This content is part of the Buyer's Guide: Determine which database performance tools best mitigate bottlenecks

Tips on selecting the right database performance management tools

Not every tool can resolve every problem, so understanding the cause of the bottleneck can help you determine which of these database performance management tools to consider.

Less-than-optimal performance of database applications can have a huge impact on every facet of your business. To avoid that, database performance management tools can help improve the response time and efficiency of your databases and the applications that run on them, while also eliminating unplanned downtime. But deciding which vendors and technologies make the most sense for your organization can be confusing and difficult.

Many organizations examine database performance management tools to remedy a specific, recurring problem that's affecting usability, responsiveness and user satisfaction. But not every tool can resolve every problem, so understanding the high-level cause of the problem at hand can help to narrow down the list of tools to be considered.

It's possible to make the software evaluation and selection process manageable, however. Here, we show you how to simplify it; in addition, we examine products from nine of the leading database performance management vendors to help you determine which is right for you.

Determine where the problem exists

The first step of a problem-driven product evaluation is to determine whether the problem involves the database management system (DBMS) itself; the structure of the database, such as index storage and organization; or inefficient SQL code. Once you do that, you can limit your database performance tool evaluation to the appropriate software category. This can significantly reduce the amount of effort, as many specific tools and some vendors can be eliminated based on the functionality offered.

For example, if you have database fragmentation problems, you should look at products from BMC Software, CA Technologies, Quest and Idera Inc. For DB2 for z/OS users, BMC's Performance for DB2 Databases and CA's Database Analyzer and Rapid Reorg can be used to identify and optimize disorganized database structures. For Oracle; Microsoft SQL Server; and DB2 for Linux, Unix and Windows -- or LUW -- users, Quest's Toad offers database fragmentation remediation, as does Idera's DBArtisan. (Editor's note: On Nov. 1, 2016, Francisco Partners and Elliott Management Corp. completed their acquisition of the Dell Software Group and relaunched Quest as a new standalone company.)

For database system monitoring, consider products from Quest, SolarWinds, Bradmark Technologies and Idera. Database administrators (DBAs) can use Quest's Foglight for Cross-Platform Databases to proactively monitor their database, SQL query, storage and virtualization performance. SolarWinds Database Performance Analyzer is a database performance monitoring and analysis product for DBAs and application teams that provides wide support for different database management system platforms. Bradmark's flagship offering, Surveillance DB, is a heterogeneous, agent-driven database performance monitor that provides visibility to performance metrics for multiple DBMSes from a single console. Idera's multi-platform database performance monitoring tool is the Precise Application Performance Platform. Although Precise is predominantly an application performance management tool, it has specialized database performance monitoring options for Oracle, DB2, SQL Server and SAP Adaptive Server Enterprise with SAP HANA support forthcoming. For DB2 for z/OS database system monitoring, consider IBM's OMEGAMON, BMC's MainView and CA's SYSVIEW Performance Management Option for DB2 for z/OS. 

For SQL monitoring and analysis, consider such products as Oracle Enterprise Manager and IBM Data Server Manager with Query Monitor. Microsoft also has SQL performance management options for its SQL Server databases. In the DB2 for z/OS realm, in addition to the IBM option, BMC's Performance for DB2 SQL suite of tools and CA's Detector and Plan Analyzer products can be used for capturing -- identifying SQL as it runs -- and tuning SQL statements. For Oracle and SQL Server, products such as Idera's DB Optimizer and Quest Toad's SQL optimization functionality can be used to increase the performance of your SQL code across the major relational DBMSes.

Of course, sometimes you won't know the underlying cause of database performance problems. In such cases, the best approach is to begin with a database system monitor. Most database performance vendors offer such tools, and many include rudimentary database fragmentation analysis and SQL monitoring capabilities with them.

Proactively select tools to meet your needs

But rather than acquiring database performance management tools after a problem occurs in your production systems, a better approach is to proactively purchase a set of tools to match your needs.

That typically requires the selection of one or more tools in each of the three categories mentioned above. The next two aspects to be discussed -- DBMS support and heterogeneous management -- will determine whether a single tool per category will suffice, or multiple ones will be required. If you want to improve the performance of your DB2 for z/OS environment, for example, a tool that supports only Oracle or SQL Server will be of no help with that.

