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Database Administration: Creating the Database Environment

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Establishing a usable database environment requires a great deal of skill, knowledge, and consideration. This chapter will outline the principles involved in establishing a usable database environment.

One of the primary tasks associated with the job of DBA is the process of choosing and installing a DBMS. Unfortunately, many business executives and IT professionals without database management background assume that once the DBMS is installed, the bulk of the work is done. The truth is, choosing and installing the DBMS is hardly the most difficult part of a DBA’s job. Establishing a usable database environment requires a great deal of skill, knowledge, and consideration. This chapter will outline the principles involved in establishing a usable database environment.

Defining the Organization’s DBMS Strategy

The process of choosing a suitable DBMS for enterprise database management is not as difficult as it used to be. The number of major DBMS vendors has dwindled due to industry consolidation and domination of the sector by a few very large players.

Yet, large and medium-size organizations typically run multiple DBMS products, from as few as two to as many as ten. For example, it is not uncommon for a large company to use IMS or IDMS and DB2 on the mainframe, Oracle and MySQL on several different UNIX servers, Microsoft SQL Server on Windows servers, as well as pockets of other DBMS products such as Sybase, Ingres, Adabas, and PostgreSQL on various platforms, not to mention single-user PC DBMS products such as Microsoft Access, Paradox, and FileMaker. Who chose to install all these DBMSs and why?

Unfortunately, often the answer is that not much thought and planning went into the decision-making process. Sometimes the decision to purchase and install a new DBMS is driven by a business need or a new application. This is reasonable if your organization has no DBMS and must purchase one for the first time. This is rarely the case, though. Regardless of whether a DBMS exists on-site, a new DBMS is often viewed as a requirement for a new application. Sometimes a new DBMS product is purchased and installed without first examining if the application could be successfully implemented using an existing DBMS. Or, more likely, the DBAs know the application can be implemented using an existing DBMS but lack the organizational power or support to reject a new DBMS proposal.

There are other reasons for the existence of multiple DBMS platforms in a single organization. Perhaps the company purchased a commercial off-the-shelf application package that does not run on any of the current DBMS platforms. Sometimes the decision to buy a new DBMS is driven by the desire to support the latest and greatest technology. For example, many mainframe shops moving from a hierarchic (IMS) or CODASYL (IDMS) database model to the relational model deployed DB2, resulting in an additional DBMS to learn and support. Then, when client/server computing became popular, additional DBMSs were implemented on UNIX, Linux, and Windows servers.

Once a DBMS is installed, removal can be difficult because of incompatibilities among the different DBMSs and the necessity of converting application code. Furthermore, when a new DBMS is installed, old applications and databases are usually not migrated to it. The old DBMS remains and must continue to be supported. This complicates the DBA’s job.

So what should be done? Well, the DBA group should be empowered to make the DBMS decisions for the organization. No business unit should be allowed to purchase a DBMS without the permission of the DBA group. This is a difficult provision to implement and even more difficult to enforce. Business politics often work against the DBA group because it frequently possesses less organizational power than other business executives.

Choosing a DBMS

The DBA group should set a policy regarding the DBMS products to be supported within the organization. Whenever possible, the policy should minimize the number of different DBMS products. For a shop with multiple operating systems and multiple types of hardware, choose a default DBMS for the platform. Discourage deviation from the default unless a compelling business case exists—a business case that passes the technical inspection of the DBA group.

Most of the major DBMS products have similar features, and if the feature or functionality does not exist today, it probably will within 18 to 24 months. So, exercise caution before deciding to choose a DBMS based solely on its ability to support a specific feature.

When choosing a DBMS, it is wise to select a product from a tier-1 vendor as listed in Table 2.1. Tier 1 represents the largest vendors having the most heavily implemented and supported products on the market. You cannot go wrong with DB2 or Oracle. Both are popular and support just about any type of database. Another major player is Microsoft SQL Server, but only for Windows platforms. DB2 and Oracle run on multiple platforms ranging from mainframe to UNIX, as well as Windows and even handheld devices. Choosing a DBMS other than these three should be done only under specific circumstances.

