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23 Posts authored by: datachick

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In previous posts, I've written about making the best of your accidental DBA situation.  Today I'm going to give you my advice on the things you should focus on if you want to move from accidental DBA to full data professional and DBA.

 

As you read through this list, I know you'll be thinking, "But my company won't support this, that's why I'm an accidental DBA." You are 100% correct.  Most companies that use accidental DBAs don't understand the difference between developer and DBA, so many of these items will require you to take your own initiative. But I know since you are reading this you are already a great candidate to be that DBA.

 

Training

 

Your path to becoming a DBA has many forks, but I'm a huge fan of formal training. This can be virtual or in-person. By virtual I mean a formal distance-learning experience, with presentations, instructor Q&A, hands-on labs, exams and assignments. I don't mean watching videos of presentations. Those offerings are covered later.

 

Formal training gives you greater confidence and evidence that you learned a skill, not that you only understand it. Both are important, but when it comes to that middle-of-the-night call alerting you that databases are down, you want to know that you have personal experience in bringing systems back online.

 

Conferences

Conferences are a great way to learn, and not just from invited speakers. Speaking with fellow attendees, via the hallway conferences that happen in conjunction with the formal event,  gives you the opportunity to network with people who boast a range of skill levels. Sharing resource tips with these folks is worth the price of admission.

 

User Groups and Meetups

I run the Toronto Data Platform and SQL Server Usergroup and Meetup, so I'm a bit biased on this point. However, these opportunities to network and learn from local speakers are often free to attend.  Such a great value! Plus, there is usually free pizza. Just saying. You will never regret having met other data professionals in your local area when you are looking for you next project.

 

Online Resources

Online videos are a great way to supplement your formal training. I like Pluralsight because it's subscription-based, not per video. They offer a free trial, and the annual subscription is affordable, given the breadth of content offered.

 

Webinars given by experts in the field are also a great way to get real-world experts to show and tell you about topics you'll need to know. Some experts host their own, but many provide content via software vendor webinars, like these from SolarWinds.

 

Blogs

Blogs are a great way to read tips, tricks and how tos. It's especially important to validate the tips you read about. My recommendation is that you validate any rules of thumb or recommendations you find by going directly to the source: vendor documentation and guidelines, other experts, and asking for verification from people you trust. This is especially true if the post you are reading is more than three months old.

 

But another great way to become a professional DBA is to write content yourself.  As you learn something, get hands-on experience using it, write a quick blog post. Nothing makes you understand a topic better than trying to explain it to someone else.

 

Tools

I've learned a great deal more about databases by using tools that are designed to work with them. This can be because the tools offer guidance on configuration, do validations and/or give you error messages when you are about to do something stupid.  If you want to be a professional DBA, you should be giving Database Performance Analyzer a test drive.  Then when you see how much better it is at monitoring and alerting, you can get training on it and be better at databasing than an accidental DBA with just native database tools.

 

Labs

The most important thing you can do to enhance your DBA career is to get hands-on with the actual technologies you will need to support. I highly recommend you host your labs via the cloud. You can get a free trial for most. I recommend Microsoft Azure cloud VMs because you likely already have free credits if you have an MSDN subscription. There's also a generous 30-day trial available.


I recommend you set up VMs with various technologies and versions of databases, then turn them off.  With most cloud providers, such as Azure, a VM that is turned off has no charge except for storage, which is very inexpensive.  Then when you want to work with that version of software, you turn on your VM, wait a few minutes, start working, then turn it off when you need to move on to another activity.

 

The other great thing about working with Azure is that you aren't limited to Microsoft technologies.  There are VMs and services available for other relational database offerings, plus NoSQL solutions. And, of course, you can run these on both Windows and Linux.  It's a new Microsoft world.

 

The next best thing about having these VMs ready at your fingertips is that you can use them to test new automation you have developed, test new features you are hoping to deploy, and develop scripts for your production environments.

 

Think Like a DBA, Be a DBA

The last step is to realize that a DBA must approach issues differently than a developer, data architect, or project manager would. A DBA's job is to keep the database up and running, with correct and timely data.  That goal requires different thinking and different methods.  If you don't alter your problem-management thinking, you will likely come to different cost, benefit, and risk decisions.  So think like a DBA, be a DBA, and you'll get fewer middle-of-the-night calls.