Most DBMS providers sell database performance management tools for their specific DBMSes, such as IBM Data Server Manager or Oracle Enterprise Manager and its add-on performance packs. This makes it easier for them to integrate their database performance tools with the performance-focused features of their particular DBMS. Such integration can help DBAs utilize the features of a DBMS to its fullest. DBMS vendors also typically support new database releases more quickly than third-party tool vendors. In addition, using tools from the DBMS vendor makes it easier to communicate with its technical support staff when problems do arise.

On the other hand, additional functionality is often available from third-party tool providers. In many cases, innovative features are added first in third-party tools, and only later, if ever, to the ones offered by DBMS vendors. For example, the ability to reorganize database structures without taking the data offline was pioneered by third-party vendors like CA and BMC. Heterogeneous management, meaning the ability to work with more than one DBMS, is another area where third-party database performance management tools usually outperform the DBMS vendors' tools.

Integration can be a consideration with third-party tools, too. Most third-party vendors offer database performance tools across each of the three product categories, and it's common for their tools to be integrated in such a way that a database system monitor finds a problem with SQL code and hands it off to a SQL analysis product for tuning.

Match database tools to your DBAs

Organizations that do support multiple DBMS platforms will need to decide on their heterogeneous performance management approach. How this is tackled will depend heavily on the setup and expectations of the DBA group. One approach to database administration is to hire specialty DBAs who focus exclusively on a single DBMS. In this case, Oracle DBAs manage only Oracle Database instances, DB2 DBAs manage only DB2 databases and so on, regardless of the number of different DBMS platforms.

With specialty DBAs, it makes sense to choose best-of-breed database performance management tools for each DBMS without regard to the other DBMS platforms that are supported. Beyond the DBMS vendors' own tools, for example, CA and BMC provide strong support of DB2 for z/OS across their product lines, Bradmark's Surveillance DB provides robust support of SAP ASE and Idera has a solid history of supporting SQL Server in all of its products.

Another approach is to require DBAs to manage more than one DBMS. This approach can benefit from heterogeneous performance tools that mask the differences between database systems behind a single user interface, allowing a DBA to more easily manage multiple database implementations. For example, Quest's Toad and Foglight tools, SolarWinds Database Performance Analyzer, and Idera's DBArtisan and DB Optimizer products operate with a similar interface across multiple platforms.

A third, mixed approach relies on specialty DBAs as primary on their platform of expertise, with backup DBAs that can tackle simpler administration and performance management duties cross-platform. In this case, a mixed software strategy makes sense. Specialty DBAs will want tools with in-depth platform capabilities, whereas DBAs who work with cross-platform databases will want tools that work similarly for different DBMSes.

Heterogeneous management requirements usually mean working with a third-party vendor, but not always. For mixed-database organizations with a significant Oracle Database footprint, it makes sense to consider Oracle Enterprise Manager, which supports DBMSes other than Oracle -- though usually not with the same depth. Be cautious in your evaluation, though. Oracle Enterprise Manager does more than database performance management, such as database navigation and change management. And just because it offers support for a non-Oracle DBMS, that doesn't mean its database performance management functionality is supported.

General recommendations

When evaluating heterogeneous database performance tools, it's important to understand how each vendor packages its products. A separate installation and executable can be required for each DBMS vendor that you wish to support, even if the product name is the same. Contrast that approach with a single installation and executable that can be used to manage more than one DBMS from the same dashboard. It's obviously easier to support the latter; it's also easier for DBAs to share such a tool.

As you conduct your product search and evaluation, also keep in mind that the breadth of support for functionality can vary across database platforms. A tool that can be used to monitor SQL queries, set alerting thresholds and automatically take corrective actions for one DBMS might only be able to handle the first two tasks for a different DBMS.

Although there are numerous types of database performance products available from a multitude of vendors, it's possible to knit together a comprehensive set of tools for most database environments. Armed with a sound understanding of your particular DBMSes and requirements, and the roadmap provided in this series, you can create a robust infrastructure for monitoring, managing and tuning your database systems and applications. 

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