica becomes available, it transitions to the secondary role. Automatic failover requires that both the primary replica and the target secondary replica are running under synchronous-commit mode with the failover mode set to “Automatic”. In addition, the secondary replica must already be synchronized, have WSFC quorum, and meet the conditions specified by the flexible failover policy of the availability group.

29. Can we configure Automatic failover of Availability Groups with SQL Server Failover cluster instances?

SQL Server Failover Cluster Instances (FCIs) do not support automatic failover by availability groups, so any availability replica that is hosted by an FCI can only be configured for manual failover.

30. What are the Failover types supported by under asynchronous-commit mode?

Only form of failover is forced manual failover (with possible data loss), typically called forced failover. Forced failover is considered a form of manual failover because it can only be initiated manually. Forced failover is a disaster recovery option. It is the only form of failover that is possible when the target secondary replica is not synchronized with the primary replica.

31. What is Use the AlwaysOn Dashboard

Database administrators use the AlwaysOn Dashboard to obtains an at-a-glance view the health of an AlwaysOn availability group and its availability replicas and databases in SQL Server 2012. Some of the typical uses for the AlwaysOn Dashboard are:

  • Choosing a replica for a manual failover.
  • Estimating data loss if you force failover.
  • Evaluating data-synchronization performance.
  • Evaluating the performance impact of a synchronous-commit secondary replica

References: Thanks to the all the SQL Server techies who wrote and shared the valuable information in the below blogs which helped me a lot to prepare this series of Questions. Also big thanks to Microsoft Documentation which contains each and everything about their product.

http://www.mssqltips.com/sqlservertip/3268/making-the-most-out-of-your-secondary-replica-for-sql-server-alwayson-availability-groups/

https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh231120.aspx

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