Default Sessions – Back to Basics

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Published on: September 1, 2016

Remember When…

sqlbasic_sargeBack in late December of 2015, a challenge of sorts was issued by Tim Ford (twitter) to write a blog post each month on a SQL Server Basic. Some have hash-tagged this as #backtobasics. Here is the link to that challenge sent via tweet.

I did not officially accept the challenge. Was an official acceptance required? I don’t know. I do know that I think it is a good challenge and that I intend to participate in the challenge. I hope I can meet the requirements and keep the posts to “basics”. Let’s hope this post holds up to the intent of the challenge.

With this being another installment in a monthly series, here is a link to review the other posts in the series – back to basics. Reviewing that link, you can probably tell I am a bit behind in the monthly series.

Default Sessions

SQL Server is full of some pretty cool stuff. Some of it is rather basic. Some of it is a bit complex. Whether basic or complex, there is a lot that seems to get overlooked because it just might be hidden from plain sight or maybe it is overlooked just because it is already done for you.

Today, I am going to talk about some of the stuff that is already done for you. It is pre-baked and ready to roll. Since it is pre-baked, it may be a good idea to get familiar with it and understand what kinds of data it may offer to you when troubleshooting.

defaultsessionIt is still somewhat surprising to me to discover how many people have never heard of the default trace in SQL Server. Slightly less surprising is how many people have never heard of the default Extended Events system_health session. What if I told you there were a bunch more default sessions than the default trace or system_health? I wrote about some of those default sessions previously.

With the evolution of SQL Server, there is an evolution in Extended Events. New features in SQL Server also means there may be some additional default sessions. I want to touch on some of these other default sessions in brief.

Default Sessions

Phone Home

First, lets start with an easy to find default session – telemetry_xevents. This session is a visible session and behaves like a user defined session with the caveat that it is a session installed with SQL Server 2016 and it is a system default session. I have another post queued up to discuss this session in a bit more detail so will just keep it brief here.

This session is there to basically capture specific data and phone it home to Microsoft. You can presume that based on the definition of the word telemetry

“is an automated communications process by which measurements and other data are collected at remote or inaccessible points and transmitted to receiving equipment for monitoring.”

Before you get your tin-foil hat in a crumple over sending data back to the mother-ship, understand that this data is not sensitive data. The type of data being gathered is usage metrics. Think of it in terms of gathering data about how many times a specific feature was used or how many times a group of errors occurred within the environment. This is in an effort to help improve the product.

While the session data is designed to be sent back to Microsoft, it could also be of use to the Enterprising DBA who is looking to get a better grasp of the environment or to troubleshoot various issues.

It’s a Stretch

With the release of SQL Server 2016 there is another default session that gets installed. This session is probably the most difficult to find. This is a private hidden session when it is installed. In addition, it is not present by default with SQL 2016 RTM but it was present by default with various CTP versions. The session is specific to the new stretch feature and is called rdaxesession.

Breaking down this particular session reveals pretty easily what feature the session is designed to support. The name rdaxesession breaks down to the following: rda = remote data archive, and then the rest is self explanatory. If I investigate the metadata for the session I will discover that the following events are traced in the session:

stretch_database_enable_completed
stretch_database_disable_completed
stretch_table_codegen_completed
stretch_table_remote_creation_completed
stretch_table_row_migration_results_event
stretch_table_validation_error
stretch_table_unprovision_completed
stretch_index_reconciliation_codegen_completed
stretch_remote_index_execution_completed
stretch_database_events_submitted
stretch_table_query_error

Well, that certainly clears it up! This session is all about the stretch feature. If you are on RTM and don’t use the stretch feature, then you won’t see this session even if you do query the metadata.

Don’t be a HADR

The last of the default sessions I want to cover both can be combined into a category about HA and DR – loosely at least. One of the sessions deals with backups and the second of the sessions deals with clusters.

When dealing with a cluster, it is important to know about the hidden trace file that records events related to the cluster. The session target data can be found in “%PROGRAMFILES%\Microsoft SQL Server\MSSQLxx.MSSQLSERVER\MSSQL\Log” by default and cannot be seen within SQL Server metadata at all (not that I have been able to find). For a few details about how this trace works, I recommend reading this article. This session can be called the SQLDiag session.

The session related to backups is actually broken down into two log files and is similar in nature to the SQLDiag session. This is true in that the session is hidden, is found in the same directory, is read in the same fashion, and is equally as hidden from within SQL Server as the SQLDiag session. The backup session deals specifically with managed backup.

What is managed backup? Well, it is a type of backup performed to Azure and which relies upon the “smart_admin” procedures, functions and process.

If you don’t perform managed backups or you don’t have a cluster configured, you will not need either of these sessions (and potentially not see the smart_admin files depending on SQL Server version). If you have either of these features, you will definitely want to ensure you become acquainted with them and how to retrieve the data.

Recap

There are plenty of mechanisms in place to help troubleshoot some of the more complex features of SQL Server. Getting to know the tools will prepare you for that moment when problems arise and you are under the gun.

I did not dive deep into any of these sessions holding that for later articles. I wanted to keep this article to an introductory level. If you are interested in the more detailed articles, please stay tuned for those upcoming articles.

If you are interested in reading more about Extended Events, I recommend reading my series which can be found here.

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