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Database Standards and Procedures

Before a newly installed DBMS can be used effectively, standards and procedures must be developed for database usage. Studies have shown that companies with high levels of standardization reduce the cost of supporting end users by as much as 35 percent or more as compared to companies with low levels of standardization.

Standards are common practices that ensure the consistency and effectiveness of the database environment, such as database naming conventions. Procedures are defined, step-by-step instructions that direct the processes required for handling specific events, such as a disaster recovery plan. Failure to implement database standards and procedures will result in a database environment that is confusing and difficult to manage.

The DBA should develop database standards and procedures as a component of corporate-wide IT standards and procedures. They should be stored together in a central location as a printed document, in an online format, or as both. Several vendors offer “canned” standards and procedures that can be purchased for specific DBMS products.

Database Naming Conventions

One of the first standards to be implemented should be a set of guidelines for the naming of database objects. Without standard database object naming conventions, it will be difficult to identify database objects correctly and to perform the proper administration tasks.

Database object naming standards should be developed in conjunction with all other IT naming standards in your organization. In all cases, database naming standards should be developed in cooperation with the data administration department (if one exists) and, wherever possible, should peacefully coexist with other IT standards, but not at the expense of impairing the database environment. For example, many organizations have shop conventions for naming files, but coordinating the database object to the operating system file may require a specific format for database filenames that does not conform to the shop standards (see Figure 2.7). Therefore, it may be necessary to make exceptions to existing shop standards for naming database files.

Figure 2.7

Figure 2.7 Database objects map to filenames

Be sure to create and publish naming standards for all database objects that can be created within each DBMS used by your organization. A basic list of database objects supported by most DBMSs includes databases, tables, columns, views, indexes, constraints, programs, user-defined data types, user-defined functions, triggers, and stored procedures. However, this list is incomplete because each DBMS uses other database objects specific to its operation. For example, DB2 uses plans and storage groups; Oracle uses database links and clusters; SQL Server uses filegroups and rules (see the sidebar).

The database naming standard should be designed to minimize name changes across environments. For example, embedding a T into the name for “test” and a P for “production” is a bad idea. It is especially important to avoid this approach for user-visible database objects such as columns, tables, and views. Minimizing name changes simplifies the migration of databases from one environment to another. It is possible to make all the database object names the same by assigning each environment to a different instance or subsystem. The instance or subsystem name, rather than the database object names, will differentiate the environments.

In most cases, for objects not accessed by typical end users, provide a way to differentiate types of database objects. For example, start indexes with I or X and databases with D. For tables and similar objects, though, as discussed earlier, this approach is inappropriate.

In general, do not impose unnecessary restrictions on the names of objects accessed by end users. Relational databases are supposed to be user friendly. A strict database naming convention, if not developed logically, can be antithetical to a useful and effective database environment. Some organizations impose arbitrary length limitations on database tables, such as an 8-byte limit even though the DBMS can support up to 128-byte table names. There is no practical reason to impose a limitation on the length of database table names.

Table names should be as descriptive as possible, within reason. Furthermore, the same naming conventions should be used for all “tablelike” objects, including views, synonyms, and aliases, if supported by the DBMS. Each of these objects is basically a collection of data accessible as rows and columns. Developing separate naming conventions for each is of no real value. With this approach, database objects that operate like tables will be defined similarly with a very descriptive name. The type of object can always be determined by querying the DBMS system catalog or data dictionary.

Encoding table names to make them shorter is another arbitrary naming standard that should be avoided. Table names should include a 2- or 3-byte application identification prefix, followed by an underscore and then a clear, user-friendly name. For example, a good name for the table containing employee information in a human resources system would be HR_EMPLOYEE. You may want to drop the application identification prefix from the table name for tables used by multiple applications.

Keep in mind, too, that some database object names will, in some cases, be externalized. For instance, most DBMSs externalize constraint names when the constraint is violated. There are many types of constraints—triggers, unique constraints, referential constraints, check constraints—each of which can be named. Keeping the names consistent across environments allows the error messages to be consistent. If the DBMS delivers the same error message in the development, test, integration, and production environments, debugging and error correction will be easier.