Table 2.1. Tier-1 DBMS Vendors

DBMS Vendor

DBMS Product

IBM Corporation

DB2

New Orchard Road

Armonk, NY 10504

Phone: (914) 499-1900

Oracle Corporation

Oracle

500 Oracle Parkway

Redwood Shores, CA 94065

Phone: (650) 506-7000

Microsoft Corporation

SQL Server

One Microsoft Way

Redmond, WA 98052

Phone: (425) 882-8080

After the big three come MySQL, Sybase, Teradata, and Informix. Table 2.2 lists these tier-2 DBMS vendors. All of these offerings are quality DBMS products, but their installed base is smaller, their products are engineered and marketed for niche purposes, or the companies are smaller with fewer resources than the Big Three (IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft), so there is some risk in choosing a DBMS from tier 2 instead of tier 1. However, there may be solid reasons for deploying a tier-2 solution, such as the high performance offered by Informix or the data warehousing and analytics capabilities of Teradata.

Table 2.2. Tier-2 DBMS Vendors

DBMS Vendor

DBMS Product

IBM Corporation

Informix Dynamic Server

New Orchard Road

Armonk, NY 10504

Phone: (914) 499-1900

Sybase Inc. (an SAP Company)

Adaptive Server Enterprise

6475 Christie Avenue

Emeryville, CA 94608

Phone: (510) 922-3500

Teradata Corporation

Teradata

10000 Innovation Drive

Dayton, OH 45342

Phone: (937) 242-4030

MySQL (a subsidiary of Oracle Corporation)

MySQL

Phone: (208) 338-8100

Of course, there are other DBMS products on the market, many of which are fine products and worthy of consideration for specialty processing, certain predefined needs, and niche roles. If your company is heavily into the open-source software movement, PostgreSQL, EnterpriseDB, or MySQL might be viable options. If an object DBMS is important for a specific project, you might consider ObjectDesign or Versant. And there are a variety of NoSQL DBMS offerings available, too, such as Hadoop, Cassandra, and MongoDB.1

However, for the bulk of your data management needs, a DBMS from a tier-1, or perhaps tier-2, DBMS vendor will deliver sufficient functionality with minimal risk. A myriad of DBMS products are available, each with certain features that make them worthy of consideration on a case-by-case basis. Choosing any of the lower-tier candidates—even such major names as Software AG’s Adabas and Actian’s Ingres—involves incurring additional risk. Refer to Appendix B for a list of DBMS vendors.

I do not want it to sound as if the selection of a DBMS is a no-brainer. You will need a strategy and a plan for selecting the appropriate DBMS for your specific situation. When choosing a DBMS, be sure to consider each of these factors:

  • Operating system support. Does the DBMS support the operating systems in use at your organization, including the versions that you are currently using and plan on using?
  • Type of organization. Take into consideration the corporate philosophy when you choose a DBMS. Some organizations are very conservative and like to keep a tight rein on their environments; these organizations tend to gravitate toward traditional mainframe environments. Government operations, financial institutions, and insurance and health companies usually tend to be conservative. More-liberal organizations are often willing to consider alternative architectures. It is not uncommon for manufacturing companies, dot-coms, and universities to be less conservative. Finally, some companies just do not trust Windows as a mission-critical environment and prefer to use UNIX; this rules out some database vendors (Microsoft SQL Server, in particular).
  • Benchmarks. What performance benchmarks are available from the DBMS vendor and other users of the DBMS? The Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC) publishes official database performance benchmarks that can be used as a guideline for the basic overall performance of many different types of database processing. (Refer to the sidebar “The Transaction Processing Performance Council” for more details.) In general, performance benchmarks can be useful as a broad indicator of database performance but should not be the only determinant when selecting a DBMS. Many of the TPC benchmarks are run against database implementations that are not representative of most production database systems and therefore are not indicative of the actual performance of a particular DBMS. In addition, benchmarks are constantly updated to show new and improved performance measurements for each of the major DBMS products, rendering the benchmark “winners” obsolete very quickly.
  • Scalability. Does the DBMS support the number of users and database sizes you intend to implement? How are large databases built, supported, and maintained—easily or with a lot of pain? Are there independent users who can confirm the DBMS vendor’s scalability claims?
  • Availability of supporting software tools. Are the supporting tools you require available for the DBMS? These items may include query and analysis tools, data warehousing support tools, database administration tools, backup and recovery tools, performance-monitoring tools, capacity-planning tools, database utilities, and support for various programming languages.

