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Breaking Down Barriers to Application Performance


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Database professionals have a unique role within IT, but often don’t get the credit they deserve. Maybe it’s because of their analytical nature. Maybe it’s because they fit somewhere between developers and operations. Or, quite frankly, maybe it’s because most others don’t truly understand the work they do.

Whatever the reason, database administrators (DBAs) frequently sit in a corner alone, siloed from the rest of IT, with their potential for impact ignored. Organizations in which this happens—which is most companies—are typically characterized by an attitude that the role of the DBA is to simply keep things running. The order from the top is “Just make sure the database doesn’t break anything, OK?” This is a missed opportunity and a waste of a very valuable resource that hampers IT organizations everywhere. 

How so?

Consider the fact that the database is the heart of every application. After all, the main function of the majority of business applications is to store and retrieve data from a database. From CRM to email to HR applications, when you really think about it, they’re simply front ends for databases.

Next, consider that the database is often the most complex part of any application. In fact, for most non-database IT professionals, databases are black boxes. Few understand database wait times, locking/blocking, execution plans, and all that happens inside a database management system. While it is widely recognized that databases are hard to scale and maintain, there is little understanding of the complexities that come with changing workloads, growth, data security, resiliency, consistency, and performance, and that these functions are every bit as important as backups and upgrades.

For these reasons, it should not come as a surprise that, according to Gleanster Research, up to 80% of application performance issues are related to the database.

Against this backdrop, the great need to break down the barrier between DBAs and the rest of IT—especially systems teams—becomes readily apparent.

How can this be accomplished?

The first step is to ensure that all of IT, but especially database and systems teams, jointly operate under an application-centric model in which application performance is top of mind for everyone. Application performance is one of the most important keys to the overall success of any business. A recent SolarWinds survey found that 93% of business end users say application performance and availability affect their ability to do their job, with 62% describing it as absolutely critical.

Trends such as cloud and DevOps are already beginning to force the entire industry to pay more attention to end user-facing application performance and to eliminate the silos between DBAs, developers, and systems teams. The key to success here is having a common language or view of application performance. This gives everyone a shared understanding of overall performance, as well as the role played by each element of the application stack, especially the database.

This is evident to anyone familiar with the evolution of computing. During the past few decades in multiple technologies, from object-oriented development to web services to cloud computing, there has been a constant march to distributed systems where the interaction between systems has become more important than the performance of the individual components.

True, systems are only as strong as their weakest link, but overall system performance is increasingly impacted by the interaction between elements of the stack. Many of these elements are becoming more ephemeral in nature, easily replaced, scaled, and restarted in a virtual world—except for databases, which, as noted, remain the heart of applications.

Instead of spending time finding problems in isolation, application performance management today requires a complete view across the stack. This reduces finger-pointing and enables different teams to work together toward solving problems rather than just excluding their particular area of competency from responsibility.

When an IT organization achieves effective collaboration, every member develops an appreciation for the importance of the database in overall system performance and recognizes that the DBA has one of the most complex combinations of responsibilities on the team.

It’s time to come together and work to build better applications and better IT organizations. It’s time to eliminate the barriers and make everyone a contributor to application performance.


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