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DBA Corner

DBA Corner focuses on issues of interest to data architects, database analysts and database administrators. Issues addressed by the column include data modeling and database design, database implementation, DBA practices and procedures, performance management and tuning, application development, optimization techniques, data governance, regulatory compliance with regard to data, and industry trends.



Recounting the evolution of IBM's relational database technology DB2, Craig S. Mullins goes back a full 3 decades in his latest column, starting with the wild and woolly 1980s and ending with DB2 10 and 11 for z/OS as the currently supported versions of DB2, which have added important new functionality.

Posted September 10, 2014

Programs that read database data can access numerous rows and are therefore susceptible to concurrency problems. To get around this issue, most major RDBMS products support read-through locks, also known as "dirty read" or "uncommitted read," to help overcome concurrency problems. When might you want to consider using dirty reads in your applications?

Posted August 05, 2014

Lists help us to remember, impose order upon tasks, and provide guidance. Some lists have taken on great importance in the world and in our lives. The Bill of Rights is such a list. So is the Ten Commandments. But although we use lists to administer, program, and maintain our databases, there really is no overarching list of "things you should (or should not) do" to ensure an effective, accurate, well-designed database. So here is the list of Ten Database Commandments.

Posted July 03, 2014

Good data quality starts with metadata. Accurate data definitions are required in order to apply the controls for compliance to the correct data. Without proper metadata definitions, it is impossible to apply regulatory compliance to data.

Posted June 11, 2014

Recursive SQL can be very elegant and efficient. However, because of the difficulty developers can have understanding recursion, it is sometimes thought of as "too inefficient to use frequently." But, if you have a business need to walk or explode hierarchies in your database, recursive SQL will likely be your most efficient option.

Posted May 08, 2014

Driving a wide range of applications, from operational applications such as fraud detection to strategic analysis such as customer segmentation, advanced analytics goes deeper than traditional business intelligence activities into the "why" of the situation, and delivers likely outcomes.

Posted April 04, 2014

Database disaster recovery must be an integral component of your overall business recovery plan. Just because your organization has not yet experienced a disaster, or is not in a high-risk area, does not absolve you from the need for contingency planning. Here is what all DBAs should do to be prepared.

Posted March 12, 2014

Metadata is required to make data usable by applications, yet many data professionals do not understand or simply ignore metadata management. Just think about the metadata you must manage on your iPod—or whatever MP3 player you use—to be able to successfully select the music you want to hear.

Posted February 10, 2014

2013 saw its fair share of important data-related acquisitions. Key players like Oracle, IBM and SAP were all busy with data-related acquisitions. Last year also saw the announcement and release of a lot of great new DBMS technology, too. Let's look back over the most significant data and database-related events of the previous year.

Posted January 07, 2014

DB2 11 for z/OS brings with it a bevy of interesting and useful new features. They range the gamut from development to admin­istration to performance to integration with big data. Even if your company won't be migrating right away, now that DB2 11 is out in the field and available, the time has come for all DB2 users to take some time to learn what this latest and greatest version of DB2 can do.

Posted December 04, 2013

Although the concept of NoSQL is relatively new, some of the players have actually been around for a while. Yet, the concept of what NoSQL means continues to change. With all that in mind, let's take a look at the world of NoSQL.

Posted November 13, 2013

A successful DBA must understand application development and the issues involved in programming and design. Here are some things that every DBA must know about application development and the design projects of their organization.

Posted October 09, 2013

DBAs need to make many different types of changes to a database over its lifetime. Some will be simple and easy to implement, others much more difficult and complex. It is the DBA's job to understand the best way to implement any type of database change, but often, simple changes become more difficult in the real world. Database change management tools help to make this job easier and is one of the first tools acquired by many organizations when they implement a database of any size.

Posted September 11, 2013

Just about every company with a DBMS has that binder full of corporate and/or IT standards. That one over there in the corner with the cobwebs on it — the one that you only use when you need an excuse to avoid work. Okay, well, maybe it's not quite that bad. Your standards documents could be on the company intranet or some other online mechanism (but chances are there will be virtual cobwebs on your online standards manuals, too).

Posted August 07, 2013

Perhaps the most common question I am asked by readers is "How can I become a DBA?" The question is actually not as simple as it seems and there are many different aspects to the answer. Sometimes it is an application programmer who wants to become a DBA. Sometimes a DBA for one DBMS wants to support a different DBMS; for example, a SQL Server DBA wants to move to become an Oracle DBA. And other times someone with no IT background at all asks the question. The answer is different for all of these folks.

