The Seven Deadly Habits of a DBA
... and how to cure them

by Paul Vallee

Calling widespread bad habits in database administration "deadly" may seem extreme. However, when you consider the critical nature of most data, and just how damaging data loss or corruption can be to a corporation, "deadly" seems pretty dead-on.

Although these habits are distressingly common among DBAs, they are curable with some shrewd management intervention. What follows is a list of the seven habits we consider the deadliest, along with some ideas on how to eliminate them.

Habit #1. THE LEAP OF FAITH: "We have faith in our backup."

Blind faith can be endearing, but not when it comes backing up a database. Backups should be trusted only as far as they have been tested and verified.

Cures:

Habit #2. GREAT EXPECTATIONS: "It will work the way we expect it to. Let's go ahead."

Although not user friendly in the traditional sense, Oracle is very power-user friendly— once you've been working with it for a while, you develop an instinct for the way things "should" work. Although that instinct is often right, one of the most dangerous habits any DBA can possess is an assumption that Oracle will "just work" the way it should.

Cures:

Habit #3. LAISSEZ-FAIRE ADMINISTRATION: "We don't need to monitor the system. The users always let us know when something's wrong."

If you depend on the users to inform the DBA team that there's a problem, it may already be too late.

Cures:

Habit #4. THE MEMORY TEST: "We'll remember how this happened, and what we did to get things going again."

It may seem impossible that a DBA team would forget a massive procedure that took them weeks to get right, and yet it happens all the time. In order to prevent recurring mistakes and take advantage of gained experience, documentation is essential.

Cures:

Habit #5. THE BLAME GAME: "Don't look at me, it's the developer's fault that SQL is in production"

Some DBAs have a real "us versus them" mentality when it comes to developers in their organization. They see themselves not as facilitators helping the developers develop quality code from a database standpoint, but rather as guardians who prevent poor-quality code from making it into production. This might seem like semantics, but a confrontational relationship between developers and DBAs results in a lack of developer initiative and significant slowdowns in release cycles.

Cures:

Habit #6. THE SOLO ACT: "I know what I'm doing and don't need any help."

Database administration is increasingly complex and even the most senior DBAs can't possibly know every last detail. DBAs have different specialties, which need to be culled and utilized. When DBAs feel like they know, or should know, everything, they don't ask questions and miss out on valuable knowledge they could be gaining from others.

Cures:

Habit #7. TECHNO-LUST: "Things would work so much better if only we had..."

DBAs are often on top of the latest technology, which can help them do a superlative job. But when the desire for new technology causes DBAs to recommend unnecessary hardware purchases or software add-ons, costs tend to skyrocket quickly—as do problems.

Cures:

Whether it takes a twelve-step program or one tiny adjustment, all of these deadly DBA habits can be kicked. Of course, the first step is recognizing the problem. By starting with this list and doing a careful inventory of the successes and failures in your team's database administration, you'll be well on your way to finding a cure.