Saturday, January 25, 2014

DBA Rules of Thumb - Part 12 (Be a Packrat)

Today's post in the DBA Rules of Thumb series is short and sweet. It can be simply stated as "Keep Everything!"

Database administration is the perfect job for you if you are a pack rat.

It is a good practice to keep everything you come across during the course of performing your job. When you slip up and throw something away, it always seems like you come across a task the very next day where that stuff would have come in handy... but you you threw it out!

I still own some printed manuals for DB2 Version 2. They are packed up in a plastic tub in my garage, but I have them in case I need them.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

DBA Rules of Thumb - Part 11 (Invest in Yourself)

Most IT professionals continually look for their company to invest money in their ongoing education. Who among us does not want to learn something new — on company time and with the company’s money? Unless you are self-employed, that is!

Yes, your company should invest some funds to train you on new technology and new capabilities, especially if it is asking you to do new things. And since technology changes so fast, most everyone has to learn something new at some point every year. But the entire burden of learning should not be placed on your company.

Budget some of your own money to invest in your career. After all, you probably won’t be working for the same company your entire career. Why should your company be forced to bankroll your entire ongoing education? Now, I know, a lot depends on your particular circumstances. Sometimes we accept a lower salary than we think we are worth because of the “perks” that are offered. And one of those perks can be training. But perks have a way of disappearing once you are "on the job."

Some folks simply abhor spending any of their hard-earned dollars to help advance their careers. This is not a reasonable approach to your career! Shelling out a couple of bucks to buy some new books, subscribe to a publication, or join a professional organization should not be out of the reach of most DBAs.

A willingness to spend some money to stay abreast of technology is a trait that DBAs need to embrace. 

Most DBAs are insatiably curious, and many are willing to invest some of their money to learn something new. Maybe they bought that book on NoSQL before anyone at their company started using it. Perhaps it is just that enviable bookshelf full of useful database books in their cubicle. Or maybe they paid that nominal fee to subscribe to the members-only content of that SQL Server portal. They could even have forked over the $25 fee to attend the local user group.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that companies should not reimburse for such expenses. They should, because it provides for better-rounded, more educated, and more useful employees. But if your employer won’t pay for something that you think will help your career, why not just buy it yourself?

And be sure to keep a record of such purchases because unreimbursed business expenses can be tax deductible. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

DBA Rules of Thumb - Part 10 (Keep Up-to-Date)

If you wish to be a successful DBA for a long period of time, you will have to keep up-to-date on all kinds of technology — both database-related and other.

Of course, as a DBA, your first course of action should be to be aware of all of the features and functions available in the DBMSs in use at your site — at least at a high level, but preferably in depth. Read the vendor literature on future releases as it becomes available to prepare for new functionality before you install and migrate to new DBMS releases. The sooner you know about new bells and whistles, the better equipped you will be to prepare new procedures and adopt new policies to support the new features.

Keep up-to-date on technology in general, too. For example, DBAs should understand new data-related technologies such as NoSQL, Hadoop, and predictive analytics, but also other newer technologies that interact with database systems. Don’t ignore industry and technology trends simply because you cannot immediately think of a database-related impact. Many non-database-related “things” (for example, XML) eventually find their way into DBMS software and database applications.

Keep up-to-date on industry standards — particularly those that impact database technology such as the SQL standard. Understanding these standards before the new features they engender have been incorporated into your DBMS will give you an edge in their management. DBMS vendors try to support industry standards, and many features find their way into the DBMS because of their adoption of an industry standard.

As we've already discussed in this series, one way of keeping up-to-date is by attending local and national user groups. The presentations delivered at these forums provide useful education. Even more important, though, is the chance to network with other DBAs to share experiences and learn from each other’s projects.

Through judicious use of the Internet and the Web, it is easier than ever before for DBAs to keep up-to-date. Dozens of useful and informative Web sites provide discussion forums, script libraries, articles, manuals, and how-to documents. Consult my web site at for a regularly-updated  list of DBMS, data, and database-related Web resources.

Remember, though, this is just a starting point. There are countless ways that you can keep-up-to-date on technology. Use every avenue at your disposal to do so, or risk becoming obsolete.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

DBA Rules of Thumb - Part 9 (Call on Others for Help When Needed)

Use All of the Resources at Your Disposal

Remember that you do not have to do everything yourself. Use the resources at your disposal. We have talked about some of those resources, such as articles and books, Web sites and scripts, user groups and conferences. But there are others.