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In my previous posts, I shared my tips on being an Accidental DBA - what things you should focus on first and how to prioritize your tasks.  Today at 1PM CDT, Thomas LaRock, HeadGeek and Kevin Sparenberg, Product Manager, will be talking about what Accidental DBAs should know about all the stuff that goes on inside the Black Box of a database.  I'm going to share with you some of the other things that Accidental DBAs need to think about inside the tables and columns of a database.

 

I'm sure you're thinking "But Karen, why should I care about database design if my job is keeping databases up and running?"  Accidental DBAs need to worry about database design because bad design has significant impacts on database performance, data quality, and availability. Even though an operational DBA didn't build it, they get the 3 AM alert for it.

 

Tricks

People use tricks for all kinds of reasons: they don't fully understand the relational model or databases, they haven't been properly trained, they don't know a feature already exists, or they think they are smarter than the people who build database engines. All but the last one are easily fixed.  Tricky things are support nightmares, especially at 3 AM, because all your normal troubleshoot techniques are going to fail.  They impact the ability to integrate with other databases, and they are often so fragile no one wants to touch the design or the code that made all these tricks work. In my experience, my 3 AM brain doesn't want to see any tricks.

 

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Tricky Things

Over my career I've been amazed by the variety and volume of tricky things I've seen done in database designs.  Here I'm going to list just 3 examples, but if you've seen others, I'd love to hear about them in the comments. Some days I think we need to create a Ted Codd Award for the worst database design tricks.  But that's another post...

 

Building a Database Engine Inside Your Database

 

You've seen these wonders…a graph database build in a single table.  A key-value pair (or entity attribute value) database in a couple of tables. Or my favourite, a relational database engine within a relational database engine.  Now doing these sorts of things for specific reasons might be a good idea.  But embracing these designs as your whole database design is a real problem.  More about that below.

 

Wrong Data Types

 

One of the goals of physical database design is to allocate just the right amount of space for data. Too little and you lose data (or customers), too much and performance suffers.  But some designers take this too far and reach for the smallest one possible, like INTEGER for a ZIPCode.  Ignoring that some postal codes have letters, this is a bad idea because ZIPCodes have leading zeros.  When you store 01234 as an INTEGER, you are storing 1234.  That means you need to do text manipulation to find data via postal code and you need to "fix" the data to display it.

 

Making Your Application Do the Hard Parts

It's common to see solutions architected to do all the data integrity and consistency checks in the application code instead of in the database.  Referential integrity (foreign key constraints), check constraints, and other database features are ignored and instead hundreds of thousands of lines of code are used to ensure these data quality features. This inevitably leads to data quality problems.  However, the worst thing is that these often lead to performance issues, too, and most developers have no idea why.

Why Do We Care?

 

While most of the sample tricks above are the responsibility of the database designer, the Accidental DBA should care because:

 

  • DBAs are on-call, not the designers
  • If there are Accidental DBAs, it's likely there are Accidental Database Designers
  • While recovery is job number one, all the other jobs involve actually getting the right data to business users
  • Making bad data move around faster isn't actually helping the business
  • Making bad data move around slower never helps the business
  • Keeping your bosses out of jail is still in your job description, even if they didn't write it down

 

But the most important reason why production DBAs should care about this is that relational database engines are optimized to work a specific way - with relational database structures.  When you build that fancy Key-Value structure for all your data, the database optimizer is clueless how to handle all the different types of data. All your query tuning tricks won't help, because all the queries will be the same.  All your data values will have to be indexed in the same index, for the most part.  Your table sizes will be enormous and full table scans will be very common.  This means you, as the DBA, will be getting a lot of 3 AM calls. I hope you are ready.

 

With applications trying to do data integrity checks, they are going to miss some. A database engine is optimized to do integrity checks quickly and completely. Your developers may not.  This means the data is going to be mangled, with end users losing confidence in the systems. The system may even harm customers or lead to conflicting financial results.  Downstream systems won't be able to accept bad data.  You will be getting a lot of 3 AM phone calls as integration fails.

