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SQL Server Memory–The Evolution

Previous Posts in this series

SQL Server Memory– Underground

In my Previous post, I had talked briefly about the windows Memory Management and how SQL calculates its Buffer Pool and MTL. In this post, I would be talking mainly about the workings of the SQL Buffer Pool and the MTL, and how to figure out the memory usage by SQL and its components. This post would be specific to SQL 2000 unless specified otherwise.

SQL Buffer Pool

SQL Memory Management is Dynamic in nature, meaning SQL can allocate or de-allocate memory in the Buffer Pool as per requirement. In order for the SQL Server to effectively manage its memory allocations SQL Server 7, introduced a layer of Memory Manager that manage various types of memory requests in the SQL Buffer pool.

The important ones are

  1. General – This memory manager handles general allocation (not handled by other managers). Includes things like locks etc..
  2. Query Plan – As the name implies, this is mainly used for query plans.
  3. Optimization – Handles memory requests during optimization.
  4. Utility – Manages Memory allocations for different utilities, like tracing, log shipping etc.
  5. Connection – Manages memory allocations for Connections. This includes memory for the input and output buffers.

The idea behind using these managers is very simple. Consider an Analogy. In a company with 1000 employees, If there is only one manager, management becomes really difficult. One the second hand if we have 10 managers managing 100 employees each, it would be easier. With multiple managers it becomes easier to manage and report the usage.

The amount of memory being consumed (out of the 2 GB user mode VAS), can be easily tracked using either of the following options.

  • Windows Performance Monitor Counters


The KB article describes the output of the DBCC MEMORYSTATUS command for SQL 2000 in great detail. The following section of the DBCC MEMORYSTATUS output can be used to track the usage per Memory Manager.


The OS reserved/OS committed/OS in Use sections are for all allocations which have been made in the SQL VAS  by the memory managers (more than 8 KB allocations) and also for all external allocations coming from external components loaded in the SQL Space. In short, this can be used to track all the allocations made in the Mem-To-Leave area.

Apart from the output for the Memory Managers, another important section in the output is the first section of the output, which can be used to see how are the Database Pages allocated in the BPool.

Windows Performance Monitor Counters

SQL Server exposes two Performance Monitor Objects for monitoring SQL Server Memory. These performance Monitor counters are also applicable to next releases of SQL Server (SQL 2005/2008/2008 R2) with slight differences, which I would be pointing out in the next posts.

  • Memory Manager: Provides information about SQL Server memory as whole.
  • Buffer Manager: Provides information about the SQL Buffer Pool

Memory Manager

The important counters under this object are

  1. Connection Memory: Indicates the amount of memory being consumed under the Connection Memory Manager.
  2. Granted Workspace Memory: Memory allocated/reserved for operations during Query Execution. All memory for sorting, hashing come from these.
  3. Memory Grants Pending: Number of memory requests which have not been completed. A non-zero value for a sustained period would indicate a memory pressure in SQL Server.
  4. Optimizer Memory: Memory being consumed under the Optimizer Memory Manager.
  5. Total Server Memory: Total memory consumed my SQL. This included both allocation in BPool and Allocations in Mem-To-Leave. This value should be equal to the sum of the “OS in Use” under dynamic memory manager, and “Committed” under Buffer Count sections of the Memory Status values. Remember these values in Memory Status output are in number of 8 KB pages.

Buffer Manager

  1. Checkpoint Pages/Sec: Number of pages being flushed by the checkpoint thread.
  2. Database Pages: Number of BPool buffers being used for Database pages.
  3. Free Pages: Number of pages free in the buffer pool. This values should always be greater than 0.
  4. Lazy Writes/Sec: Number of lazy write operations per sec.
  5. Stolen Pages/Sec: Committed pages which are not being as a database page are termed as stolen.
  6. Total Pages: Number of pages currently being used in the Buffer Pool.

Memory discussions for SQL Server is not complete without the mention of two very important operations, Checkpoint and Lazy Writer.

Checkpoint: Checkpoint is the process wherein Dirty Buffer (database pages which have been modified by a DML operation) back to the disk.

Lazy Writer: The sole purpose of Lazy Writer is to maintain some free buffers in the SQL Server Buffer Pool. Lazy writer runs periodically and check which buffers can be flushed and returned to the free pool.


SQL Server Memory– Underground

With SQL Server 2012 there has been considerable changes in the way Memory is allocated and utilized. In Part 1 of the SQL Server Memory series I would talk about memory configurations on windows Servers and then discuss how memory works for SQL Server 2000.

All windows Application (32/64 bit) are designed to work with the Virtual Memory concept in Windows. Each process is provided with a fixed size virtual memory, regardless of the amount of RAM on the machine. The VM limits (a.k.a the maximum addressable memory limit) for an application is as follows

  1. 32 bit Applications: 4 GB
  2. 64 Bit Applications: 16 TB

Each application running on Windows has to comply with the Virtual memory Limits as imposed by the architecture.

This Virtual Memory(hence forth referred as Virtual Address space) is divided into 2 regions “User Mode” and “Kernel Mode”. An Application works with only the user mode. In other words they can only play around with the User Mode VAS, and do not have any control on the Kernel Mode.