Posted July 09, 2013

Although storage management can be an afterthought for the DBA, it really shouldn't be. Storage issues are vitally important and unless managed appropriately, it can be very costly. The cost of managing storage can be as much as 10 times higher than the initial cost of acquiring the storage—and the growth rate for disk storage was 37% between 1996 and 2007. Even so, it is common for storage-related issues to be relegated to the backburner by DBAs, but every database professional should understand modern storage basics.

Posted June 13, 2013

Data is not sedentary. Once data has been created, organizations tend to move it around to support many different purposes—different applications, different geographies, different users, different computing environments, and different DBMSs. Data is copied and transformed and cleansed and duplicated and stored many times throughout the organization. Different copies of the same data are used to support transaction processing and analysis; test, quality assurance, and operational systems; day-to-day operations and reporting; data warehouses, data marts, and data mining; and distributed databases. Controlling this vast sea of data falls on the DBA who uses many techniques and technologies to facilitate data movement and distribution.

Posted May 09, 2013

"Big data" and the impact of analytics on large quantities of data is a persistent meme in today's Information Technology market. One of the big questions looming in IT departments about big data is what, exactly, does it mean in terms of management and administration. Will traditional data management concepts such as data modeling, database administration, data quality, data governance, and data stewardship apply in the new age of big data? According to analysts at Wikibon, big data refers to datasets whose size, type and speed of creation make it impractical to process and analyze with traditional tools . So, given that definition, it would seem that traditional concepts are at the very least "impractical," right?

Posted April 10, 2013

When data professionals think about regulatory compliance we tend to consider only data in our production databases. After all, it is this data that runs our business and that must be protected. So we work to implement database auditing to know who did what to which data when; or we tackle database security and data protection initiatives to protect our data from prying eyes; or we focus on improving data quality to ensure the accuracy of our processes.

Posted March 14, 2013

Enterprise developers these days are usually heads down, in the trenches working on in-depth applications using Java or .NET with data stored in SQL Server or Oracle or DB2 databases. But there are other options. One of them is FileMaker, an elegant database system and development platform that can be used to quickly build visually appealing and robust applications that run on Macs, Windows PCs, smartphones, and iPads.

Posted February 13, 2013

Each new year, this column looks back over the most significant data and database-related events of the previous year. Keeping in mind that this column is written before the year is over (in November 2012) to meet publication deadlines, let's dive into the year that was in data.

Posted January 03, 2013

A proper database design cannot be thrown together quickly by novices. A practiced and formal approach to gathering data requirements and modeling data is mandatory. This modeling effort requires a formal approach to the discovery and identification of entities and data elements. Data normalization is a big part of data modeling and database design. A normalized data model reduces data redundancy and inconsistencies by ensuring that the data elements are designed appropriately.

Posted December 06, 2012

Every organization that manages data using a DBMS requires a database administration group to ensure the effective use and deployment of the company's databases. And since most modern organizations of every size use a DBMS, most organizations have DBAs, or at least people who perform the on-going maintenance and optimization of the database infrastructure.

Posted November 13, 2012

As businesses push to reduce the data latency between analytical systems and operational systems, data warehouses begin to take on more of the character of a transactional system. For a data warehouse to deliver near real-time information, the choices generally are to update the warehouse more frequently or access data directly from operational systems. Either way, the push to reduce latency changes the nature of database performance to support the data warehouse. The main reason we created data warehouses in the first place was to separate resource-intensive analytical processing from shorter duration, but very frequent transaction processing. As the two worlds now come back together, the churn pressure on the database system can be significant.

Posted October 10, 2012

If you've worked with relational database systems for any length of time, you've probably participated in a discussion (argument?) about the topic of this month's column, surrogate keys. A great debate rages within the realm of database developers about the use of "synthetic" keys. And if you've ever Googled the term "surrogate key," you know the hornet's nest of opinions that swirls around on the topic. For those who haven't heard the term, here is my attempt at a quick summary: A surrogate key is a generated unique value that is used as the primary key of a database table; database designers tend to consider surrogate keys when the natural key consists of many columns, is very long, or may need to change.

Posted September 11, 2012

It is impossible to have missed the sweeping changes being thrust upon the data world due to regulatory compliance. But even if you've noticed, chances are that the sheer volume of regulations was too mind-boggling to fully digest. Compliance starts with the CEO, but it works its way down into the trenches, and impacts database administration. With that in mind, this month's column will offer a brief introduction to the regulatory landscape and its impact on database administration.