Standard Abbreviations

Although you should keep the database object names as English-like as possible, you will inevitably encounter situations that require abbreviations. Use abbreviations only when the full text is too long to be supported as an object name or when it renders the object name unwieldy or difficult to remember. Create a list of standard abbreviations and forbid the use of nonstandard abbreviations. For example, if “ORG” is the standard abbreviation for “organization,” do not allow variants such as “ORGZ” to be used. Using standard abbreviations will minimize mistyping and make it easier for users to remember database object names. Adhering to this practice will make it easier to understand the database objects within your environment.

Other Database Standards and Procedures

Although database naming standards are important, you will need to develop and maintain other types of database standards. Be sure to develop a comprehensive set of standards and procedures for each DBMS used by your organization. Although you can write your database standards from scratch, there are other potentially easier ways to build your standards library. Basic standards that can be modified to your requirements can be bought from a publisher or software vendor. Or you can gather suggested standards from the community via user groups and conferences.

Regardless of whether they are purchased, written in house, or adopted from a user group or committee, each of the following areas should be covered.

Roles and Responsibilities

The successful operation of a DBMS requires the coordinated management efforts of many skilled technicians and business experts. A matrix of database management and administration functions should be developed that documents each support task and who within the organization provides the support. The matrix can be created at a departmental level, a job description level, or even by individual name. A sample matrix is shown in Table 2.4. An X in the matrix indicates involvement in the process, whereas a P indicates primary responsibility.

Table 2.4. Database Support Roles and Responsibilities

Task

DBA

DA

SA

Management

Operations

Applications

End Users

DBMS budget

X

X

P

X

X

DBMS installation

P

X

X

X

X

DBMS upgrade

P

X

X

X

X

X

Database usage policy

P

X

X

Capacity planning

X

P

X

X

X

Data modeling and analysis

X

P

X

Metadata policy

X

P

X

X

Governance and compliance

X

X

X

X

P

Database design

P

X

X

Database creation

P

System performance

X

P

Database performance

P

X

X

Application performance

X

X

P

Backup and recovery

P

X

X

X

Disaster recovery

P

X

X

Database security

P

X

X

Stored procedures

X

P

Triggers

P

X

User-defined functions

X

P

Application design

X

P

Application turnover

X

X

P

X

Application design reviews

X

X

X

X

X

P

X

Of course, you can create whatever tasks you deem necessary in your roles and responsibilities matrix. You may need additional tasks, or fewer than in this sample. For example, you may wish to differentiate between stored-procedure development, testing, and management by creating a different task category for each and breaking down the support requirements differently.

Whatever the final format of your roles and responsibilities matrix, be sure to keep it accurate and up-to-date with new DBMS features and tasks. An up-to-date matrix makes it easier to define roles within the organization and to effectively apportion database-related workload.

Communication Standards

You might also choose to develop specific standards for communication between groups and specific personnel. For example, you might want to document how and when the DBA group must communicate with the systems programming group when a new DBMS release is being installed.

Developing robust communication standards can simplify a DBA’s job during the inevitable downtime that occurs due to system, application, or even hardware errors. For example, consider adopting a standard whereby the DBA communicates only with the manager during troubleshooting and emergency remediation. This keeps the manager informed and enables the DBA to dodge the dozens of phone calls that come in from angry users, the help desk, and so on. The manager can communicate the status outward while the DBA focuses exclusively on troubleshooting and getting the systems back up and running again.

Data Administration Standards

If a DA group exists within your organization, they should develop a basic data administration standards guide to outline the scope of their job role. If a DA group does not exist, be sure to include DA standards in the DBA standards as appropriate.

The data administration standards should include the following items:

  • A clear statement of the organization’s overall policy with regard to data, including its importance to the company
  • Guidelines for establishing data ownership and stewardship
  • Rules for data creation, data ownership, and data stewardship
  • Metadata management policy
  • Conceptual and logical data modeling guidelines
  • The organization’s goals with regard to creating an enterprise data model
  • Responsibility for creating and maintaining logical data models
  • Guidelines for tool usage and instructions on how data models are to be created, stored, and maintained
  • Organizational data-sharing policies
  • Instructions on how to document when physical databases deviate from the logical data model
  • Guidelines on communication between data administration and database administration to ensure effective database creation and usage

Database Administration Standards

A basic set of database administration standards should be established to ensure the ongoing success of the DBA function. The standards serve as a guide to the DBA services offered and to specific approaches to supporting the database environment. For example, standards can be developed that outline how requests are made to create a new database or make changes to existing databases, and that specify which types of database objects and DBMS features are favored and under which circumstances they are to be avoided. Standards can establish backup and recovery procedures (including disaster recovery plans) and communicate the methods used to transform a logical data model into a physical database implementation. An additional set of DBA standards that cover database performance monitoring and tuning may be useful to document procedures for overcoming performance problems.

