Is AlwaysOn Availability Groups a viable alternative to AlwaysOn Failover Clusters in the public cloud?

I recently read an article entitled SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn: High Availability database for cloud data centers where the author John Joyner makes a case for using AlwaysOn Availability Groups for SQL Server high availability in the cloud. I have been investigating AlwaysOn Availability Groups since it was available in pre-release versions of SQL Server 2012 and while it certainly has some valid uses (mostly in disaster recovery configurations), saying that it is a “new way to achieve HA SQL” glosses over many of the issues which make deploying AlwaysOn Availability Groups as a replacement for failover clusters simply not a viable option in many cases and not a good idea in the rest of the cases. In a response I wrote to the article I proposed that an AlwaysOn Multisite Clustering using the host based replication solution DataKeeper Cluster Edition is a much better alternative and I went ahead and explained why..

My original response to the article seems to have been deleted, so I decided to repost my response to the original article below:

There are a few things to consider with AlwaysOn Availability Groups. As you mention, “Microsoft announced support for some System Center 2012 SP1 applications to work with SQL AlwaysOn”, meaning that there are still applications that do not support AlwaysOn. In fact, there are a LOT of applications that do not support AlwaysOn Availability Groups, including any applications that use distributed transactions. And what about the other limitations, like not being able to keep MSDB, Master and other databases in sync? I blog about these limitations here.

I agree that SQL HA is important, however, the only way to get “High Availability” (meaning automatic recovery in the event of a failure) with AlwaysOn Availability Groups is by using synchronous mirroring. At PASS Summitt in Seattle earlier this month I sat in many different presentations on AlwaysOn and almost without fail the presenters talked about AlwaysOn in an asynchronous configuration. The reason being is that AlwaysOn synchronous replication has a SIGNIFICANT impact on the performance of your application. I have personally measured up to a 68% performance penalty with AlwaysOn Synchronous mirroring, and that was across a dedicated 10 Gbps LAN! I blog about this result here.

Unfortunately, in an asynchronous configuration you give up automatic failover, so you really are not getting HA, you are getting data protection, but certainly not the same RTO as you can expect from a traditional SQL failover cluster.

And then finally there is the cost to consider. SQL Server 2012 Enterprise is nothing to sneeze at. If you want to build a 2-node cluster and take advantage of readable secondaries and you are using a 2-socket, 16-core servers you are looking at shelling out close to $220k for SQL Server 2012 Enterprise licenses. I broke down the associated cost in my blog article here.

Don’t get me wrong, SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn Availability Groups can solve many problems, but I would not categorize the asynchronous configuration required in most cloud deployments as an HA alternative. Many people are overlooking the other “AlwaysOn”, AlwaysOn Failover Clusters. New features of SQL Server AlwaysOn Failover Clusters, including enhanced support for cross subnet multisite clusters, will give you a true HA solution and overcomes all of the limitations I describe above. Of course in a pure cloud solution you may not be able to integrate with array based replication to support multisite clusters, but you can always use host based replication solutions such as SteelEye DataKeeper Cluster Edition to build multisite clusters in public or private clouds and in your own physical data center and you can do this with SQL Server 2008 through 2012 AND it works on SQL Server Standard edition as well as Enterprise.

Have you done any testing with AlwaysOn Availability Groups in a HA configuration? If so I’d be curious to know if you measured the overhead associated with synchronous replication in your environment.

Is AlwaysOn Availability Groups a viable alternative to AlwaysOn Failover Clusters in the public cloud?

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