Do not continue to struggle with problems when you are completely stumped. Some DBAs harbor the notion that they have to resolve every issue themselves in order to be successful. Sometimes you just need to know where to go to get help to solve the problem. Use the DBMS vendor’s technical support, as well as the technical support line of your DBA tool vendors. Consult internal resources for areas where you have limited experience, such as network specialists for network and connectivity problems, system administrators for operating system and system software problems, and security administrators for authorization and protection issues.

As a DBA you are sometimes thought of as "knowing everything" (or worse a know-it-all), but it is far more important to know where to go to get help to solve problems than it is to try to know everything there is to know. Let's face it... it is just not possible to know everything about database systems and making them work with all types of applications and users these days.

When you go to user groups, build a network of DBA colleagues whom you can contact for assistance. Many times others have already encountered and solved the problem that vexes you. A network of DBAs to call on can be an invaluable resource (and no one at your company even needs to know that you called for outside help).

Finally, be sure to understand the resources available from your DBMS vendors. DBMS vendors offer their customers access to a tremendous amount of useful information. All of the DBMS vendors offer software support on their Web sites. Many of them provide a database that users can search to find answers to database problems. IBM customers can use IBMLink,[1] and both Oracle and Microsoft offer a searchable database in the support section of their Web sites. Some DBAs claim to be able to solve 95 percent or more of their problems by researching online databases. These resources can shrink the amount of time required to fix problems, especially if your DBMS vendor has a reputation of “taking forever” to respond to issues.

Of course, every DBA should also be equipped with the DBMS vendor’s technical support phone number for those tough-to-solve problems. Some support is offered on a pay-per-call basis, whereas other times there is a prepaid support contract. Be sure you know how your company pays for support before calling the DBMS vendor. Failure to know this can result in your incurring significant support charges.

[1].IBMLink is a proprietary network that IBM opens up only to its customers.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

DBA Rules of Thumb - Part 8 (Being Business Savvy)

Understand the Business, Not Just the Technology

Remember that being technologically adept is just a part of being a good DBA. Although technology is important, understanding your business needs is more important. If you do not understand the impact on the business of the databases you manage, you will simply be throwing technology around with no clear purpose.

Business needs must dictate what technology is applied to what database—and to which applications. Using the latest and greatest (and most expensive) technology and software might be fun and technologically challenging, but it most likely will not be required for every database you implement. The DBA’s tools and utilities need to be tied to business strategies and initiatives. In this way, the DBA’s work becomes integrated with the goals and operations of the organization.
The first step in achieving this needed synergy is the integration of DBA services with the other core components of the IT infrastructure. Of course, DBAs should be able to monitor and control the databases under their purview, but they should also be able to monitor them within the context of the broader spectrum of the IT infrastructure—including systems, applications, storage, and networks. Only then can companies begin to tie service-level agreements to business needs, rather than technology metrics.

DBAs should be able to gain insight into the natural cycles of the business just by performing their job. Developers and administrators of other parts of the IT infrastructure will not have the vision into the busiest times of the day, week, quarter, or year because they are not privy to the actual flow of data from corporate business functions. But the DBA has access to that information as a component of performing the job. It is empowering to be able to understand business cycle information and apply it on the job.

DBAs need to expand further to take advantage of their special position in the infrastructure. Talk to the end users — not just the application developers. Get a sound understanding of how the databases will be used before implementing any database design. Gain an understanding of the database’s impact on the company’s bottom line, so that when the inevitable problems occur in production you will remember the actual business impact of not having that data available. This also allows you to create procedures that minimize the potential for such problems.

To fulfill the promise of business/IT integration, it will be necessary to link business services to the underlying technology. For example, a technician should be able to immediately comprehend that a service outage to transaction X7R2 in the PRD2 environment means that regional demand deposit customers cannot access their accounts. See the difference?

Focusing on transactions, TP monitors, and databases is the core of the DBA’s job. But servicing customers is the reason the DBA builds those databases and manages those transactions. Technicians with an understanding of the business impact of technology decisions will do a better job of servicing the business strategy. This is doubly true for the DBA’s manager. Technology managers who speak in business terms are more valuable to their company.

Of course, the devil is in the details. A key component of realizing effective business/IT integration for DBAs is the ability to link specific pieces of technology to specific business services. This requires a service impact management capability—that is, analyzing the technology required to power each critical business service and documenting the link. Technologies exist to automate some of this through event automation and service modeling. Such capabilities help to transform availability and performance data into detailed knowledge about the status of business services and service-level agreements.

Today’s modern corporations need technicians who are cognizant of the business impact of their management decisions. As such, DBAs need to get busy transforming themselves to become more business savvy — that is, to keep an eye on the business impact of the technology under their span of control.