The Transaction Processing Performance Council is an independent, not-for-profit organization that manages and administers performance benchmark tests. Its mission is to define transaction processing and database benchmarks to provide the industry with objective, verifiable performance data. TPC benchmarks measure and evaluate computer functions and operations.

The definition of transaction espoused by the TPC is a business one. A typical TPC transaction includes the database updates for things such as inventory control (goods), airline reservations (services), and banking (money).

The benchmarks produced by the TPC measure performance in terms of how many transactions a given system and database can perform per unit of time, for example, number of transactions per second. The TPC defines three benchmarks:

  • TPC-C, for planned production workload in a transaction environment
  • TPC-H, a decision support benchmark consisting of a suite of business-oriented ad hoc queries and concurrent data modifications
  • TPC-E, an updated OLTP workload (based on financial transaction processing)

Additional information and in-depth definitions of these benchmarks can be found at the TPC Web site at www.tpc.org (see Figure 2.1).

Figure 2.1

Figure 2.1. The TPC Web site

  • Technicians. Is there a sufficient supply of skilled database professionals for the DBMS? Consider your needs in terms of DBAs, technical support personnel (system programmers and administrators, operations analysts, etc.), and application programmers.
  • Cost of ownership. What is the total cost of ownership of the DBMS? DBMS vendors charge wildly varying prices for their technology. Total cost of ownership should be calculated as a combination of the license cost of the DBMS; the license cost of any required supporting software; the cost of database professionals to program, support, and administer the DBMS; and the cost of the computing resources required to operate the DBMS.
  • Release schedule. How often does the DBMS vendor release a new version? Some vendors have rapid release cycles, with new releases coming out every 12 to 18 months. This can be good or bad, depending on your approach. If you want cutting-edge features, a rapid release cycle is good. However, if your shop is more conservative, a DBMS that changes frequently can be difficult to support. A rapid release cycle will cause conservative organizations either to upgrade more frequently than they would like or to live with outdated DBMS software that is unlikely to have the same level of support as the latest releases.
  • Reference customers. Will the DBMS vendor supply current user references? Can you find other users on your own who might provide more impartial answers? Speak with current users to elicit issues and concerns you may have overlooked. How is support? Does the vendor respond well to problems? Do things generally work as advertised? Are there a lot of bug fixes that must be applied continuously? What is the quality of new releases? These questions can be answered only by the folks in the trenches.

When choosing a DBMS, be sure to take into account the complexity of the products. DBMS software is very complex and is getting more complex with each new release. Functionality that used to be supported only with add-on software or independent programs is increasingly being added as features of the DBMS, as shown in Figure 2.2. You will need to plan for and support all the features of the DBMS. Even if there is no current requirement for certain features, once you implement the DBMS the programmers and developers will find a reason to use just about anything the vendor threw into it. It is better to plan and be prepared than to allow features to be used without a plan for supporting them.

Figure 2.2

Figure 2.2. Convergence of features and functionality in DBMS software

DBMS Architectures

The supporting architecture for the DBMS environment is very critical to the success of the database applications. One wrong choice or poorly implemented component of the overall architecture can cause poor performance, downtime, or unstable applications.

When mainframes dominated enterprise computing, DBMS architecture was a simpler concern. Everything ran on the mainframe, and that was that. However, today the IT infrastructure is distributed and heterogeneous. The overall architecture—even for a mainframe DBMS—will probably consist of multiple platforms and interoperating system software. A team consisting of business and IT experts, rather than a single person or group, should make the final architecture decision. Business experts should include representatives from various departments, as well as from accounting and legal for software contract issues. Database administration representatives (DA, DBA, and SA), as well as members of the networking group, operating system experts, operations control personnel, programming experts, and any other interested parties, should be included in this team.

