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Calculating the ROI of SQL Server Monitoring

I was recently approached to help develop our latest online version of a Return On Investment (ROI) calculator for the SentryOne monitoring platform. We know the ROI of our monitoring solution is excellent, based on overwhelming feedback from many happy customers over the yearsExtensive use of SentryOne products internally is also proof positive of exceptional ROI 

In planning the mechanics of the ROI calculator, I recognized the risk of overengineering in illustrating the many ways ROI is achieved and ensuring accuracyAt one point, I started to suffer sweat-inducing flashbacks to my Fundamentals of Astrodynamics course in college. 

ROI of SQL Server Monitoring

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Trying to fill out a multi-sheet spreadsheet providing an accurate view of ROI tends to be more cumbersome and labor-intensive. That ultimately hinders adoption. Calculating a fair and accurate ROI shouldn’t be like solving the “three-body problem. We set out to find a balance between accuracy and simplicity. With the balance in mind, we chose a smaller set of inputs and outputs that aligns with our mission to improve the quality of life for Microsoft data professionals and their customers. 

Downtime and Slow Time Mitigation 

As luck would have it, I recently wrote a blog post titled, “When Good Enough is Costing You Money. In that blog post and its associated webinar, I discuss the cost of downtime and slow time based on Gartner research and other similar studies. 

While we start with a cost of $5,600 per minute of downtime, on average, this varies based on the size of the company and annual revenue. Beyond full downtime, slow time tends to cost about one-fifth of downtime per minute, but also tends to occur five times as oftenRecognizing this normalization between the two metrics allowed us to consolidate inputs for cost. 

Reducing downtime and slow time is a major source of ROI for a database performance monitoring solution like SentryOne SQL SentryOur methodology is all about getting our users out of a reactive firefighting stance and into a more proactive posture. This enables them to get out ahead of downtime and slow time issues and mitigate them before impacting the end user and the business performance 

According to customer provided data, SQL Sentry can help reduce high priority and high severity incidents by 40% or more, year over year. For large enterprises with annual revenues exceeding $1 billion, that can easily equate to millions of dollars saved per year. 

Because of the studies mentioned above and combined decades of customer feedback and direct experience, we’re able to give you a trustworthy Downtime & Slow Time Mitigation Savings estimate using your company size, based on annual revenueFor this estimate, an assumption is made you are monitoring your entire data estate with SQL Sentry to further reduce the required inputs.  

I’ll introduce more details about the ROI calculator shortly. But first, I wanted to highlight the efforts we made to build it efficiently and accurately. 

Let’s discuss what emerged as the second most popular source of ROI. 

DBA Productivity Gains 

Day to Day 

There are several ways in which SentryOne SQL Sentry can provide and encourage productivity gains in the daily life of a DBA. The most typical gains of this type come from the ability to automate many daily monitoring and maintenance activitiesHaving spent most of my adult life in the industry, I’ve had many conversations with people about how much time they spend each day checking on SQL Servers and verifying that everything is copacetic 

This DBA Daily Checklist Usually Involves: 

  1. Verifying backups and recoverability 
  2. Confirming success of other non-backup scheduled agent jobs and process tasks 
  3. Measuring and confirming availability and uptime against SLAs 
  4. Ensuring sufficient storage space for capacity planning 
  5. Checking operating system and SQL Server Logs 
  6. Reviewing for server resource usage and contention 
  7. Monitoring for and tuning high impact queries 
  8. Surfacing, preventing, and providing contingencies for database corruption 
  9. Ensuring any HA/DR solutions are healthy and actually providing HA and/or DR 

Your list may be slightly different, but I’d say this is a reasonable representation. In a perfect world, a typical DBA would take a half-hour or more per server to perform these duties thoroughly each dayWe don’t live in a perfect world. The general consensus is closer to 15 minutes spent per server. Many DBAs haven’t received proper tooling. Those DBAs are lucky to spend a minute or two per server each day on these types of activities. The bulk of their time is consumed in fighting performance fires and trying to keep their heads above water. 

