Friday, July 25, 2014

Happy DBA Day!

Hey everybody, time to celebrate... today, July 25, 2014 is SysAdmin day! For the past 15 years, the last Friday in June has been set aside to recognize the hard work done by System Administrators. This is known as System Administrator Appreciation Day

As a DBA, I have regularly co-opted the day to include DBAs because, after all, we are a special type of system administrator -- the system we administer is the DBMS!

So if you are a SysAdmin, DBA, Network Admin, etc. have an extra cup of Joe and a donut or two. Hang up a sign on your cubicle telling people it is SysAdmin Day. And hopefully get a little respect and appreciation for all you do every day of the year!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

DB2 Health Checks - Part 1

Left to their own devices, DB2 databases and applications will accumulate problems over time. Things that used to work, stop working. This can happen for various reasons including the addition of more data, a reduction in some aspect of business data, different types of data, more users, changes in busy periods, business shifts, software changes, hardware changes… you get the idea.

And there is always the possibility of remnants from the past causing issues with your DB2 environment. Some things may have been implemented sub-optimally from the start, perhaps many years ago… or perhaps more recently. Furthermore, DB2 is not a static piece of software; it changes over time with new versions, features and functionality. As new capabilities are introduced, older means of performing similar functionality become suboptimal, and in some cases, even obsolete. Identifying these artifacts can be troublesome and is not likely to be something that a DBA will do on a daily basis.

Nonetheless, the performance and availability of your DB2 environment – and therefore the business systems that rely on DB2 – can suffer if you do not pay attention to the health and welfare of your DB2 databases and applications.

Health Checking Your DB2
The general notion of a health check is well known in the IT world, especially within the realm of DB2 for z/OS. The purpose of a DB2 health check is to assess the stability, performance, and availability of your DB2 environment. Health checks are conducted by gathering together all of the pertinent details about your DB2-based systems and reviewing them to ascertain their appropriateness and effectiveness. You may narrow down a health check to focus on specific aspects of your infrastructure, for example, concentrating on just availability and performance, or on other aspects such as recoverability, security, and so on.

At any rate, scheduling regular independent reviews of your DB2 environment is an important aspect of assuring the viability and robustness of your implementation. Simply migrating DB2 applications to production and then neglecting to review them until or unless there are complaints from the end users is not a best practice for delivering good service to your business. Just like a car requires regular maintenance, so too does your DB2 environment. Regular analysis and health check with an overall goal should of identifying weaknesses and targeting inefficiencies, can save your organization time and money, as well as reduce the daily effort involved in implementing and maintaining your DB2 applications.

Think about the health of your DB2 system the same way you think about your health. A regular health check helps to identify and eliminate problems. And it helps you to perform the daily operational tasks on your DB2 databases and applications with the peace of mind that only regular, in-depth, knowledgeable analysis can deliver.

Check Back Soon
Later in this series we'll uncover more aspects of health checking and look at some software that might be able to assist. So stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

DB2 Application Performance Management

Assuring optimal performance for database applications can be a tricky thing. In today's blog I ruminate on the high-level issues involved in optimizing your DB2 for z/OS applications.

Applications that access databases are only as good as the performance they achieve. And every user wants their software to run as fast as possible. As such, performance tuning and management is one of the biggest demands on the DBA’s time. When asked what is the single most important or stressful aspect of their job, DBAs typically respond "assuring optimal performance."  Indeed, a Forrester Research survey indicates that performance and troubleshooting tops the list of most challenging DBA tasks.

But when you are dealing with data in a database management system there are multiple interacting components that must be managed and tuned to achieve optimal performance. That is, every database application, at its core, requires three components to operate:
·  the system (that is, the DBMS itself, the network, and the O/S),
·  the database (that is, the DDL and database schema), and
·  the application (that is, the SQL and program logic).

Each of these components requires care and attention, but today I want to focus on the high-level aspects of performance management from the perspective of the application. Furthermore, I will discuss this in terms of DB2 for z/OS.