Furthermore, be sure that the DBMS you select is appropriate for the nature and type of processing you plan to implement. Four levels of DBMS architecture are available: enterprise, departmental, personal, and mobile.

An enterprise DBMS is designed for scalability and high performance. An enterprise DBMS must be capable of supporting very large databases, a large number of concurrent users, and multiple types of applications. The enterprise DBMS runs on a large-scale machine, typically a mainframe or a high-end server running UNIX, Linux, or Windows Server. Furthermore, an enterprise DBMS offers all the “bells and whistles” available from the DBMS vendor. Multiprocessor support, support for parallel queries, and other advanced DBMS features are core components of an enterprise DBMS.

A departmental DBMS, sometimes referred to as a workgroup DBMS, serves the middle ground. The departmental DBMS supports small to medium-size workgroups within an organization; typically, it runs on a UNIX, Linux, or Windows server. The dividing line between a departmental database server and an enterprise database server is quite gray. Hardware and software upgrades can allow a departmental DBMS to tackle tasks that previously could be performed only by an enterprise DBMS. The steadily falling cost of departmental hardware and software components further contributes to lowering the total cost of operation and enabling a workgroup environment to scale up to serve the enterprise.

A personal DBMS is designed for a single user, typically on a low- to medium-powered PC platform. Microsoft Access, SQLite, and FileMaker2 are examples of personal database software. Of course, the major DBMS vendors also market personal versions of their higher-powered solutions, such as Oracle Database Personal Edition and DB2 Personal Edition. Sometimes the low cost of a personal DBMS results in a misguided attempt to choose a personal DBMS for a departmental or enterprise solution. However, do not be lured by the low cost. A personal DBMS product is suitable only for very small-scale projects and should never be deployed for multiuser applications.

Finally, the mobile DBMS is a specialized version of a departmental or enterprise DBMS. It is designed for remote users who are not usually connected to the network. The mobile DBMS enables local database access and modification on a laptop or handheld device. Furthermore, the mobile DBMS provides a mechanism for synchronizing remote database changes to a centralized enterprise or departmental database server.

A DBMS designed for one type of processing may be ill suited for other uses. For example, a personal DBMS is not designed for multiple users, and an enterprise DBMS is generally too complex for single users. Be sure to understand the differences among enterprise, departmental, personal, and mobile DBMS software, and choose the appropriate DBMS for your specific data-processing needs. You may need to choose multiple DBMS types—that is, a DBMS for each level—with usage determined by the needs of each development project.

If your organization requires DBMS solutions at different levels, favor the selection of a group of DBMS solutions from the same vendor whenever possible. Doing so will minimize differences in access, development, and administration. For example, favor Oracle Database Personal Edition for your single-user DBMS needs if your organization uses Oracle as the enterprise DBMS of choice.

DBMS Clustering

Clustering is the use of multiple “independent” computing systems working together as a single, highly available system. A modern DBMS offers clustering support to enhance availability and scalability. The two predominant architectures for clustering are shared-disk and shared-nothing. These names do a good job of describing the nature of the architecture—at least at a high level.

Shared-nothing clustering is depicted in Figure 2.3. In a shared-nothing architecture, each system has its own private resources (memory, disks, etc.). The clustered processors communicate by passing messages through a network that interconnects the computers. In addition, requests from clients are automatically routed to the system that owns the resource. Only one of the clustered systems can “own” and access a particular resource at a time. In the event a failure occurs, resource ownership can be dynamically transferred to another system in the cluster. The main advantage of shared-nothing clustering is scalability. In theory, a shared-nothing multiprocessor can scale up to thousands of processors because they do not interfere with one another—nothing is shared.

Figure 2.3

Figure 2.3. Shared-nothing architecture

In a shared-disk environment, all the connected systems share the same disk devices, as shown in Figure 2.4. Each processor still has its own private memory, but all the processors can directly address all the disks. Typically, shared-disk clustering does not scale as well for smaller machines as shared-nothing clustering. Shared-disk clustering is better suited to large-enterprise processing in a mainframe environment. Mainframes—very large processors—are capable of processing enormous volumes of work. Great benefits can be obtained with only a few clustered mainframes, while many PC and midrange processors would need to be clustered to achieve similar benefits.

