12 Essential Steps After Installing SQL Server

out SQL Servers is a key task for DBAs.  While for some DBAs this can be a
frequent exercise, others will have to face it one time or other throughout
their career in an organisation.

planning an installation requires a fair bit of knowledge about SQL Server and
a basic understanding of the operating system. Once the installation is
complete, the system usually needs some changes to default configuration before
production databases can be rolled out. In this article I list some common steps
that I take after installing a SQL Server. This can be used as a “checklist” to
ensure consistency for all the SQL Servers that you roll out.

Step 1:
Install the Service Pack, Hotfixes and Cumulative Updates

is the first step you should take after a successful installation. You should
always install the latest service pack available unless there is a clear
business cause not to do so. At the time of this writing, SQL Server 2005 is in
service pack level 3 and SQL Server 2008 has service pack 1. Service packs are
freely downloadable from the Microsoft web site. If there are hotfixes or
cumulative updates available after the last service pack has been released, you
should apply them as well. This ensures that your server is ready with the
latest version of the database software. Once all the patches are installed,
make a backup of your system databases and reboot the server.

2: Configure SQL Services

your planning phase should determine what SQL services you are going to install,
there may be occasions when a service is rolled out but not needed immediately.
Perhaps your business requires you to install a SQL Server and although
reporting is not going to be part of it, management insists you install
Reporting Services – “just in case”. If a service is not going to be needed
immediately (or needed at all), disable it.

example of a service that you can disable is the Browser service. This service
is installed by default. If you are not running named instances or planning to
install multiple instances in one machine, you can disable this service.  You
can disable the Browser service from the SQL Server Configuration Manager.

service that you can disable is the SQL Server VSS Writer. Unless you are using
applications that make use of the Windows Volume Shadow Copy infrastructure to
backup SQL databases, you can disable this service safely. Note that SQL VSS
Writer is not available from the Configuration Manager. You can access it from
the Control Panel > Services applet (see below).

non-essential services should be disabled, other services like the Agent are
supposed to be running continuously. This is because scheduled backups,
maintenance plans, replication and jobs are dependent on the Agent service.
Similarly, if your server is going to execute Integration Service packages,
ensure the SSIS service starts automatically every time the server boots up.
You can configure the start-up property of a service from the SQL Server
Configuration Manager.

thing that is not available in the Configuration Manager is the recovery
behaviour of SQL Services – i.e. what should the services do if they fail unexpectedly.
To access this behaviour, you can bring up the service’s property from the
Control Panel’s “Services” applet. The “Recovery” tab of the service property
allows you to define what the computer should do in case the service fails once,
twice or subsequent times. From here, you can specify that the service should
start automatically if it fails.

same type of behaviour can be set in the SQL Server Agent’s property page. Here,
you can specify that SQL or Agent service should restart automatically if they
stop unexpectedly.

3: Configure Default Directories

has its place in this world and when it comes to files and folders, SQL Server
is no exception. A number of directories are created during installation – you
have one directory for storing data and log files, another directory for
replication, another for full text indexes, and yet another for backup files.

SQL places its files is determined mostly during the installation process. This
happens because either you provide this information explicitly or SQL uses a default
set of locations. The directory path information you provide during the setup
should really be coming from your planning phase. Once the installation is
complete, it is still possible to fine-tune some of these component locations.

you have followed the best practice, your data files should be residing in a
separate physical drive and directory.  The transaction log files of user
databases should also be in a separate drive and folder. You can configure both
the locations from the server’s properties:

to the data and log directories, you can specify the default locations for:



text index files

output files

Server creates the folders for these components in the same location where data
files are placed. To ensure data files are given the maximum possible dedicated
space as far as disk activity is concerned, I try to move these folders to a
separate drive.

you cannot use a GUI front-end to configure these alternate locations. The path
information is saved as registry values and that means you either have to
manually change registry entries or use an extended stored procedure like
xp_regwrite.  Also, the location of the registry keys will be different between
named instances. They will also vary depending on your version of SQL Server (2005
or 2008). Generally, you will be looking for a registry key called “Working

script below shows how I changed the default locations for a default instance of
SQL Server 2005 installed in a Windows Server 2003 system:


of course, the paths you specify as registry key values must exist – that means
you need to create (or move) the folders.

ensure the system is aware of your changes, restart SQL services after making
the changes.

4: Configure Default Database Properties

all know it – model database works as the “template” for new databases. If you
want to set some common properties across all your user databases, you can set
them in the model. A number of properties can be set here to take advantage of
this approach:

Model: perhaps you are installing SQL Server for a data warehouse that will host
a number of data marts that would not require full recovery model. You can set
the recovery model of the model database to “simple” mode in such cases.

Properties: by default, the data files are configured to grow by 1 MB and the
log files by 10% of their size. This means that a large transaction log files
will grow by a large proportion when it needs more space. For example, every
time a 6 GB log file needs to grow, it will take up 600 MB of disk space in one
gallop. For a write intensive database, the data file’s incremental growth by 1
MB can result in fragmentation. As a general rule of thumb, the log files
should be quarter or half the size of the data files. If you have an idea about
how big your data and log files are going to be and how they should grow, you
can set up the properties in the model database. I generally set the growth
increments in megabytes rather than leaving it as a percentage.