So where do we begin? For DB2, a logical starting point is with BIND Parameters. There are many parameters and values that must be chosen from and specified when you bind a DB2 application program. The vast array of options at our disposal can render the whole process extremely confusing -- especially if you don’t bind on a daily basis. And even if you do, some of the options still might be confusing if you rarely have to change them. You know what I’m talking about, parameters like ACQUIRE, RELEASE, VALIDATE, and DEGREE.

I will not delve into the myriad bind options and give you advice on which to use when. There are many articles and books, as well as the IBM DB2 manuals that you can use to guide you along that path. Suffice it to say, that there are some standard parameters and values that should be chosen most of the time in most situations. As such, a wise DBA group will set up canned routines for the programmers to use for compiling and binding their applications. Choices such as: CICS transaction, DB2 batch, and BI/analytical query can be presented to the developer and then, based on which of the various types of programs and environments that are available, the canned script can choose the proper bind options. Doing so can greatly diminish the problems that can be encountered when the "wrong" parameters or values are chosen at Bind time.

Before concluding this short section on Bind parameters I want to give one important piece of advice: In production, always Bind your plans and packages specifying EXPLAIN YES. Failing to do so means that access paths will be generated, but you will not know what they are. This is akin to blinding yourself to what DB2 is doing and it makes application performance tuning much more difficult.

Access Path Management

Bind and Rebind are important components to achieve optimal DB2 application performance. This is so because these commands are what determine the access paths to the data requested by your program. So it is vitally important that you create a strategy for when and how to Rebind your programs. There are several common approaches. The best approach is to Rebind your applications over time as the data changes. This approach involves some form of regular maintenance that keeps DB2 statistics up to date and formulates new access paths as data volumes and patterns change. More on this in a moment.

Other approaches include Rebinding only when a new version of DB2 is installed, or perhaps more ambitious, whenever new PTFs are applied to DB2. Another approach is to Rebind automatically after a regular period of time, whether it is days, weeks, months, or whatever period of time you deem significant. This approach can work if the period of time is wisely chosen based on the application data รข€“ but it still can pose significant administrative issues.

The final approach -- the worst of the bunch -- comes from the if it ain’t broke don’t fix it school of thought. Basically, it boils down to (almost) never rebinding your programs. This approach penalizes every program for fear that a single program (or two) might experience a degraded access path. Oh, the possibility of degraded performance is real and that is why this approach has been adopted by some. And it can be difficult to find which statements may have degraded after a Rebind. The ideal situation would allow us to review the access path changes before hand to determine if they are better or worse. But DB2 itself does not provide any systematic method of administering access paths that way. There are third party tools that can help you achieve this though.

Anyway, let’s go back to the best approach again, and that is to Rebind regularly as your data changes. This involves what is known as the three Rs: REORG, RUNSTATS, and Rebind. At any rate, your goal should be to keep your access paths up-to-date with the current state of your data. Failing to do this means that DB2 is accessing data based upon false assumptions.
By Rebinding you will generally improve the overall performance of your applications because the access paths will be better designed based on an accurate view of the data. And as you apply changes to DB2 (new releases/PTFs) optimizer improvements and new access techniques can be used. If you never Rebind, not only are you forgoing better access paths due to data changes but you are also forgoing better access paths due to changes to DB2 itself.
To adopt the Three R’s you need to determine when to REORG. This means looking at either RUNSTATS or Real-Time Statistics (RTS). So, perhaps we need 4 R’s:

  1. RUNSTATS or preferably, RTS
  2. REORG

But is this enough? Probably not because we need to review the access paths after rebinding to make sure that there are no rogue access paths. So, let’s add another R to Review the access paths generated by the REBIND. As we mentioned, the optimizer can make mistakes. And, of course, so can you. Users don't call you when performance is better (or the same). But if performance gets worse, you can bet on getting a call from irate users.

So we need to put in place best practices whereby we test Rebind results to compare the before and after impact of the optimizer’s choices. Only then can we assure that we are achieving optimal DB2 application performance.

Tuning the Code

Of course, everything we’ve discussed so far assumes that the code is written efficiently to begin with -- and that is a big assumption. We also need to make sure that we are implementing efficient application code. The application code consists of two parts: the SQL code and the host language code in which the SQL is embedded.

