Business Intelligence Geeky/Programming SQLServerPedia Syndication

ETL Method – Fastest Way To Get Data from DB2 to Microsoft SQL Server

For a while, I have been working on figuring out a “better” way to get data from DB2 to Microsoft SQL Server. There are many different options and approaches and environments, and this one is mine, your mileage may vary.

Usually, when pulling data from DB2 to any Windows box, the first thing you might think of is ODBC. You can either use the Microsoft DB2 driver (which works, if you are lucky enough to get it configured and working), or the IBM iSeries Client Access ODBC Driver (which works well), or another 3rd party ODBC driver. Using ODBC, you can access DB2 with a ton of different clients. Excel, WinSQL, any 3rd party SQL Tool, a MSSQL linked server, SSIS, etc. ODBC connects just fine, and will work for “querying” needs. Also, with the drivers you might install, you can usually set up an OLE DB connection if your client supports it (SSIS for example) and query the data using OLEDB – this works as well, but there are some caveats, which I will talk about.

In comes SSIS, the go to ETL tool for MSFT BI developers. You want to get data from DB2 to your SQL Server Data Warehouse, or whatever. You try with an OLEDB connection source, but it is clunky, weird, and sometimes doesn’t work at all (PrimeOutput Errors Anyone?). If you do manage to get OLEDB configured and working, you still probably will be missing out on some performance gains compared to the method I am going describe.

Back to SSIS, using ODBC. It works. You have to create an ADO.NET ODBC connection, and use a DataReader source instead of an OLEDB source. Everything works fine, except one thing. It is slow! Further proof?

Ok, enough links. But if you do read those. SQL 2000 DTS is faster than using SQL 2005/2008 SSIS. WTF? The best I can guess is that it is because of the .NET wrapper around ODBC. DTS is using “native” ODBC.

So, now what? Do we want to use DTS 2000? No. What to do though?

Well, after a few days of research, and just exploring around, I think I have found a good answer.. Replace DB2 with SQL Server.. just kidding. Here is what you need to do:

Install the IBM Client Access tools. There is a tool called “Data Transfer From iSeries Server” which the actual exe is "C:Program FilesIBMClient Accesscwbtf.exe"


This little tool allows you to set up data transfers from your DB2 system to multiple output choices (Display, Printer, Html, and Text). We want to export to Text file on our filesystem. You have to set up a few options, like the FileName, etc. In “Data Options” you can set up a where statement, aggregates, etc.

If you output to a file, you can go into “Details” and choose a file type, etc. I use ASCII Text, and then in the  “ascii file details” I uncheck all checkboxes. You set up your options and then hit the “Transfer data from iSeries” button and it will extract data to the file you chose in the filename field. Pretty sweet. But this is a GUI, how can I use this tool? I am not going to run this manually. Well, you are in luck.

If you hit the “Save” button, it will save a .dtf file for you. If you open this .dtf file in a text editor, you will see all options are defined in text, in a faux ini style. Awesome, we are getting somewhere.

Now, how do you run this from a cmd prompt? Well, we are in luck again. Dig around in C:Program FilesIBMClient Access and you will find a little exe called “rxferpcb”


What this tool allows you to do, is pass in a “request” (aka a DTF file), and a userid/password for your DB2 system, and it will execute the transfer for you. Sweet!

Now what do we do from here?

1) Create an SSIS package

2) Create an execute process task, call rxferpcb and pass in your arguements.

3) Create a BULK Insert task, and load up the file that the execute process task created. (note you have to create a .FMT file for fixed with import. I create a .NET app to load the FDF file (the transfer description) which will auto create a .FMT file for me, and a SQL Create statement as well – saving time and tedious work)

Now take 2 minutes and think how you could make everything generic/expression/variable driven, and you have yourself a sweet little SSIS package to extract any table from DB2 to text and bulk load it.


What is so great about the .DTF files is that you can modify them with a text editor, which means you can create/modify them programmatically. Think – setting where statements for incremental loads, etc.



You can see from the two screenshots above, that is all there is. Everything is expression/variable drive. Full Load, and Incremental Load. Using nothing but .dtf files, rxferpcb, a little .NET app I wrote to automatically create DTF’s for incremental (where statements), truncate, delete, and bulk insert. I can load up any table from DB2 to SQL by just setting 3 variables in a parent package.

After you wrap your head around everything I just went over, then stop to think about this. The whole DTF/Data Transfer/etc is all exposed in a COM API for “Data Transfer Automation Objects’”

With that information at your disposal, you could really do some cool things. Why not just create a SSIS Source Adapter that wraps that COM object and dumps the rows directly to the SSIS Buffer, and then does an OLEDB insert or Bulk Insert using the SQL Server Destination?

I have found in my tests that I can load over 100 million row tables – doing a full complete load, in about 6-7
hours. 30-40 million row tables in 4 hours. 2 to extract, 2 to BULK insert. Again, your mileage may vary depending on the width of your table, network speed, disk I/O, etc. To compare, with ODBC, just pulling and inserting 2 million records was taking over 2 hours, I didn’t wait around for it to finish. Pulling 2 Million records with my method described in this blog takes about 3-5 minutes (or less!)