 

Incorrect data types will lead to running out of space for bigger values, slower performance as text manipulation must happen to process the data, and less confidence in data quality.  You will be getting a lot of 3 AM and 3 PM phone calls from self-serve end users.

 

In other words, doing tricky things with your database is tricky. And often makes things much worse than you anticipate.

 

In Thwack Camp today, sqlrockstar Thomas and Kevin will be covering the mechanics of databases and how to think about troubleshooting all those 3 AM alerts.  While you are attending, I'd like you to also think about how design issues might have contributed to that phone call.  Database design and database configurations are both important.  A great DBA, accidental or not, understands how all these choices impact performance and data integrity.

 

Some tricks are proper use of unique design needs. But when I see many of them, or over use of tricks, I know that there will be lots and lots of alerts happening in some poor DBA's future.  You should take steps to ensure a good design lets you get more sleep.  Let the database engine do what it is meant to do.

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In my previous post, I wrote about becoming an Accidental DBA whether or not you had that title formally.  I described the things a Minimalist DBA should focus on before jumping into performance tuning or renaming that table with the horribly long name (RETAIL_TRANSACTION_LINE_ITEM_MODIFIER_EVENT_REASON I <3 you.)   In today's post I want to cover how you, personally, should go about prioritizing your work as a new Accidental DBA.  You

 

  Most accidental DBAS perform firefighter-like roles: find the fire, put it out, rush off to the next fire and try to fight it as well. Often without the tools and help they need to prevent fires. Firefighting jobs are tough and exhausting.  Even in IT.  But they never allocate time to prevent fires, to maintain their shiny red fire trucks, or to practice sliding down that fire pole.

 

How to Prioritize your Accidental DBA Work

 

  1. Establish a good rule of thumb on how decisions are going to be made.  On a recent project of mine, due to business priorities and the unique type of business, we settled on Customer retention, legal and application flexibility as our priorities.  Keep our customers, keep our CIO out of jail, and keep in business. Those may sound very generic, but I've worked in businesses where customer retention was not a number one priority. In this business, which was membership and subscription based, we could not afford to lose customers over system issues.  Legal was there to keep our CIO and CEO out of jail (that's what ROI stands for: Risk of Incarceration).  Application flexibility was third because the whole reason for the project was to enable business innovation to save the company.

    Once you have these business priorities, you can make technical and architectural decisions in that context.  Customer retention sounds like a customer service issue, but it's a technical one as well.  If the system is down, customers can not be customers.  If their data is wrong, they can't be customers.  If their data is lost, they can't be customers. And so on.  Every decision we made first reflected back to those priorities.

  2. Prioritize the databases and systems.  Sure, all systems are important.  But they have a priority based on business needs. Your core selling systems, whatever they might be, are usually very high priority.  As are things like payroll and accounting.  But maybe that system that keeps track of whether employees want to receive a free processed meat ham or a chunk of processed cheese over the holidays isn't that high on the list.  This list should already exist,  at least in someone's head.   There might even be an auditor's report that says if System ABC security and reliability issues aren't fixed, someone is going to go to jail.  So I've heard.  And experienced. 

  3. Automate away the pain…and the stupid.  The best way to help honor those priorities is to automate all the things. In most cases, when an organization doesn't have experienced or dedicated DBAs, their data processes are mostly manual, mostly reactive, and mostly painful.  This is the effect of not having enough knowledge or time to develop, test, and deploy enterprise-class tools and scripts.  I understand that this is the most difficult set of tasks to put at a higher priority if all the databases are burning down around you. Yes, you must fight the fires, but you you must put a priority on fire reductions.  Otherwise you'll just be fighting bigger and more painful fires.

    Recovery is the most important way we fight data fires.  No amount of performance tuning, index optimization, or wizard running will bring back lost data.  If backups are manual, or automated and never tested, or restores are only manual, you have a fire waiting to happen. Head Geek Tom LaRock sqlrockstar says that "recovery is Job #1 for a DBA".  It certainly is important. A great DBA automates all backups and recovery. If you are recovering manually, you are doing it wrong.