Another area where you can make use of the model database is filegroups. If you
want your user tables to be created on secondary data files and leave the primary
filegroups with system objects only, you can create secondary data files in the
model database and assign them to a user defined filegroup and make that
filegroup default.

Options: depending on your requirements you can set up other database options
in the model database. Examples of such options could be torn page detection,
ANSI defaults etc.

Objects: if you have custom objects that need to be present in each user
database, you can put them in the model database.


5: Configure tempdb Database

temporary database is used heavily in SQL 2005 and latter versions. Best
practice suggests that for optimal performance, SQL Server’s tempdb database
files should be placed in a separate dedicated disk drive. This should be
followed wherever possible, but even if your server’s current disk
configuration does not allow this, you can still make some changes to ensure
tempdb is optimally tuned. Part of this tuning means you should allocate a
healthy amount of space to this database.

number of data files you should allocate in the tempdb database will depend on
the number of CPUs (logical or physical) present in the machine. When SQL
Server accesses a database, it starts a scheduler thread for each data file present.
So if you have eight CPUs in your physical server, the tempdb database should
have eight data files to “load balance” the threads.

easiest way you can check the number of CPUs present in the machine is by
looking at the Windows Task Manager’s Performance tab.

data files in a database are used in a “proportional fill” algorithm. This means
that if you have two data files in a database – one 4 GB and another 8 GB, SQL
will try to stripe the data across the two files in a 1:2 ratio. For each
stripe of data written to the 4 GB file, SQL will write two stripes in the 8GB file
– hence the term “proportional fill”.

if you configure tempdb to have the same number of data files as the number of CPUs
present and specify each data file to have the same size and growth, you are
effectively ensuring the CPU load is evenly distributed across tempdb.

following script shows one such configuration done from the query window.


you can see from the code, we are adding three new data files to tempdb (since
there are four CPUs present and there is already one data file) and ensuring
the four files to have the same size and growth characteristics.

you have completed the tempdb configuration, you will need to restart the SQL
instance for the changes to take effect.

6: Configure Server Properties and Features

all the SQL Server configurations, this one is probably the most important and
has a direct effect on how the server behaves. What properties you configure
and what values you set here will depend on your organisation’s business needs,
SOEs etc. There are a number of properties you can set for the database server
engine and there is more than one way you can set some of them. I like to
divide these properties into three categories:


it is SQL 2005, use the Surface Area Configuration tool for enabling some of
the SQL Server features. For SQL 2008, use the Surface Area Configuration Facet
from the Server properties. Both these versions list the same features and by
default all of these features are disabled.

you enable here will depend on what you want your server to do. You may want to
enable Database Mail (discussed later). If your stored procedures are going to
use the xp_cmdshell utility, you will need to switch it on here. If you think
there will be managed code in your database application, you need to enable

Parameter Values:

Set the minimum and maximum server memory parameters. You can do so from the server
properties dialogue box or using the sp_configure system stored procedure. If
AWE is required, enable that too.

factor: Set a default value for index fill factor. This can save page splitting
in indexes in future.

Configure max. degree of parallelism, cost threshold for parallelism as

connections: Configure remote query timeouts if you want to override the
default behaviour of 600 seconds.

Although you can change the authentication mode (Trusted or Mixed) at this
stage – this is a choice you probably have made during the installation. You
can also enable C2 audit mode as part of security configuration.

Flags: If you are installing SQL Server 2005, you may wish to enable trace
flags as start-up parameters for detecting and reporting deadlocks. The trace
flag 1204 can be used for such purposes.

SQL Server Network:

is where you define how SQL will use the network to talk to other computers. The
first thing you need to do here is enabling or disabling the network protocols SQL
will use to listen for incoming traffic. You set this from the Configuration
Manager. The picture below shows how I have disabled Named Pipes.

you need to see if your applications require server aliases. Some of the older
apps may require you to define a server alias for a named instance.

you need to decide if you will assign non-default TCP port number for your
instance. The default instance uses a default port number of 1433 and the named
instances are usually assigned dynamic port numbers at start up. If you want to
assign a non-default port number to SQL Server for TCP connections, you can set
it here.

of the server property changes would require restarting the service.

7: Configure Security

it comes down to SQL Server security, companies usually take one of two
approaches – some follow a rigorous data security policy, others just leave it
all to defaults (and to potential attacks). If you are working for a company
like the former, you are in luck – you will know what to do. If your company
does not have any specific procedures for implementing SQL Server security
(written or unwritten), it is up to you how you define it. Once you have
completed this part though, you will have something to refer back to in future.

and foremost, ensure there are as few members in the sysadmin server role as
possible. The Local Administrators Windows group is a member of the sysadmin
role by default. Unless you want to have your Windows Administrators to have
access to the SQL Server, you should get rid of this group from the sysadmin
fixed server role. The next step would be to revoke the login for this group.

you have a pre-defined account that you use for database administration, add
that to the sysadmin server role.

can also create Credentials and Proxy accounts at this stage if you want your
jobs to run SSIS packages or operating system commands under those accounts.

