High IO Wait on SQL Server Replication Distribution Database

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Have you ever heard this question? The database refresh has gone from 10-15 minutes to 1.5 hours. Nothing has changed on the application server and the consultant said ask the DBAs to check the database server. Where do you start to find the problem?  Check out this tip to learn more.


Diagnosing any performance problem in SQL Server can take many paths. Luckily, this is a new system and I have a current production system to compare performance metrics - a baseline. My first inclination was to point the finger at the consultant. But, I know there are some things to check to make sure it is not a SQL Server problem.

Performance Dashboard

Microsoft created one of my favorite Instance overview tools - Performance Dashboard.

Performance Dashboard

The first area I decided check was the IO Statistics because there is a new SAN on this system and I wanted to eliminate that as a problem. The Performance Dashboard has a link to a report for IO Statistics in the Historical Information quadrant (Lower-Right). After clicking on the link, we get a report.

Historical IO Report

Historical IO Report

This report will show you are summary of IO on all database files including the log file. Each database is listed with summary statistics for the whole database and an expandable list will show you details of each file associated with the database and the associated detailed IO statistics. Note: These numbers are from the last restart of the instance. Once an instance is restarted, the IO statistics are reset to 0.

This view shows that Replication is activated on this instance because there is a Distribution database. It has high levels of Reads and Read Wait Time (ms). We can also see the other heavily used database is the Data Warehouse staging database that sends data (CDC) to the Data Marts on another instance by a 3rd party tool.

The Avg Read Wait (ms) is 228.4 ms which is extremely high compared to the current production system and this is on a new SAN. At this point, I want to blame it on the SAN, but I decide to start a conversation with a Project Manager on that team to talk about the why replication is being used. We were initially told replication was not used in the new setup, so we did not plan this on the SQL Server side.

Having another person to talk and discuss the situation is very valuable. As we talked, we looked at the usage in the Distribution database. Here is where other awesome (Free) report from Microsoft came in handy - Disk Usage and Disk Usage by Top Tables reports. You access these reports by right-clicking on a database and go to the Reports/Standard Reports submenu.

You access these reports by right-clicking on a database and go to the Reports/Standard Reports submenu

The Disk Usage by Top Table showed the MSrepl_commands table had 129+ million rows compared to 32+ thousand MSrepl_transaction rows, an indication that the DW refresh is very large and heavy on IO. The ratio of commands to transactions from the current production system was 4 to 1 compared to this which was 4000+ to 1. The other team was going to talk to the contractor about these tables because the current system has a cleanup procedure that does not seem to be working on the new system. Since the database is not being cleaned up, it is growing larger and larger.

Since the database is not being cleaned up, it is growing larger and larger

Disk Usage

Now, to get back to the waits. We now looked at the Disk Usage report.

ow, to get back to the waits. We now looked at the Disk Usage report.

If this report has an area labeled "Data/Log Files Autogrow/Autoshrink Events", this means the database has been auto-growing. Expanding this metric by clicking the plus (+) sign indicated the growth rate was set to 1MB. As you see below, the growth of 1MB was taking about 20-90 ms each time and was happening about 12 times a minute. This is a majority of the Waits that was accumulated on the IO Statistics report for this database. Since the Model database is used to create a new database, the distribution database got the 1 MB growth from the model database when replication was activated.

"Data/Log Files Autogrow/Autoshrink Events"

So, what is the solution to this part of the problem? We need to change the growth rate of the Data File in the Primary Filegroup to a larger number and/or increase the database to the estimated size for a full refresh. The database has now grown to a good starting refresh size, so we will change the growth rate to 1GB. Our LUN for this file is large enough to grow by this rate without a problem.


USE [master]
ALTER DATABASE [distribution] MODIFY FILE ( NAME = N'distribution', FILEGROWTH = 1048576KB )

Now, the database is sized for refreshes and a large growth rate will help with the IO waits for processing. Next, we need to get a new refresh running and look at the next performance improvement. The contract also fixed their part by activating the cleanup routine for the distribution database.

Next Steps
  • Update Model Database to Average Growth Rate for New Databases
  • Work with contractors on managing the Distribution Database
  • More information on Replication Distribution Database
  • Check out all of the replication tips.

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About the author
MSSQLTips author Thomas LeBlanc Thomas LeBlanc is a Sr DBA and MCITP 05/08 DBA & 08 BI has spoken at the PASS Summit 2011/12, SQL Rally & many SQL Saturday’s.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

View all my tips

Comments For This Article

Thursday, October 2, 2014 - 12:12:59 AM - Rick Willemain Back To Top (34813)

Good, quick, concise article !  Thank you !!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - 2:56:53 AM - VEERESH Back To Top (25551)


Very good document fot finding RCA...thank u 

Friday, June 7, 2013 - 9:36:55 AM - Snorri Kristjansson Back To Top (25335)

Thanks for a very nice article - great job.

Regarding the autogrow issue.

Did you consider enabling Instant File Initialization?

See this article: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/sql_pfe_blog/archive/2009/12/23/how-and-why-to-enable-instant-file-initialization.aspx

Doing this cuts down the time it takes to grow a database file to (almost) zero.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 1:34:08 PM - umasankar Back To Top (25314)

Nice way of Articulation of troubleshooting the performance issue

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 2:53:24 PM - Thomas LeBlanc Back To Top (25288)

Aaron K,

We were initially told that replication was not being used, so we did not prepare the instance for using a Distribution database. Auto Shrink is not on but Auto Grow is.

We could have implemented a best practice to size the database like the exising one (1.2TB data file with a 500GB log file), but we still would have left Auto Grow on to about 512MB per growth, but capped the size to a limit not to fill up LUN.

If you want to turn Auto Grow off by best practice, then you should also have a monitor setup to watch the percent used in the files not to crash Replication.

The point of this post also is to show some free report tools provided by Microsoft to examine the current state of the system and debug a problem.

Steven, did you add indexes to the Distribution database? I would like to know which ones and how they were maintained. We tried once, and started to get deadlocks in the Replication SPs.



Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 1:38:06 PM - Steven Jimmo Back To Top (25285)

There are a multitude of issues that can cause performance issues depending upon your configuration and size. In our case we hacwe a central distributor with several hundred subscriptions. Our SQL Waits are high on many things. It finally got narrowed down to 3 areas. The first was some of the parameters set and used within some of MS' stored procedures. 2nd was some additional indexes needed on some of the tables. Finally was for database maintenance of the indexes and statistics. Each area was resolved and performance has improved tremendously. Some of these fixes also lowered the disk IO as well.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 1:14:23 PM - Aaron K Back To Top (25283)


Why the DB was in Auto-Shrink/ Auto-Growth mode to begin with ?  It usually a bas practice to have it configured that way.


Friday, May 24, 2013 - 3:06:09 PM - Thomas LeBlanc Back To Top (25131)

The Performance Dashboard can be downloaded for SQL Server 2005. It was originally writter for that version.

This article excluded scripts because I wanted to show dev or new DBAs that they can get some usefull information from these reports without having to learn script or DMOs (DMV/DMF).

There were some recently blogs and articles on SQL Server Central dot com that showed scripts to get this type of information.



Friday, May 24, 2013 - 4:24:15 AM - Mpho Back To Top (25119)

Thanks for the Article,


I just wanted to ask if you have a sql script I can execute on SQL server 2005? I need to pull such reports on one of our dataware house instance.