      Other places where you want automation is in monitoring and alerting.  You want to know something is going on even before someone smells smoke, not when users are telling you the database is missing.  If your hard drive is running out of space, it is generally much faster to provision more resources or free up space than it is to recover a completely down system.  Eventually you'll want to get to the point where many of these issues are taken care of automatically.  In fact, that's why they invented cloud computing.

Get Going, the Alarm Bell is Ringing!

 

Become the Best DBA: A Lazy DBA. Lazy DBAs automate the stuff out of everything.  And lazy DBAs know that automating keeps databases from burning. They automate away the dumb mistakes that happen when the system is down, they automate test restores,  they automate away the pain of not knowing they missed setting a parameter when they hit ENTER.  They know how to get to the fire, they know what to do and they fix it.


The Best DBAs know when database are getting into trouble
, long before they start burning down.


The Best DBAs don't panic
.  They have a plan, they have tools, they have scripts.  When smoke starts coming out of the database, they are there.  Ready to fight that fire.  They are ready because they've written stuff down. They've trained.  They've practiced.  How many clicks would it take you to restore 10 databases?  Would you need to hit up Boogle first to find out how to do a point-in-time restore? Do you know the syntax, the order in which systems have to be restored? Who are the other people you have to work with to fix this fire?

 

As a new DBA, you should be working on automation every day, until all that work frees up so much of your time you can work on performance tuning, proper database design, and keeping your database fire truck shiny.

 

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Congratulations! You are our new DBA!

 

Bad news: You are our new DBA!

 

I'm betting you got here by being really great at what you do in another part of IT.  Likely you are a fantastic developer. Or data modeler.  Or sysadmin. Or networking guy (okay, maybe not likely you are one of those…but that's another post).  Maybe you knew a bit about databases having worked with data in them, or you knew a bit because you had to install and deploy DBMSs.  Then the regular DBA left. Or he is overwhelmed with exploding databases and needs help. Or got sent to prison (true story for one of my accidental DBA roles). I like to say that the previous DBA "won the lottery" because that's more positive than LEFT THIS WONDERFUL JOB BEHIND FOR A LIFE OF CRIME.  Right?

 

I love writing about this topic because it's a role I have to play from time to time, too.  I know about designing databases, can I help with installing, managing, and supporting them?  Yes. For a while.

 

Anyway, now you have a lot of more responsibility than just writing queries or installing Oracle a hundred times a week.  So what sorts of things must a new accidental DBA know is important to being a great data professional?  Most people want to get right in to finally performance tuning all those slow databases, right?  Well, that's not what you should focus on first.

 

The Minimalist DBA

 

  1. Inventory: Know what you are supposed to be managing.  Often when I step in the fill this role, I have to support more servers and instances that anyone realized were being used.  I need to know what's out there to understand what I'm going to get a 3 AM call for.  And I want to know that before that 3 AM call. 
  2. Recovery: Know where the backups are, how to get to them, and how to do test restores. You don't want that 3 AM call to result in you having to call others to find out where the backups are. Or to find out that that there are no backups, really.  Or that they actually are backups of the same corrupt database you are trying to fix.  Test that restore process.  Script it.  Test the script.  Often.  I'd likely find one backup and attempt to restore it on my first day of the job.  I want to know about any issues with backups right away.
  3. Monitor and Baseline: You need to know BEFORE 3 AM that a database is having problem. In fact, you just don't want any 3 AM notifications.  The way you do that is by ensuring you know not only what is happening right now, but also what was happening last week and last month.  You'll want to know about performance trends, downtime, deadlocks, slow queries, etc.  You'll want to set up the right types of alerts, too.
  4. Security: Everyone knows that ROI stands for return on investment.  But it also stands for risk of incarceration.  I bet you think your only job is to keep that database humming.  Well, your other job is to keep your CIO out of jail.  And the CEO.  Your job is to love and protect the data.  You'll want to check to see how sensitive data is encrypted, where the keys are managed and how other security features are managed.  You'll want to check to see who and what has access to the data and how that access is implemented.  While you are at it, check to see how the backups are secured.  Then check to see if the databases in Development and Test environments are secured as well.
  5. Write stuff down: I know, I know.  You're thinking "but that's not AGILE!"  Actually, it is.  That inventory you did is something you don't want to have to repeat.  Knowing how to get to backups and how to restore them is not something you want to be tackling at 3 AM.  Even if your shop is a "we just wing it" shop, having just the right amount of modeling and documentation is critical to responding to a crisis.  We need the blueprints more than just to build something. 
  6. Manage expectations: If you are new to being a DBA, you have plenty to learn, plenty of things to put in place, plenty of work to do.  Be certain you have communicated what things need to be done to make sure that you are spending time on the things that make the most sense.  You'll want everyone to love their data and not even have to worry that it won't be accessible or that it will be wrong.

