SQL Server can run in one of two modes: thread mode or fiber mode. By default, SQL Server runs in thread mode in which a SQL Server worker is associated with a Windows thread throughout all phases of its execution. This can be changed with the sp_configure option ‘Lightweight Pooling’. When Lightweight Pooling is turned on, SQL Server runs in fiber mode in which a SQL Server worker is associated with a user-mode Windows construct called fiber. Switching among fibers is handled in the user mode with the objective of reducing the cost of calling into the kernel for context switches.
Whenever fiber mode is discussed, Microsoft has always piled a huge load of ominous warnings, generally related to the potential stability issues that may come up with fiber mode. And because of these warnings, fiber mode is rarely, if ever, used in real world production environments. Staying away from fiber mode is of course the right thing to do because many of the ‘external SQL Server components’ that may not be fiber-mode friendly are usually essential in a real production environment.
If you run a bare minimum SQL Server instance (e.g. no XML, no mail, no linked servers), can you expect performance gain from fiber mode? Generally speaking, you may not see any performance gain. But there are cases you can see performance gains.
I was curious whether I could see any performance gain at all on a low-end server such as a four-core HP ProLiant DL365 G1 with 4GB of RAM. Note that this is a rather old and obsolete server model.
It turns out that under certain workloads, fiber mode can give you a huge performance boost. For my tests, I populated a TPC-C like database with about 9GB of data, and ran read-only workloads against the database (with the two read-only transactions in TPC-C in a 50/50 transaction mix). I configured each client to wait for 20 milliseconds before submitting the next query. The following chart shows the difference in transaction throughput at various load levels (in terms of the number of simulated concurrent users running queries against the server) between thread mode and fiber mode. The data points were obtained on a SQL Server 2008 instance (Enterprise x64 Edition and the build level was 10.0.1600).
If we look at the cases for 400 and 600 users for example, the performance gain from thread mode to fiber mode was ~ 40% (with the thread-mode transaction throughput as the baseline). This was a huge gain. I ran the tests in various random orders and repeated the tests at various random times. The results were consistent and reproducible.
I was surprised to see such a difference myself for two reasons. One is that I didn’t see much of a performance difference between thread mode and fiber mode when I ran the same workload in the same test environment without the 20ms wait time. I observed only about 5% consistent but marginal gain, switching from thread mode to fiber mode when the next query was submitted immediately after the previous one was finished. I can’t explain why the wait time made the difference.
The other reason I was surprised is that I had never seen any performance gain from enabling lightweight pooling or fiber mode before, though I had never tried this specific workload and had never tried this on SQL Server 2008.
I’m not sure if there is any practical value in this post because stability concerns will and should always trump any potential performance gain, especially when that performance gain is rather elusive. But at least it’s good to report that I have seen some real performance gain with fiber mode instead of just hearing somebody else talking about it.