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The Little Computer Running SQL Server

The Little Computer Running SQL Server Underneath the Receptionist’s Desk…

I am continually surprised by the "lack of respect" or "lack of awareness" by organizations when it comes to SQL Server and the solutions they have implemented based on its technology. Surely the most important component of any organization is their data, their intellectual property. Which invariably is kept inside a database. And more often than not, in a SQL Server database.

So why don’t companies proactively ensure that these databases are "performant", are available, have been configured to industry best-practice? Why have there been no disaster recovery plan designed in the case of hardware failure or accidental data deletion? Why have they not evaluated the cost of implementing a high-availability solution versus the cost to the business if that "little computer running SQL Server underneath the receptionist’s desk" fails?

Organizations have no problems with insuring against fire or ensuring that their computers and telephones work efficiently. They have no problems with engaging a fire inspector to make sure that the fire extinguishers work. Or invest in soft skills training to ensure their sales team performs well. Yet they do not seem to want to ensure that their backup plans work, or that their databases perform well.

Furthermore, they are generally quite happy to let any contractor who puts "have experience with SQL Server" on their resume to configure and maintain their SQL Server environment. They certainly would not let anyone inspect a fire extinguisher! Nor let anyone who put "I can sell" coach their sales staff. I would hope ;o)

Let me illustrate my point by two engagements that I performed very recently.

In the first instance I was asked to troubleshoot performance problems for an international transport company. They had a SQL Server based solution that was being used across Australia, running on a quad-processor system with 8GB of RAM. Performance had been degrading over the last couple of months, to the point that they had to reboot the server every so often, typically during production hours, as it had simply "hung". (I might briefly add that they had not kept the error log files after each reboot, thus deleting vital troubleshooting information.) Otherwise the processor utilization maxed out at 100% consistently from 11AM to 2PM during week days. This amounted to a substantial loss in productivity and ultimately, I suspect a poor customer experience.

My initial reaction was "Why have we gotten to this stage? These problems could have been solved a month earlier, upon the problems first materializing."

In the second instance, I was asked to perform a "health-check", as they are commonly called, for a national media company. What had precipitated this health-check? Well as I discovered in the preliminary meeting, someone had accidentally deleted some data. When the IT staff attempted to perform a restore they discovered that their backups had "inexplicably stopped working" 3 months prior. Subsequently there was no confidence in how any of their SQL Server instances had been configured, how the backup strategy had been implemented, and so on.

Again, my initial reaction was "Why did it take such an occurrence for the organization to ensure that their SQL Server solution was optimal and robust?”

It would seem that the industry generally does not have a "healthy respect" or "awareness" of SQL Server’s technology and how to best implement a solution based on that technology. Have Microsoft lulled us into a false sense of security by espousing how easy SQL Server is to maintain and how well it performs "out of the box"? As I have often stated, Sybase DBAs seem to know Sybase better, and Oracle DBAs seem to know Oracle better compared to SQL Server DBAs. SQL Server has the lion’s share of the database engine market, and a corresponding demand for SQL Server "experts". The natural consequence of this demand is potentially hiring junior SQL Server DBAs by organizations (or forgoing them altogether) due to a lack of senior DBAs, or SQL Server DBAs not having enough time to skill themselves up in the latest technology or best practices.

Perhaps the Australian mantra "She’ll be right mate" (or your local equivalent) will suffice, until that "little computer running SQL Server underneath the receptionist’s desk" fails!

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Categories: Editorial