 

These are the minimal things one needs to do right off the bat.  In my next post, I'll be talking about how to prioritize these and other tasks.  I'd love to hear about what other tasks you think should be the first things to tackle when one has to jump into a an accidental DBA role.

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Did you ever stop to think that you need to manage your database management data* just as well as you do your "regular" organizational data? That means you should be practicing what you preach.  There's a heap of clichés I can use here…and I probably will.

 

We've talked about Questions, Data and Getting to Answers in this series.  Now let's talk about how we need to administer all that data and answers.  We give our IT customers all kinds of advice on just how to do that…and yet way too many of us show them that we want them to do as we say, not as we do.

 

How do you collect all your database and systems data?  Do you use dozens of custom scripts and store your administration data in spreadsheets, XML files, CSVs and random tables across various servers and systems?  How do you protect that data?  Do you know if it contains sensitive data? Do your corporate attorneys?  Do you know where your most up-to-date copy of your resume is, right now? You might need it in a hurry.

 

  1. Follow your own security advice. That means not running monitoring and other data collection solutions as SA or Admin.  Using role-based, LDAP, or other more professional approaches to security.  It means securing all the data, especially when your database administration data includes sensitive data.  This is especially true when you are capturing queries and parameters.
  2. Don't spread data all around.  You need a well-managed, perhaps centralized point to track where and what your database admin data is.  If it is stuck in spreadsheets, random tables, proprietary data stores, XML files, CSVx, etc. you are going to have a very costly and difficult time getting answers. 
  3. Collect what you need, only when you need it. Just because you CAN collect some data, doesn't mean you need to collect it, nor does it mean you need to collect it many times over.  Barring legislative mandates to collect data, are you sure you need to collect it? An example is using a Profiler trace for every single event, all the time, instead of the ones need when you need it. Which leads us to the next tip…. 
  4. Know what is worth collecting. This means you need to understand what each systems meta data item represents. Is it all the statistics since the service last restarted? Since it was turned on? Just for the last 2 weeks? 2 Hours?  Does it really represent what the name says it does? Understanding the data requires training and learning.
  5. Set a good archiving strategy.  Sure, storage is free.  Except when it is not.  And collected data brings all kinds of expenses - security, archiving, backups, restoring, administering.
  6. Don't alert for every single event. Alert burn out is dangerous.  If you are getting too many alerts, you learn to snooze them or dismiss them without giving the serious ones the attention they deserve.  We've all done that. Don't be that guy whose phone is buzzing every 2 minutes with a new alert
  7. Change control/Configuration.  I see this one all the time.  IT staff that need change control and configuration control on customer systems seem to think they can manage their own data in a free-for-all-devil-may-care attitude.  And then they fail their customers by missing something important.  Or having bad data.  The saying that sends chills through my spine is "I only changed one simple thing, so I just promoted it into production."  And then for some weird reason ten systems went down in flames.
  8. Versioning. Trust me on this.  Your scripts are no different than other code. Some day you are going to want to roll back. Or you want to know why you are getting different data.  Or you'll want to know why the ten systems are going down in flames.
  9. Backups/Restores. Yes, the physics of data mean that sometimes hardware fails.  Or scripts. Or that "one small change" happens.  You'll want to have a backup handy for your database data, too.  It's not overkill; It's doing the right thing.
  10. Governance. All of these tips really come down to data governance for database data.  I know not everyone likes that term. You've told management you need certain rules in place for managing "real" data.  This is now your chance to dogfood your own rules.  And if tastes bad for you, it tastes bad for everyone else.  Nothing inspires IT teams to resist governance like governors who think they are above doing things they way they want everyone else to do their work.  Database management governance really just means administering your database data the same way you'd administer all your organization's other data.