Posted August 09, 2012

Although data integrity is a pervasive problem, there are some data integrity issues that can be cleaned up using a touch of SQL. Consider the common data entry problem of extraneous spaces in a name field. Not only is it annoying, sometimes it can cause the system to ignore relationships between data elements.

Posted July 11, 2012

Unless you plan for and issue regular COMMITs in your database programs, you will be causing locking problems. It is important for every programmer to issue COMMIT statements in all application programs where data is modified (INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE). A COMMIT externalizes the modifications that occurred in the program since the beginning of the program or the last COMMIT. A COMMIT ensures that all modifications have been physically applied to the database, thereby ensuring data integrity and recoverability. Failing to code COMMITs in a data modification program is what I like to call "Bachelor Programming Syndrome" — in other words, fear of committing.

Posted June 13, 2012

Every now and then some sage consultant will offer advice like "Large tables should be partitioned" or "Be sure to use static SQL for your applications with high volume transaction workloads." But how useful is this advice? What do they mean by large and high volume? Terms such as these are nebulous and ever changing. Just what is a large database today?

Posted May 09, 2012

An important aspect of database security is designing your applications to avoid SQL injection attacks. SQL injection is a form of web hacking whereby SQL statements are specified in the fields of a web form to cause a poorly designed web application to dump database content to the attacker. Stories abound in the news where SQL injection was used for nefarious purposes. Several high-profile cases over the past few years impacted government websites, Microsoft in the U.K., a Swedish election, PBS (the Public Broadcasting System), and Lady Gaga's website (among many others).

Posted April 11, 2012

As a DBA, it is almost inevitable that you will change jobs several times during your career. When making a job change, you will obviously consider requirements such as salary, bonus, benefits, frequency of reviews, and amount of vacation time. However, you also should consider how the company "treats" their DBAs. Different organizations place different value on the DBA job. It is imperative to your career development that you scout for progressive organizations that understand the complexity and ongoing learning requirements for the position.

Posted March 07, 2012

Many types of data change over time, and different users and applications have requirements to access data at different points in time. A traditional DBMS stores data that is implied to be valid at the current point-in-time, it does not track the past or future states of the data. For some, the current, up-to-date values for the data are sufficient. But for others, accessing earlier versions of the data is needed. Temporal support makes it possible to store different database states and to query the data "as of" those different states.

Posted February 09, 2012

At the outset of each new year, I devote an edition of my column to review the significant data and database-related events of the previous year. Of course, to meet my deadlines, the column is written before the year is over (this column is being written in November 2011), so please excuse any significant news that may have happened late in December.

Posted January 11, 2012

In a world replete with regulations and threats, organizations today have to go well beyond just securing their data. Protecting this most valuable asset means that companies have to perpetually monitor their systems in order to know who did exactly what, when and how - to their data.

Posted December 01, 2011

Being a successful database administrator requires far more than technical acumen and database knowledge. DBAs should be armed with a proper attitude as well as sufficient fortitude and personality before attempting to practice database administration. Gaining the technical know-how is important, yes, but there are many sources that offer technical guidance for DBAs. The non-technical aspects of DBA are just as challenging, though. So with that in mind, this month's column will offer 10 "rules of thumb" for DBAs to follow as they improve their soft skills.

Posted November 10, 2011

Every professional programmer (and DBA) should have a library of books on SQL fundamentals. There are many SQL titles to choose from, and a lot of them are very good. But this month's column will outline four SQL books that should be on every database professional's bookshelf.

Posted October 15, 2011

Cost containment is an important IT department goal in this day and age of financial austerity. Every decision regarding your computing environment must be weighed not only against the value it can deliver to your organization but also upon its cost to procure, implement, and maintain. If a positive return on investment cannot be rapidly delivered, then the software (or hardware) won't be adopted.

Posted September 14, 2011

Often, when the business of data management frustrates me, I look for inspiration in what may seem at first glance to be odd places. For instance, I think the Lewis Carroll "Alice in Wonderland" books offer sage advice for our particular industry.

Posted August 11, 2011

Simplification is important in today's era of increasing complexity and ever-changing software environments. A key component of simplification is to remember the basics and apply some elementary rules and practices to your database environment. Many problems arise because we don't keep track of the things most of us already know. I stumbled upon the idea for this month's column after recalling Malcolm Gladwell's excellent business book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. In this book, Gladwell offers up case studies and examples depicting the benefit of our "adaptive unconscious" - a powerful innate ability that provides us with instant and sophisticated information.

