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So you want to be a database administrator – Part II

Posted by rjssqlservernotes on September 27, 2010

Building software either as a programmer or as a DBA has, in my opinion, a common characteristic that drives most of us in the field; a passion for building things.  The creative aspects of the software industry are what have been my personal motivation for nearly two decades; the excitement during the design phase, the energy of the implementation phase, and the feeling of accomplishment in the rollout have fed my passion.  The variety of interests that I have enjoyed in the database industry have allowed me to experience the roles of database architect, production DBA, and performance optimization DBA; therefore, it is these specific roles and their responsibilities that I will address.  Again, my intent is to inspire and motivate readers who have an interest in becoming a DBA, but who may not have a thorough understanding of what the career choice entails.

Every industry has an entry-level position, as a DBA that position is the production DBA.  My nomenclature may be misleading, by production DBA I am not suggesting that an inexperienced DBA would be assigned responsibility for production systems instead I define a production DBA as that person who monitors, maintains, installs, backs up, restores, and applies patches to the database in the case of the entry-level DBA these tasks would be accomplished in the development and testing departments.  It is in this position with non-critical databases that a junior DBA will pay their dues.  The tasks to be performed reflect those that are performed on the production systems upon which the organization depends; however, a “learning moment” for the DBA in the development environment will only result in the exasperated yelps of the development staff not bring crisis to the business.

The responsibilities of a production DBA may be summarized as follows:

  • Monitoring the database includes checking the error and event logs, using PerfMon, Profiler, and other tools to ensure that the system is operating as it should, and responding to issues reported by users.  The primary goal of database monitoring is to ensure the availability and appropriate use of the database as such the DBA is proactive in monitoring the system to avoid any disruption of service.  SQL Server and the Windows operating system provide the DBA with sever tools for monitoring the database and the underlying operating system, in addition, there are numerous third-party applications available that provide an integrated view of the health of the systems.
  • Where monitoring the database is a real-time activity ensuring the availability and proper operation of the database, maintenance is the collection of tasks performed by the DBA to ensure that the database remains efficiently organized.  The maintenance tasks include the reorganization of indexes, data consistency checks, database log and filegroup management, capacity planning, and; arguably, user administration.
  • The production DBA is solely responsible for the availability and proper operation of the database, this responsibility has a direct and meaningful impact on the business wherein the database is often the heart of operations.  Therefore, a production DBA must absolutely control the direct manipulation of the data, changes to the underlying operating system, changes to the database system, or any changes to any other aspect of the database that may have a potential for causing service disruption.  Unfortunately, there are circumstances that require change to the database system such as Service Pack releases and upgrades of the database system or the operating system.  In these cases the production DBA must ensure that planning for any proposed change include significant testing prior to any changes being applied to the production systems.
  • Database backup and restore operations, in the case of catastrophic system failure, are the lifeline of the business.  The development and execution of a backup and restore strategy are, in my opinion, the most important responsibilities of a production DBA.  A database backup plan should be integrated with the operating system backup plan; that is, a full backup of the operating system should be incorporated into the database backup plan.  The database backup plan development is affected by many business variables including business continuity planning and cost; however, minimally, all data in the database should be backed-up within a business-defined interval with intermediate differential backups executed within the full-backup schedule.  Performing the backups is merely the beginning, a written restore plan is also required and must be practiced to ensure the consistency of the backup media, the process, and its execution in a simulated emergency.

Again, I do not intend for this list to be more than an introduction for those individuals who may be interested in a career as a production DBA.  Each topic discussed can and has, in many cases, been discussed in detail in other readily available publications including papers available on my Papers page.


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