On a 32 bit(x86) environment the User Mode is 2GB (8 TB in 64 bit environment) and can be increased to 3GB (reducing the kernel mode to 1 GB) using the /3GB switch in the Boot.ini file. With windows 2003 servers a new boot.ini switch was available which allows the user mode to be configured to a value between 2 GB and 3 GB, depending on the user requirements.

On a 64 bit environment, the VAS is practically limitless (8 TB) and hence the application can potentially access all the memory on the Machine.

Physical Memory allocations and usage is directly controlled by some components which runs in the Kernel Mode (Windows Kernel Code). A User Application has no control on the Physical RAM. In order for the Application to access Physical Memory, it provides the windows Memory Management Unit(MMU) with a Virtual address (4 Byte – 32 bit address in the VAS) which is then translated (address translation) by the MMU into a physical address. Windows then reads the content at the physical address and returns it back to the application.

An Application running with default configurations (without AWE in case of 32 bit applications) cannot access more memory than allowed by the size of the User Mode VAS.

SQL Server like all other windows application follows this Virtual Memory concept. Hence a 32 bit SQL Server by default cannot access more than 2 GB of RAM.

SQL Server divides its User Mode VAS into two section. The Buffer Pool and Memory to Leave (MTL region). The MTL is a free memory region inside the SQL VAS, and is used for the following

  • Large allocations from SQL Server: These are allocations that request more than 8 KB.
  • CLR allocations: These allocations include the SQL CLR heaps and its global allocations that are created during CLR initialization.  (SQL 2005 Onwards)
  • Memory allocations for thread stacks in the SQL Server process.
  • Memory allocation requests made directly to Windows: These include Windows heap usage and direct virtual allocations made by modules that are loaded into the SQL Server process. Examples of such memory allocation requests include allocations from extended stored procedure DLLs, objects that are created by using Automation procedures (sp_OA calls), and allocations from linked server providers.


The Buffer Pool is a pool of 8K buffers (memory pages) which are used by SQL Server for its operations. Any allocation in SQL Server which requires 8 KB or less memory comes from BPool. SQL Server Data Cache is created in the BPool.

The high level steps performed by SQL (32 bit) during startup is are follows

  1. Calculate the amount of RAM on the machine, this sets the upper limit of the SQL Buffer Pool (aka BPool).
  2. Reserves the MTL as a single block of memory. In SQL 7/SQL 2000, this value is set to 256 MB by default can be configured using the –g startup parameter. Along with the 256 MB, SQL also reserves space for the thread stack. In SQL 7/SQL 2000, the max number of worker threads (controlled by the Max Worker Threads Configuration option) is set to 256 threads by default. Each thread requires 512 KB of memory. Which Means

    Size of MTL = 256 + (.5 MB * 256) = 384 MB

  3. Once the MTL is reserved, SQL tries to reserve the Buffer Pool. The size of the SQL Buffer Pool is calculated as per the below equation
    Size of BPool = Min ( Min(SizeOfRAM, MaxServerMemorySetting), (VAS-MTL-BufArray-Overhead Memory) )


    SizeOfRAM - Amount of physical memory

    MaxServerMemorySetting - value Max Server memory configuration option

    VAS - Size of User Mode VAS

    MTL - Size of MTL

    BufArray - An array of Buf structures requires to manage the BPool. Approximately 9MB/GB of RAM

    Overhead Memory: Memory used in loading the DLL's and other executable.

  4. If BPool reservation fails for some reason, SQL would not start.
  5. Once BPool is reserved, SQL Marks the MTL area as free. This is to ensure that external components can access this memory area.

On a 32 bit environment, the VAS is only 2 GB and thus forms the limiting factor while calculating the size of the buffer Pool. adding more RAM on a 32 bit environment does not help SQL because as the RAM increases, so would the size of the BufArray (~9MB/GB of RAM), which in turn would reduce the size of the BPool. For example on a machine with 64 GB of RAM and Max Server memory set to 50 GB,  the BufArray would be approximately about 576 MB. Which means the BPool Calculation would be

BPool = Min ( Min (64 GB, 50 GB) ,  (2048 MB – 576 MB – 384 MB – ~10 MB)) = 1100 MB.

As the RAM on the machine increases the BPool would continue to become smaller and can cause a lot of performance issues.

For the 64 bit environment the following changes are applicable.

    1. Each thread requires 2 MB for the thread stack.
    2. The size of the BPool would always be limited by the amount of RAM or the max server memory setting.
    3. The VAS is 8TB and not 2GB as in the case of a 32 bit SQL.
    4. If Max Server Memory is not set, SQL can consume almost entire memory on the machine.

As mentioned, a 32 bit SQL running on a 32 bit Windows Server by default can only use 2 GB of memory. In order to allow SQL to use more than 2 GB of memory, you would need to use one of the following techniques

  1. Use /3GB setting or /USERVA switch. DO NOT use this setting on a machine with more than 16 GB of RAM.
  2. Use AWE with SQL Server.

In the next post, I would be talking about how memory operations works in the BPool and MTL.


  1. How to configure SQL Server to use more than 2 GB of physical memory
  2. Address Windowing Extensions
  3. Managing AWE Memory