Incident Response and Avoidance 

That leads us to the other significant DBA productivity gains – Incident response, troubleshooting, root cause analysis, and resolutionIt might even be on the conservative side to estimate that a DBA spends 5 hours a day performing these activities. For some, it consumes the entire dayevery day. That leaves no time for the maintenance activities listed previously 

The good news is that we’ve completed several case studies where SentryOne customers provided consistent testimonials where they were able to reduce time spent in those maintenance activities, as well as the firefighting activities by an average of 90%! 

Customer Feedback and Case Studies 

  1. SubwayUsing SQL Sentry, Subway reduced the time spent collecting data and diagnosing each production performance problem from an hour to about five minutes, a 92% reduction.
  2. Tableau SoftwareSentryOne performance monitoring and intelligent alerting capabilities gave Tableau a 90 percent reduction in time spent responding to database alerts, without adding performance overhead.
  3. New Belgium BrewingWinter now spends less than an hour each day monitoring, diagnosing, and optimizing the data platform—a task that used to consume most of his day—and can now focus on analytics projects to drive the business forward. 

The Value of Optimization 

That third customer quote from New Belgium is a big one. It leads me to an ROI calculation that can be much more difficult to calculate accuratelyOnce you’ve escaped from the reactive firefighting stance and assumed a more proactive postureyoull find yourself with time to spend on strategic initiatives. We call this “optimize mode.”  

In optimize mode, the same solution that helped you escape the reactive hamster wheel becomes a force multiplier to productivityYour company experiences measurable benefits from your contributions. At the same time, you’ve made yourself more valuable to your organization and tempered the fires you’ve been fighting. This “new normal” invites new ways to draw fulfillment from work. It frees time to enjoy life, family, and friends outside of workand it’s what we mean at SentryOne when we say we’re “improving the quality of life for Microsoft data professionals and their customers. 

How do you apply a dollar figure to that? 

The Value of Rightsizing and Consolidation 

One final area where we can discover ROI is cost savings due to consolidation or rightsizingThere are significant dollars to be saved here, and they are typically realized once you reach optimize modeCost savings come from rightsizing on compute/hardware as well as licensing. All of this becomes more critical in the cloud, where you can scale up or down as needed and pay as you go. Cloud migrations can fail simply because workloads weren’t optimized before migrating them, and costs turned out to be much higher than anticipated.  

One of our Managed Service Provider partners, StraightPath Solutions, provided a case study where they discuss some aspects of this type of savings. In it, they stated: 

“SentryOne clearly shows us where resources are being used, so we can help pick the right size environment,” said Walsh. “They can then either get better hardware or save money on licenses…” 

“We explain, for example, that instead of paying $14,000 for the most expensive environment, we can downgrade them a little bit: use fewer DTUs, go to a smaller VM…scale up or down. We can immediately show value.”  

Cloud computing can represent a cost reduction, but it takes proper planning and cross-functional buy-in to realize it. SentryOne has a ton of educational resources. What’s more, we have the tools to execute on this cloud migration knowledge properly. Our cloud migration guides for Azure and AWS—and CloudLifter solution—help reduce risk and realize cost savings for your cloud database migration.

These last measurements are not currently part of the online ROI calculator. I plan to provide more specific insight into those ROI measurements in the future. In the meantime, I would love to hear your stories about how SentryOne has saved your company money. It’s these “direct from the customer” stories that help us zero in on providing a realistic calculation in the first place 

If you’re new to SentryOne, check out the ROI calculator for yourself to see how SentryOne monitoring can pay for itself in short order.

Steven Wright
Steve (@SQL_Steve) is a fourteen-year veteran of SentryOne, and has held roles in Solutions Engineering, Quality Assurance, Product Management, and Advanced Analytics prior to assuming…
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