SQL is simple to learn and easy to start using. But SQL tuning and optimization is an art that takes years to master. Some general rules of thumb for creating efficient SQL statements include:
  • Let SQL do the work instead of the program. For example, code an SQL join instead of two cursors using program logic to join.
  • Simpler is generally better, but complex SQL can be very efficient.
  • Retrieve only the columns required, never more.
  • Retrieve the absolute minimum number of rows by specifying every WHERE clause that is appropriate.
  • When joining tables, always provide join predicates. In other words, avoid Cartesian products.
  • Favor using Stage 1 and Indexable predicates.
  • But favor Stage 2 predicates over application logic.
  • Avoid sorting (if possible) by creating indexes for ORDER BY and GROUP BY operations.
  • Avoid black boxes -- that is, avoid I/O routines that are called by programs instead of using embedded SQL.
  • Minimize deadlocks by updating tables in the same sequence in every program.
  • Issue data modification statements (INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE) as close as possible to the COMMIT statement as possible.
  • Be sure to build a COMMIT strategy into every batch program that changes data. Failing to COMMIT can cause locking problems.

Even if you follow the guidelines in this bulleted list, there will still be numerous opportunities for you to tune SQL for performance. To tune SQL you must be able to interpret the output of the access paths produced by EXPLAIN. This information is encoded in the plan tables. IBM offers Data Studio (as a free download) with a visual explain capability that can simplify this process. But you will also have to accumulate experience as to which SQL formulations work more efficiently than others. This skill will come with time and on-the-job learning.

Finally, some attention must be paid to the host language code. Host language code refers to the application programs written in C, COBOL, Java, Visual Basic or the programming language du jour. SQL statements are usually embedded into host language code and it is quite possible to have finely tuned SQL inside of inefficient host language code. And, of course, that would cause a performance problem.

Bottom Line

Although DBAs must understand all three aspects of database performance management concentrating on the application aspects of performance will most likely provide the most bang-for-the-buck. Of course, we have only touched the tip of the DB2 application performance iceberg today. But even this high-level view into application performance can serve as a nice starting place for tuning your DB2 applications.

Good luck with DB2 for z/OS and happy performance tuning! 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Database Versus DBMS

What is a database? I bet most people reading this blog post think that they know the answer to that question. But many of them would be wrong. DB2 is not a database, it is a DBMS, or Database Management System. You can use DB2 to create a database, but DB2, in and of itself, is not a database. Same goes for Oracle (which is a DBMS and a company) and SQL Server (just a DBMS).
So what is a database? A database is an organized store of data wherein the data is accessible by named data elements (for example, fields, records, and files). It does not even have to be computerized to be a database. The phone book is a database (Why do they still send out phone books? Does anyone even use them any more? Now I’m way off topic, so let’s get back on track.)
A DBMS is software that enables end users or application programmers to share data. It provides a systematic method of creating, updating, retrieving and storing information in a database. DBMSs also are generally responsible for data integrity, data access control, and automated rollback, restart and recovery.
In layman’s terms, you can think of a database as a filing system. You can think of the filing cabinet itself along with the file folders and labels as the DBMS. A DBMS manages databases. You implement and access database instances using the capabilities of the DBMS.
So, DB2 and Oracle and SQL Server and MySQL are database management systems. Your payroll application uses the payroll database, which may be implemented using DB2 or Oracle or…
Why is that important? If we do not use precise terms when we write, speak, and work confusion can result. And confusion leads to over budget projects, improperly developed systems, and lost productivity. So precision must be important to us.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Blog Recommendation: Essential SQL

Hello, regular readers... just a short post today with a blog recommendation for anybody who uses SQL or wants to learn how to use SQL.

The name of the blog is Essential SQL by Kris Wenzel.

I happened upon the blog a couple of weeks ago and it offers up some nice, educational content on SQL. It is not specific to DB2, but the material is high-level and easily convertible to a DB2 environment.

The material on the blog starts out very basic with no assumption of any prior SQL knowledge... and builds up over time adding on details. Learn as much, or as little as you'd like.

Hope you find the blog to be useful (either for yourself, or to pass along to others)...

Happy SQL coding!