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The problem with database monitoring

The reality regarding enterprise database monitoring and tuning.

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.

You go to school. You take classes in technology. You learn all sorts of interesting things – how caching works, how buffer pools work, how data should be loaded into a block, what a pointer is, how to do debugging, how to program, how to design databases, etc. Then you go out and get a job as a database administrator (DBA).

They send you to some more classes – all about database technology. You learn even more technology. At the end of a class you know how to monitor and tune a database. You know how to look at a dump and find obscure but useful things. You know how to reorganize data so that searches are fast. You find out how to add indexes. Now you are ready for your career as a database administrator.

Then, on your first day at work, you find out the truth. The truth is that you have been hired to do database tuning and monitoring on 500 databases. Handling 500 databases requires a far different approach then the carefully crafted things you learned at database administrator school. You have spent a lot of resources learning how to carefully handle a single database. Now, you are charged with managing far more databases than you had ever imagined.

It is kind of like learning how to ride a horse then being given a rope and being told to go round up a herd of 500 wild mustangs, on foot and with no help. There’s not really a relationship between what you have learned and what your real task is. There is a vague resemblance between the two, but not much more.

So, what’s the problem here? The problem is that you are not responsible for one database; you are responsible for 500 of them. You sit down to try to understand what is going on with one database and the phone rings with complaints from users trying to use five other databases. The problem is that there is no time to devote to any one database. Instead of doing database tuning, you end up doing database triage. And triage as a long-term solution is not a very satisfying answer.

How exactly do you approach the problem of looking at 500 databases? What exactly does database triage consist of? The answer is that a different style is required. With 500 databases, at best you look at the vital signs. You don’t have time for touchy-feely nice things like determining where an index would improve performance, for example.

So what are some of the vital signs of a database? Some of the things you take into account when looking at 500 data bases at the same time are:

  • Available space left;
  • Activity and response time when accessing data;
  • Number and frequency of deadly embraces;
  • Rate of growth of data;
  • Recent down times;
  • Causes of downtimes;
  • Reorganizations done;
  • Restarts needed;
  • Backups done;
  • Backup frequency; and
  • Whether transaction integrity has to be maintained, etc.

When a vital sign starts to show that the database is about to veer off the track, the database administrator is forewarned that action is about to happen. The time to take action is almost like a boxer in the ring. It is only during the lulls in action that there is the luxury of actually analyzing what is going on. 

This modern style of monitoring and managing the database environment is something that would turn the stomachs of the database professionals of yesteryear. The single most consistent assumption of database administration of yesterday was that there would always be time to do database monitoring and management properly. No one ever stopped to ask the questions – what if there is no time for properly monitoring and managing data? The reality of today in many shops is that there is no such time.

Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations. Bill can be reached at 303-681-6772.

Editor's Note: More articles, resources and events are available in Bill's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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