 

 

So I'll leave you with this: Love your Database Data.  It's just as imporant as all the other corporate data you manage. You'll find your Answers there.  So you'll want to ensure your data is there when you need it.  The right data, at the right time.  Your boss needs to understand that.  And fund it. Trust me.

 

Questions for You

 

So what else do we need to do with metadata about databases and systems?  Do you think these are all really obvious things? Then why don't we see more shops managing their data this way?

 

*Yes, I used manage- there twice and data twice.  It's meta times two.  You are welcome.

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As you've been following along, I started this series with Data Is Power .In my original graphic I listed QUESTIONS, DATA, ANSWERS as the information pipeline we need to keep systems humming.  I provided a list of questions I might ask in Question Everything.  A few of you jumped in with some more great questions.

 

One comment provides the perfect segue to this week's post:

 

There is a mass of information, we try and teach our clients they do need to know everything - otherwise will just be swamped and noise. Only the essentials, this saves a lot of unnecessary data - hulattp

 

I think the key where here is know.  As a data evangelist I'm a bit biased towards making data-driven decisions.  That means collecting data even before I need it. Once an incident is underway we may not be able to understand what happened without the right data.  And that's the hard part: how do you know what data to collect before you know you will need it?

 

Types of Data Collections

 

  • Inventory data: The catalog of what resources our systems are using.  Which servers? Databases? SANs? Other Storage? Cloud resources? How long have they been around?
  • Log data: The who, when, where, how, why, to what, by what, from what data.
  • External systems conditions: What else was going on? Is it year end? Are there power outages? Was a new deployment happening? Patches? New users? All kinds of things can be happening outside our systems. What is the weather doing right now (really!)?
  • Internal conditions: What was/is resource utilization at a point in time? What is it normally? What is our baseline for those things?  What about for today/this month/this date/this day of week? What systems have the most pain points?

 

That's a lot of data.  Too much data for someone to know.  But having that raw data lets us answer some of the questions that we collected in Question Everything.

 

When we are diagnosing an issue (and batting away our Pointy-Haired Boss asking "how is it going?"), having that data is going to help.  Having historical data is going to help even more.  If production files are missing, we can replace them with a backup.  But if an automated process is deleting those files, we haven't fixed the problem. We've just entered into a whack-a-mole game with a computer.  And I know who is going to win that one.

 

So we need to find ways to make that data work for us.  But it can't do that if we aren't collecting it. And we can't do it if we rely on data about the system right now.

 

Data Timezones

 

The task we are doing also impacts the timeliness of the data we need.  There's a huge difference in what data we need depending on whether we are doing operational or remediation work. We don't just sit down and start pouring through all the data.  We need to use it to solve the problems (questions) we have right now. I think of these as time zones in the data.

 

ActivityData Time Zone
Operations (plate spinning)Now & Future
Diagnostics (firefighting, restoration)Recent and now
Strategic (process and governance)Recent and past

 

  • Keeping the plates spinning: Our normally job, running around keeping everything going like clockwork. Keeping the plates spinning so they don't break. I these cases, we want data that is looking forward.  We are looking for green across all our dashboards.  We want to know if a resource is having issues (disk space, timeouts, CPU utilization, etc.) We aren't looking back at what happened last week.  We won't actually have future data, but we can start predicting where problems are likely to pop up so that we can prioritize those activities.
  • Firefighting: Ideally, we want to know there's a fire long before the spark, but we don't always have that luxury.  We want to look at current data and recent data so that we know where to start saving systems (and sometimes even people).  We aren't here to redesign the building code or architectural practices.  We need to put out the fire and save production data. We need to get those systems plates back spinning. In database management, this might be rolling back changes, rebooting servers or restoring data.  It's fixing the problem and making safe the data. We get systems back up and running. We need data to confirm we've done that. Maybe we put in place some tactical changes to mitigate more 3 AM calls.  But we have to get up and do more plate spinning in another hour.
  • Strategic responses: We can't be firefighting all day, everyday.  Keeping those plates spinning means having time to make strategic responses. Changing how, when, where, why, and who does things.  Making improvements and keeping things going. This is where we really start mashing up the trends of the data collections.  What is causing us pain and therefore user pain? What is costing the company money? What is costing your manager money?