Posted July 07, 2011

The DBA, often respected as a database guru, is just as frequently criticized as a curmudgeon with technical knowledge but limited people skills. Most programmers have their favorite DBA story. You know, those anecdotes that begin with "I had a problem ..." and end with "... and then he told me to stop bothering him and read the manual." DBAs do not have a warm and fuzzy image. This may have something to do with the nature and scope of the job. The DBMS spans the enterprise, effectively placing the DBA on call for the applications of the entire organization. Database issues can require periods of quiet reflection and analysis to resolve, so DBAs generally do not want to be disturbed. But their quiet time is usually less than quiet; constant interruptions to answer questions and solve problems are a daily fact of life.

Posted June 08, 2011

Design reviews are an important facet of the system development lifecycle for database applications. It is during the design review that all aspects of the database and application code are reviewed for efficiency, effectiveness, and accuracy. It is imperative that all database applications, regardless of their size, are reviewed to assure that the application was design properly, efficient coding techniques were used, and the database is accessed and modified correctly and efficiently. The design review is an important process for checking the validity of design decisions and correcting errors before applications and databases are promoted to production status.

Posted May 12, 2011

What will you do when you find out you're about to acquire or consolidate with another firm or division? Are you aware of the risks you may be inheriting? What data is going to demand the highest availability? What IT regulations will you have to address and how do you know if existing controls already address them? Here are 10 "data health" checks you can conduct to answer help these questions before giving a green light to an M&A or consolidation.

Posted April 05, 2011

One of the ongoing goals of database administration is to minimize downtime and improve availability. If the DBMS is down, data cannot be accessed. If the data is not available, applications cannot run. And if your applications cannot run, your company is losing business. Lost business translates into lower earnings and perhaps even a lower stock valuation for your company. These are all detrimental to the business and therefore, the DBA is called upon to do everything in his or her power to ensure that databases are kept online and operational.

Posted March 09, 2011

One of the most fertile grounds for disagreement between database professionals is the appropriate usage of views. Some analysts promote the liberal creation and usage of views, whereas others preach a more conservative approach. When properly implemented and managed, views can be fantastic tools that help to ease data access and simplify development. Although views are simple to create and implement, few organizations take a systematic and logical approach to view creation. And therein lies the controversy. A strategic and reasonable policy guiding the creation and maintenance of views is required to avoid a muddled and confused mish-mash of view usage. Basically, views are very useful when implemented wisely, but can be an administrative burden if implemented without planning.

Posted February 02, 2011

As my regular readers know, toward the end of each year I devote an edition of my column to review the significant data and database-related events of the past year. Of course, to meet my deadlines, the column is written before the year is over (this column is being written in November 2010), so please excuse any significant news that may have happened late in the year!

Posted January 07, 2011

Assuring optimal performance of database applications starts with coding properly formulated SQL. Poorly written SQL and application code is the cause of most performance problems. As much as 75% of poor relational performance is caused by "bad" SQL and application code. But writing efficient SQL statements can be tricky. This is especially so for programmers new to a relational database environment or those who have never been trained to properly write SQL.

Posted November 30, 2010

SQL is the lingua franca for modifying and reading database data and any DBA worth his (or her) paycheck should be proficient in writing SQL queries. But SQL is a flexible and feature-rich language, so there are always things that can be learned - even by senior technicians. As such, this month's column discusses several interesting SQL queries that you can put in your bag of tricks for future use.

Posted November 09, 2010

If you are a DBA, or a database performance analyst, chances are that you deal with performance-related issues regarding your database systems every day of the week. But have you ever stopped for a moment and tried to define what you mean when you say "database performance"? Doing so can be a worthwhile exercise, if only to organize your thoughts on the matter. Think about it; don't we need a firm definition of database performance before we can attempt to manage the performance of our databases?

Posted October 12, 2010

Database systems require data files to store the data under management. These files, or data sets, reside on storage media. So storage management should be a key part of the database operations required of a database administrator (DBA). Unfortunately, storage is sometimes relegated to an afterthought; after all, don't we have storage administrators who deal with our disk arrays? But this way of thinking is misguided. To succeed, database administration and storage administration need to cooperate and work together.

Posted September 07, 2010

What is the most difficult thing about acquiring enterprise software? If you are like most IT technicians, your first inclination was probably something related to cost justification. Let's face it, enterprise software typically is very expensive ... and eventually, something will need to bring costs more in line with value.

Posted August 10, 2010

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