I know I have skimmed over most of the nitty gritty details in this post, but I hope to convey from a high level that ODBC/OLE DB just aren’t as fast as the method here, I have spent a lot of time over the last few weeks comparing and contrasting performance and manageability. Now, if I could just get that DB2 server upgrade to SQL Server 2008. . . Happy ETL’ing!

Business Intelligence Geeky/Programming SQLServerPedia Syndication

SSIS – Slowly Changing Dimensions with Checksum

In the Microsoft Business Intelligence world, most people use SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) to do their ETL. Usually with your ETL you are building a DataMart or OLAP Database so then you can build a multi-dimensional cube using SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) or report on data using SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS).

When creating the ETL using SSIS, you pull data from one or many sources (usually an OLTP database) and summarize it, put it into a snowflake or star schema in your DataMart. You build you Dimension tables and Fact tables, which you can then build your Dims and Measures in SSAS.

When building and populating your Dimensions in SSIS, you pull data from a source table, and then move it to your dimension table (in the most basic sense).

You can handle situations in different ways (SCD type 1, SCD type 2, etc) – basically, should you update records, or mark them as old and add new records, etc.

The basic problem with dimension loading comes in with grabbing data from the source, checking if you already have it in your destination dimension table, and then either inserting, updating, or ignoring it.

SSIS has a built in transformation, called the “Slowly Changing Dimension” wizard. You give it some source data, you go through some wizard screens, choosing what columns from your source are “business keys” (columns that are the unique key/primary key in your source table) and what other columns you want. You choose if the other columns are changing or historical columns, and then choose what should happen when data is different, update the records directly, or add date columns, etc.

Once you get through the SCD wizard, some things happen behind the scenes, and you see the insert, update transformations are there and things just “work” when you you run your package.

What most people fail to do, is tweak any settings with the automagically created transformations. You should tweak some things depending on your environment, size of source/destination data, etc.

What I have found in my experience though, is that the SCD is good for smaller dimensions (less than 10,000 records). When you get a dimension that grows larger than that, things slow down dramatically. For example, a dimension with 2 million, or 10 million or more records, will run really slow using the SCD wizard – it will take 15-20 minutes to process a 2 million row dimension.

What else can you do besides use the SCD wizard?

I have tried a few other 3rd party SCD “wizard” transformations, and I couldn’t get them to work correctly in my environment, or they didn’t work correctly. What I have found to work the best, the fastest and the most reliable is using a “checksum SCD method”

The checksum method works similarly to the SCD wizard, but you basically do it yourself.

First, you need to get a checksum transformation (you can download here:

The basic layout of your package to populate a dimension will be like this:

What you want to do, is add a column your dimension destination table called “RowChecksum” that is a BIGINT. Allow nulls, you can update them all to 0 by default if you want, etc.

In your “Get Source Data” Source, add the column to the result query. In your “Checksum Transformation”, add the columns that you want your checksum to be created on. What you want to add is all the columns that AREN’T your business keys.

In your “Lookup Transformation”, your query should grab from your destination the checksum column and the business key or keys. Map the business keys as the lookup columns, add the dimension key as a new column on the output, and the existing checksum column as a new column as well.

So you do a lookup, and if the record already exists, its going to come out the valid output (green line) and you should tie that to your conditional transformation. You need to take the error output from the lookup to your insert destination. (Think of it this way, you do a lookup, you couldn’t find a match, so it is an “error condition, the row doesn’t already exist in your destination, so you INSERT it).

On the conditional transformation, you need to do a check if the existing checksum == the new checksum. If they equal, you don’t need to do anything. You can just ignore that output, but I find it useful to use a trash destination transform, so when debugging you can see the row counts.

If the checksums don’t equal, you put that output the OLEDB Command (where you do your update statement).

Make sure in your insert statement, you set the “new checksum” column from the lookup output to the RowChecksum column in your table. In the update, you want to do the update on the record that matches your business keys, and set the RowChecksum to the new checksum value.

One thing you might also run into is this. If your destination table key column isn’t an identity column, you will need to create that new id before your insert transformation. Which probably consists of grabbing the MAX key + 1 in the Control Flow tab, dumping into a variable, and using that in the Data Flow tab. You can use a script component to add 1 each time, or you can get a rownumber transformation as well (Both the trash and rownumber transformations are on the SQLIS website – same as the checksum transformation)>

After getting your new custom slowly changing dimension data flow set up, you should see way better performance, I have seen 2.5 million rows process in around 2 minutes.

One other caveat I have seen, is in the Insert Destination, you probably want to uncheck the “Table Lock” checkbox. I have seen the Insert and Update transformations lock up on each other. Basically what happens is the run into some type of race condition. The cpu on your server will just sit low, but the package will just run forever, never error out, just sit there. It usually happens with dimension tables that are huge.

Like I said earlier, the checksum method is good for large dimension tables. I use the checksum method for all my dimension population, small or large, I find it easier to manage when everything is standardized.

By no means is this post an extensive list of everything that you would run across, but more of a basic overview of how it works with using the checksum method.

In any event, you can get huge performance gains by using the checksum method and not using the SCD Wizard that comes with SSIS, and you will also feel like you have more control of what is going on, because you will. Happy ETL’ing 🙂