 

Questions for You

 

What other data time zone perspectives are there? Is there an International Date Line for data timezones?  What about a Daylight Saving Time scheme for these time zones? Do these time zones vary by job title?

 

Next week I'll talk about how these data collections and data timezones impact how we use the data and how we consume it. In other words, how we take raw data and make it powerful.

datachick

Question Everything...

Posted by datachick Feb 10, 2014

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In my last post, Data is Power, I talked about the need to bring data to decision makers to support your requests for more resources. We had a good discussion there about whether or not data is enough and what sorts of experiences people have had getting management to act.

 

I said that QUESTIONS lead to DATA which lead to ANSWERS.

 

Question Everything

 

This week I want to continue the discussion about what sorts of questions we should be asking ourselves and our servers.  I think great database administrators should have the minds of  3 year olds.  Well, not exactly, but in the sense of looking around and questioning everything. What is that? When? How? Why is that?

 

The key to a collaborative environment, though, is to question without judging.  Our attitudes should be about getting to why and therefore answers, not "whom to blame".

 

These, off the top of my head:

 

General inventory

  • How many servers is your team supporting?
  • What is the ratio of databases / instances to DBA?
  • How many instances?
  • How many databases?
  • How many tables?
  • How much data?
  • How often are backups taken?
  • How often are restores tested?
  • …I'm not going to list every database object, but you get the picture.

Performance

  • What queries run the slowest?  Why is that?
  • What queries run the most often?  The least? Why is that?
  • What databases lead to the greatest pain points? Why is that?
  • What queries have been changed the most over time? Why is that?
  • What hardware configurations have had the best performance? Why is that?
  • What query authors struggle the most with writing queries that "just work"? Why is that?
  • What applications have the worst performance? Why is that?
  • What applications and databases lead to the most on-call incidents? Why is that?
  • What applications and databases lead to the most after hours on-call incidents?

Data Integrity and Quality

  • What database design patterns have worked the best? Why is that?
  • What data has cost the organization the most? Why is that?
  • What data has the most pain points? Why is that?

 

As you can see, there are lots of questions and not a lot of answers here.  We'll get to that next week.  But for now, you can sort of see a pattern in the questions, right? Why is that?


What questions do you think we should be asking in managing databases?  Don't worry about whether the answers are hard to get -- asking the question is sometimes valuable enough.

 

Then next post in this series is about Data Time ZonesAnswers in Data: So Much Data...So Little Time...Data Time Zones

datachick

Data is Power

Posted by datachick Feb 3, 2014

QuestionsDataAnswersSmall.jpg

You have the power right at your fingertips.

 

With access to the right data your fingers can make positive changes for your organization. Chances are high that if you manage databases, servers, and other IT services you have access to the data you need to make things better for you, your company, and your customers.

 

I talk with many people who believe they have no influence in their organization. They stare at grey and dreary cubicle walls. Endless meetings. Missed deadlines. And worst of all they have lousy, weak, corporate coffee.  They feel as if nothing they do matters.

 

But that’s not true. Every role has value. Good ideas can, and do, come from anywhere and anyone. The power to make these good ideas become real is DATA. And where does good data come from? From GOOD QUESTIONS.  Good questions require GOOD ANSWERS, and that comes from GOOD DATA.

 

Are you getting what you need?

 

When you ask for more of something from management, but management doesn't bite, do you know one reason why? Because you didn't bring the RIGHT DATA to back up your requests.

 

Requests like these:

• We need more people

• We need to “find a new home” for Steven and Brian

• We need more training / team members need more training

• We need to be involved earlier in development projects

• We need to consolidate / need more hardware / new software

• We need to virtualize

• We need to standardize more / less

• We need stronger control / more flexibility

 

What data would you want to see if you were the pointy-haired boss and got these requests? If you have tried to use data previously, did it work? If not, do you know why?  Update: Post your questions to the next post in this series.

 

All great questions, and all the more reason why data is the most important asset we have.

 

If you are feeling stuck in your cube, a gold mine is only a few mouse clicks away...data can transform your role at work or in your life.

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