Monday, November 24, 2014

Peace, Prosperity and Happy Thanksgiving

Just a quick blog post today to wish all of my readers, wherever they live, peace and prosperity during this holiday season.

And to my readers in the USA, Happy Thanksgiving. You know what that means, right? Relatives, football, and a lot of food, including turkey!

It also means that we are about to "officially" start the holiday shopping season, which begins on Black Friday. Of course, anyone who has been out in the mall, or to any store really, knows that the holiday season started right after Halloween. But for most people it begins this week!

So, Happy Thanksgiving to the US folks... and peace, happiness and warm thoughts to all of you everywhere this week.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Database Basics for Beginners

Every now and then I get e-mail from readers of my blogs asking introductory/beginner questions about databases and DBMS. I cannot take the time to answer all of these e-mails in-depth, so I thought I blog a quick post with some good resources for folks.

I think a good place to start is an article I wrote several years ago now titled What is a Database? This article breaks down the benefits of a database, outlines the difference between a database and a DBMS, and provides some guidance for further reading (suggested books).

Other questions I am get asked frequently involve database administration. One is: What Does a DBA Do? Follow the link to find my answer to that question. Another is: how can I become a DBA? I wrote an article titled How to Become a DBA to answer that one. And finally, another frequent topic is: How many DBAs do I need? That is a tricky one, but I propose a framework to help answer that question in an article titled DBA Staffing Considerations.

I also get a lot of DB2 for z/OS questions. And I've written a book on that topic, plus a bunch of DB2 articles, too (all of which can be found here).

So I guess what I am saying here is to take a look at what is already "out there" to see if your questions can be answered on the web. But, please, keep the questions coming. If I do not answer your e-mail do not be discouraged. I do read most of them (unless it gets caught in my spam collector). Even if I do not have the time to respond, I keep track of what is asked and use it as input into my writing process... so you may see an answer pop up online in a blog, article, or column I write... eventually.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Building Appropriate DB2 Indexes

Perhaps the single most important thing that can be done to assure optimal DB2 application performance is creating correct indexes for your tables based on the queries used by your applications. Of course, this is easier said than done. But we can start with some basics. For example, consider the following SQL statement:

  WHERE   EMPNO = '000010'
  AND     DEPTNO =  'D01';

What index or indexes would make sense for this simple query? The short answer is “it depends.” But the more important answer is to understand what it depends upon! First, think about all of the possible indexes that could be created. Your first short list probably looks something like this:

  • Index1 on EMPNO
  • Index2 on DEPTNO
  • Index3 on EMPNO and DEPTNO
  • Index4 on DEPTNO and EMPNO

This is a good start and one of either Index3 or Index4 is probably the best. Either allows DB2 to use the index to immediately lookup the row or rows that satisfy the two simple predicates in the WHERE clause. Of course, if you already have a lot of indexes on the EMP table you might want to examine the impact of creating yet another index on the table. Factors to consider include:
  •  Modification impact: DB2 will automatically maintain every index that you create. This means that every INSERT and every DELETE to this table will cause data to be inserted and deleted not just from the table, but also from its indexes. And if you UPDATE the value of a column that is in an index, the index will also be updated. So, indexes speed the process of retrieval but slow down modification.
  • Importance of this particular query: The more important the query the more you may want to tune by index creation. For example, if you are coding a query that will be run every day by the CIO, you will want to make sure that it performs optimally. Who wants to risk a call from the CIO complaining about performance? So building indexes for that particular query is very important. On the other hand, a query for a low-level clerk may not necessarily be weighted as high, so that query may have to make due with the indexes that already exist. Of course, the decision depend on the importance of the application to the business – not just on the importance of the user of the application.
  • Columns in the existing indexes: If an index already exists on EMPNO or DEPTNO it might not be wise to create another index on the combination. However, it might make sense to change the other index to add the missing column. But not always because the order of the columns in the index can make a big difference depending on the query. For example, consider the following query:

        FROM     EMP
        WHERE    EMPNO = '000010'
        AND      DEPTNO >  'D01';

In this case, EMPNO should be listed first in the index. And DEPTNO should be listed second allowing DB2 to do a direct index lookup on the first column (EMPNO) and then a scan on the second (DEPTNO) for the greater-than. Furthermore, if indexes already exist for both columns (one for EMPNO and one for DEPTNO) DB2 potentially can use them both to satisfy this query so creating another index may not be necessary.