8: Configure Error Logs

Server error log is the first port of call for DBAs when they troubleshoot server
related issues. By default, the server keeps six logs as archive and one log as
current. Every time SQL service starts, the system begins a new log file. The
currently active log file name is ERRORLOG. The log file before restart
(previous ERRORLOG) becomes archived as ERRORLOG.1, the log file before that
(named ERRORLOG.2) becomes ERRORLOG.3 and so on.

of the annoying things with default error log behaviour is that any one file
can contain a number of days of entries. When you try to view a file, it can
take some time to load. If you are interested in a particular day’s events, you
will need to sift through the entries or use a filter.

log files are overwritten in a rolling fashion after six files are created. So
that means you won’t have any history before the oldest log file (ERRORLOG.6).

you can do here is to configure SQL Server to keep a predefined number of log files.
You can also create a scheduled job to “recycle” the error logs regularly.
Recycling means that SQL Server will start a new log file without restarting
the service.

keep a pre-defined number of archived logs, you will need to configure the SQL error
log properties.

you can see, I would recommend keeping at least the last thirty log files.

the number of error log files is configured, you can create a scheduled job to
run every day to reinitialise the log. The job will have only one step that
will call the sp_cycle_errorlog system stored procedure. This procedure starts
a new error log file without restarting the SQL service. I usually schedule it
to run at 12:00 AM every morning.

combined effect of these two changes is that you will have one new log file
created every day at midnight. If your server does not restart in between, you
will have the last one month’s log entries in disk with each day’s log in one separate

same kind of job can be defined for SQL Agent error log files. The latest Agent
error log is named SQLAGENT.OUT. Executing the msdb database’s
sp_cycle_agent_errorlog procedure from a job will create a new Agent log file
and archive the previous one. Unlike SQL Server error logs though, you cannot use
a dialogue box to specify the number of archived Agent error logs to keep.


9: Configure Database Mail

step is optional. If your databases are going to send e-mails, you will first need
to enable database mail from the Surface Area Configuration tool (SQL 2005) or
the Server Properties’ Surface Area Configuration Facet (for SQL 2008).

enabled, you can easily configure it using a wizard in the Management Studio.

can also enable the mail profile for SQL Agent service.

your apps are not going to use the mail feature – don’t enable or configure it.

10: Configure SQL Agent & Operator

are almost at the end of our configuration process. It is now worth having a look
at the SQL Agent properties.  The three most important things that can be done here

SQL and Agent services to restart when they stop unexpectedly (discussed

the mail profile for SQL Agent. You can do it from the SQL Agent’s Alert System

the size of the job history log in the msdb database

the size of the job history log in the msdb database is usually a good idea if
your server is going to host a large number of scheduled jobs.

DBA Operators:

database server should have one standard DBA operator defined. This operator
will be notified via e-mail when jobs fail or alerts fire. Do not create
yourself as this operator – if you leave the company, your e-mail account is
likely to be deleted and those who come after you will need to spend time for
reconfiguring everything as the notifications will fail. That’s why you should
ask your system administrators to create a standard DBA account and assign a
mailbox to it.

11: Configure Operating System

can also make some OS level changes to give some extra power to SQL. This works
if you have administrative privilege on the Local Windows server.

the database application is going to participate in distributed transactions
through linked servers, ensure that Network DTC is enabled.

reach this screen in a Windows Server 2003 system,

the Component Service applet (Start > Administrative Tools > Component

Component Services node and then Computers node in the left side pane

Click on My Computer and choose Properties

the MS DTC tab

on Security Configuration screen

steps are similar for Windows Server 2008

should also give your SQL Service account the right to “Lock pages in memory”.
This ensures that Windows will not swap out SQL pages from the memory on to the
paging file on disk. In fact from version 2005, SQL Server can detect a memory
pressure from OS signal and can dynamically allocate / de-allocate pages

configure this property, assign the SQL service account to this privilege from
the Local Security Policy.

12: Set up Maintenance Plans for System Databases

server is now ready for production database rollouts. To wrap it up all, take a
moment to create a maintenance plan for the system databases. This maintenance
plan should reorganise the indexes, run DBCC CHECKS and update the statistics.
It should also back up the master, model and the msdb databases.  As a best
practice, the plan should backup the system databases once every day. When you
have created the maintenance plan, run each of the tasks manually to see if
they succeeded.


it is not possible to describe every possible installation scenario, the steps
discussed here should be common in every installation. You should customise
this list to incorporate any extra configuration necessary. For example, you
may need to configure Reporting Services after SQL configuration is complete. Perhaps
there are custom jobs or DBA stored procedures that you roll out in every SQL
Server in the company. In each case, these extra steps will form parts of your
post-installation configuration.


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