Figure 2.4

Figure 2.4. Shared-disk architecture

Shared-disk clustering is usually preferable for applications and services requiring only modest shared access to data and for applications or workloads that are very difficult to partition. Applications with heavy data update requirements are probably better implemented as shared-nothing. Table 2.3 compares the capabilities of shared-disk and shared-nothing architectures.

Table 2.3. Comparison of Shared-Disk and Shared-Nothing Architectures

Shared-Disk

Shared-Nothing

Quick adaptability to changing workloads

Can exploit simpler, cheaper hardware

High availability

Almost unlimited scalability

Performs best in a heavy read environment

Works well in a high-volume, read-write environment

Data need not be partitioned

Data is partitioned across the cluster

The major DBMS vendors provide support for different types of clustering with different capabilities and requirements. For example, DB2 for z/OS provides shared-disk clustering with its Data Sharing and Parallel Sysplex capabilities; DB2 on non-mainframe platforms uses shared-nothing clustering. Oracle’s Real Application Clusters provide shared-disk clustering.

For most users, the primary benefit of clustering is the enhanced availability that accrues by combining processors. In some cases, clustering can help an enterprise to achieve five-nines (99.999 percent) availability. Additionally, clustering can be used for load balancing and failover.

DBMS Proliferation

As a rule of thumb, create a policy (or at least some simple guidelines) that must be followed before a new DBMS can be brought into the organization. Failure to do so can cause a proliferation of different DBMS products that will be difficult to support. It can also cause confusion regarding which DBMS to use for which development effort.

As mentioned earlier, there is a plethora of DBMS vendors, each touting its benefits. As a DBA, you will be bombarded with marketing and sales efforts that attempt to convince you that you need another DBMS. Try to resist unless a very compelling reason is given and a short-term return on investment (ROI) can be demonstrated. Even when confronted with valid reasons and good ROI, be sure to double-check the arguments and ROI calculations. Sometimes the reasons specified are outdated and the ROI figures do not take everything into account—such as the additional cost of administration.

Remember, every DBMS requires database administration support. Moreover, each DBMS uses different methods to perform similar tasks. The fewer DBMS products installed, the less complicated database administration becomes, and the better your chances become of providing effective data management resources for your organization.

Hardware Issues

When establishing a database environment for application development, selecting the DBMS is only part of the equation. The hardware and operating system on which the DBMS will run will greatly impact the reliability, availability, and scalability (RAS) of the database environment. For example, a mainframe platform such as an IBM zEC12 running z/OS will probably provide higher RAS than a midrange IBM xSeries machine running AIX, which in turn will probably exceed a Dell server running Windows. That is not to say everything should run on a mainframe; other issues such as cost, experience, manageability, and the needs of the applications to be developed must be considered. The bottom line is that you must be sure to factor hardware platform and operating system constraints into the DBMS selection criteria.

Cloud Database Systems

Cloud computing (see the sidebar) is increasing in usage, especially at small to medium-size businesses. A cloud implementation can be more cost-effective than building an entire local computing infrastructure that requires management and support.

A cloud database system delivers DBMS services over the Internet. The trade-off essentially comes down to trusting a cloud provider to store and manage your data in return for minimizing database administration and maintenance cost and effort. Using cloud database systems can enable organizations, especially smaller ones without the resources to invest in an enterprise computing infrastructure, to focus on their business instead of their computing environment.

By consolidating data sources in the cloud, it is possible to improve collaboration among partners, branch offices, remote workers, and mobile devices, because the data becomes accessible as a service. There is no need to install, set up, patch, or manage the DBMS software because the cloud provider manages and cares for these administrative tasks. Of course, the downside is that your data is now stored and controlled by an external agent—the cloud provider. Another inherent risk of cloud computing is the possibility of nefarious agents posing as legitimate customers.

An example of a cloud database platform is Microsoft SQL Azure. It is built on SQL Server technologies and is a component of the Windows Azure platform.

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