Sql – Clustered vs Non-Clustered


My lower level knowledge of SQL (Server 2008) is limited, and is now being challanged by our DBAs. Let me explain (I have mentioned obvious statements in the hope that I am right, but if you see something wrong, please tell me) the scenario:

We have a table which holds 'Court Orders' for people. When I created the table, (Name: CourtOrder), I created it like:

CREATE TABLE dbo.CourtOrder
  CourtOrderID INT NOT NULL IDENTITY(1,1), (Primary Key)
  PersonId INT NOT NULL,
  + around 20 other fields of different types.

I then applied a non-clustered index to the primary key (for efficiency). My reasons is that it is a unique field (primary key), and should be indexed, mainly for selection purposes, as we often Select from table where primary key = ...

I then applied a CLUSTERED index on PersonId. The reason was to group orders for a particular person physically, as the vast majority of work is getting orders for a person. So, select from mytable where personId = ...

I have been pulled up on this now. I have been told that we should put the clustered index on the primary key, and the normal index on the personId. That seems very strange to me. First off, why would you put a clustered index on a unique column? what is it clustering? Surely that's a waste of the clustered index? I'd have believed a normal index would be used on a unique column. Also, clustering the index would mean we can't cluster a different column (One per table, right?).

The reasoning for me being told I have made a mistake is that they believe putting a clustered index on the PersonId would make inserts slow. For the 5% gain in speed of a select, we would be getting a 95% degradation in speed on inserts and updates. Is that correct and valid?

They say that because we cluster the personId, SQL Server has to rearrange data when ever we insert or make a change to the PersonId.

So then I have asked, why would SQL have the concept of a CLUSTERED INDEX, if it's so slow? Is it as slow as they're saying? How should I have setup my indexes to achieve optimum performance? I'd have thought SELECT is used more than INSERT… but they say that we're having locking issues on INSERTS…

Hope someone can help me.

Best Solution

The distinction between a clustered vs. non-clustered index is that the clustered index determines the physical order of the rows in the database. In other words, applying the clustered index to PersonId means that the rows will be physically sorted by PersonId in the table, allowing an index search on this to go straight to the row (rather than a non-clustered index, which would direct you to the row's location, adding an extra step).

That said, it's unusual for the primary key not to be the clustered index, but not unheard of. The issue with your scenario is actually the opposite of what you're assuming: you want unique values in a clustered index, not duplicates. Because the clustered index determines the physical order of the row, if the index is on a non-unique column, then the server has to add a background value to rows who have a duplicate key value (in your case, any rows with the same PersonId) so that the combined value (key + background value) is unique.

The only thing I would suggest is not using a surrogate key (your CourtOrderId) column as the primary key, but instead use a compound primary key of the PersonId and some other uniquely-identifying column or set of columns. If that's not possible (or not practical), though, then put the clustered index on CourtOrderId.