Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Performance Info from Convergence 2013

This week at Convergence, I attended several sessions (and actually moderated an interactive discussion session) on performance in Dynamics AX. As expected, customers and partners showed up with specific questions on issues they are facing. Out of the three different sessions I was a part of, two major topics came up over and over again: how do we troubleshoot performance issues and how do we handle virtualization?

Microsoft has done benchmarking on virtualization using Hyper-V, by starting at an all-physical setup and iteratively benchmarking and virtualizing pieces of the Dynamics AX setup. The big picture reveals (not surprisingly) that the further a virtual component is from SQL, the less impact it has. I've been asked to wait to blog about this further as new benchmarks are being made on hyper-v 2012 which has an enormous amount of performance improvements. But, for more information and the currently available benchmark you can download the virtualization benchmark whitepaper (requires customer or partner source access).

The next obvious question around performance was how to troubleshoot it. Naturally there are multiple reasons one could have performance issues. It could be SQL setup, AOS setup, client setup, poorly designed customizations, etc. Each area has its tools to troubleshoot, so a gradual approach may be in order.
First, the Lifecycle Services Microsoft will release in the second half of 2013 will have a system diagnostics tool available. This is what Microsoft calls "the low hanging fruit", things that could be obvious setup or configuration issues that can be easily fixed and may make a significant difference in performance; things like buffer sizes, SQL tempdb location, debugging enabled on a production environment, etc. This tool will currently only support AX 2012 and up, I have not heard any plans to support earlier versions of AX. As mentioned earlier, the tool is scheduled to be released the second half of 2013. Pricing for the service which includes a whole range of tools (more on this in another post) is currently not released, but in general lines it will be tied to the level of support plan a customer has with Microsoft.

Next up is the Trace Parser. The trace parser will allow you to trace a particular scenario and give feedback on the code being called, calls between client and server, time spent on every call, etc. This will give you a good idea on what is going on behind the covers of a specific process. Besides its use in troubleshooting performance issues, this is a really good tool during development to do code tracing in the standard application or augmenting other debugging efforts.
You can download the trace parser (for free) here (requires customer or partner source access)

Finally there is the dynamics perf tool. This will do a deep dive on your SQL server, give you things like top 10 queries, index usage (or lack thereof) etc. This is knee-deep SQL troubleshooting and will give you a broad range of statistics and suggestions to optimize your SQL setup and can identify issues with missing indexes or poor performing queries in your application code (note this is strictly a SQL tool so you won't see any tracing back to the source code).
You can find the dynamics perf tool (for free) here.

Somewhat surprisingly, a show of hands in my session revealed most customers were unaware of the availability of these tools and what they could do, so spread the word!

And last but not least there were some announcements on a load testing / benchmarking tool that we should see released in the next month or so. It will allow you to setup scenarios such as entering sales orders, creating journals etc, and then allow for mass-replay of these scenarios in AX to test performance. The tools are based on the Visual Studio load testing tool and basically provide an integration with AX. I will make sure to keep you updated on more details and release dates when that information becomes available.

All in all a lot of learning went on at Convergence on the performance topic. Also visit the blog of the Microsoft Dynamics AX Performance Team to stay current on any other tools or whitepapers they are releasing.

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