Mirroring: what happens if principal loses contact with both mirror and wittness?

Imagine a database mirroring setup where you have two LANs with a WAN link in between. Let’s call them site A and site B. Say that principal is currently in site A, and both mirror and witness are in site B. I.e., we are running database mirroring with a witness, and assuming we are running safety FULL (synchronous), we have auto-fail over.

Now, what is really fail over when it comes to mirroring? the simple answer is that the mirror will finish the recovery process (UNDO) and make the database available. So, what if the mirror and witness becomes isolated from the principal? In out setup, this would happen is site A is disconnected from site B. Well, the fail-over protocol is as follows:

If the mirror cannot contact the principal, it asks the witness if it has contact with the principal. If the witness responds and says it doesn’t have contact with the principal, then they consider this a quorum. They are in majority and fail over occurs. I.e., the mirror will make the database available (and essentially becomes the principal).

But, think about the poor principal now. It is isolated and knows nothing about what happens at the other end. The only logical thing to do is to make the database inaccessible. If that didn’t happen, then we would have a case where both sites had the database available, and we wouldn’t want that!

This is nothing new, and it is clearly stated in Ron Talmage’s great whitepaper on mirroring: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc917680.aspx.

This is easy to test. Setup mirroring (you can even do it between three instances in the same OS). Make sure you are running safety full and have a wittness. Now you check what Windows process ID the principal has:


Based on above, you now use Task Manage to kill the *other* two SQL Servers. Make sure that SQL Server Agent isn’t running for those two, else agent will start those SQL Servers again. Management Studio will now show the database as “In Recovery”, and if you try to access it, for instance from a query window, you get below error:

Msg 955, Level 14, State 1, Line 1
Database Adventureworks2008 is enabled for Database Mirroring,
but the database lacks quorum: the database cannot be opened.
Check the partner and witness connections if configured.

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