One final thought for today, and that is to build your indexes based on workload, not object by object. Many people make the mistake of just guessing as some indexes as they create tables for new projects. And sometimes this cannot be avoided because the SQL typically is not known before the database is created. But some of the guesses -- or maybe many of them -- are likely to be suboptimal at best, wrong at worst.

Indexes should be built to optimize access to data via your SQL queries. (Of course, there are indexes required to support RI and uniqueness, but let's leave them out of the discussion for the moment.) To properly create a set of indexes requires a list of the SQL to be used, an estimate of the amount of data in the table (and an estimate of column values if possible), an estimate of the frequency that each SQL statement will be executed, and the relative importance of each query. Only then can the delicate balancing act of creating the right indexes to optimize the right queries (most of the time) be attempted. If you are doing it any other way, you are doing it wrong.

Of course, there is much more to index design than we have covered so far. For example, you might consider index overloading to achieve index only access. If all of the data that a SQL query asks for is contained in the index, DB2 may be able to satisfy the request using only the index. Consider our previous SQL statement. We asked for LASTNAME and SALARY given information about EMPNO and DEPTNO.  And we also started by creating an index on the EMPNO and DEPTNO columns. If we include LASTNAME and SALARY in the index as well then we never need to access the EMP table because all of the data we need exists in the index. This technique can significantly improve performance because it cuts down on the number of I/O requests.

Keep in mind, though, that it is not prudent (or even possible) to make every query an index only access. This technique should be saved for particularly troublesome or important SQL statements. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

Removing Superfluous Spaces

We all can relate to dealing with systems that have data integrity problems. But some data integrity problems can be cleaned up using a touch of SQL. Consider the common data entry problem of extraneous spaces (or blanks) inserted into a name field. Not only is it annoying, sometimes it can cause the system to ignore relationships between data elements because the names do not match. For example, “Craig  Mullins” is not equivalent to “Craig Mullins”; the first one has two spaces between the first and last name whereas the second one only has one.

You can write an SQL UPDATE statement to clean up the problem, if you know how to use the REPLACE function. REPLACE does what it sounds like it would do: it reviews a source string and replaces all occurrences of a one string with another. For example, to replace all occurrences of Z with A in the string BZNZNZ you would code:


And the result would be BANANA. So, let’s create a SQL statement using REPLACE to get rid of any unwanted spaces in the NAME column of our EMPLOYEE table:

                  REPLACE(NAME, SPACE(1), '<>')
                  '><', SPACE(0))
                 '<>', SPACE(1));

"Wait-a-minute," you might be saying. "What are all of those left and right carats and why do I need them?"

OK, fair enough. Let’s explain how this works starting from the inside out. The inside REPLACE statement takes the NAME column and converts every occurrence of a single space into a left/right carat. The next REPLACE (working outward), takes the string we just created, and removes every occurrence of a right/left carat combination by replacing it with a zero length string. The final REPLACE function takes that string and replaces any left/right carats with a single space. The reversal of the carats is the key to removing all spaces except one – remember, we want to retain a single space anywhere there was a single space as well as anywhere that had multiple spaces. Try it, it works.

Of course, you can use any two characters you like, but the left and right carat characters work well visually. Be sure that you do not choose to use characters that occur naturally in the string that you are acting upon.

Finally, the SPACE function was used for clarity. You could have used strings encased in single quotes, but the SPACE function is easier to read. It simply returns a string of spaces the length of which is specified as the integer argument. So, SPACE(12) would return a string of twelve spaces.