Although the DBA standards will be most useful for the DBA staff, the application development staff will need them to learn how best to work with the DBA staff. Furthermore, any performance tuning tricks that are documented in the DBA standards should be shared with programmers. The more the application programmers understand the nuances of the DBMS and the role of the DBA, the better the working relationship between DBA and development will be—resulting in a more efficient database environment.

System Administration Standards

Once again, standards for system administration or systems programming are required only if your organization separates the SA function from the DBA function. System administration standards are needed for many of the same reasons that DBA standards are required. Standards for SA may include

  • DBMS installation and testing procedures
  • Upgrade policies and procedures
  • Bug fix and maintenance practices
  • A checklist of departments to notify for impending changes
  • Interface considerations
  • DBMS storage, usage, and monitoring procedures

Database Application Development Standards

The development of database applications differs from typical program development. You should document the special development considerations required when writing programs that access databases. The database application development standards should function as an adjunct to any standard application development procedures within your organization. This set of standards should include

  • A description of how database access differs from flat file access
  • SQL coding standards
  • SQL performance tips and techniques
  • Program preparation procedures and guidance on how to embed SQL in an application program
  • Interpretations of SQLSTATEs and error codes
  • References to other useful programming materials for teleprocessing monitors, programming languages, and general application development standards

Database Security Standards

The DBA group often applies and administers DBMS security. However, at some shops the corporate data security unit handles DBMS security. A resource outlining the necessary standards and procedures for administering database security should contain the following information:

  • Details on what authority to grant for specific types of situations; for example, if a program is being migrated to production status, what DBMS authorization must be granted before the program will operate successfully in production
  • Specific documentation of any special procedures or documentation required for governance- and compliance-related requests
  • A definitive list of who can approve what types of database authorization requests
  • Information on any interfaces being used to connect DBMS security with operating system security products
  • Policies on the use of the WITH GRANT OPTION clause of the SQL GRANT statement and how cascading REVOKEs are to be handled
  • Procedures for notifying the requester that database security has been granted
  • Procedures for removing security from retiring, relocating, and terminated employees

Application Migration and Turnover Procedures

As discussed earlier, the minimum number of environments for supporting database applications is two: test and production. Some organizations, however, create multiple environments to support, for example, different phases of the development life cycle, including

  • Unit testing—for developing and testing individual programs
  • Integration testing—for testing how individual programs interoperate
  • User acceptance testing—for end user testing prior to production status
  • Quality assurance—for shaking out program bugs
  • Education—for training end users how to work the application system

When multiple environments exist, procedures are required for migrating database objects and programs from environment to environment. Specific guidelines are needed to accomplish migration in a manner conducive to the usage of each environment. For example, what data volume is required for each environment and how is data integrity to be assured when testing activity occurs? Should data be migrated, or just the database structures? How should existing data in the target environment be treated—should it be kept, or overlaid with new data? Comprehensive migration procedures should be developed to address these types of questions.

The migration and turnover procedures should document the information required before any database object or program can be migrated from one environment to the next. At a minimum, information will be required about the requester, when and why the objects should be migrated, and the appropriate authorization to approve the migration. To ensure the success of the migration, the DBA should document the methods used for the migration and record the verification process.

Design Review Guidelines

All database applications should be subjected to a design review at various stages of their development. Design reviews are important to ensure proper application design, construction, and performance. Design reviews can take many forms. Chapter 6, “Design Reviews,” offers a comprehensive discussion.

Operational Support Standards

Operational support is defined as the part of the IT organization that oversees the database environment and assures that applications are run according to schedule. Sufficient operational support must be available to administer a database environment effectively. The operational support staff is usually the first line of defense against system problems. Program failures, hardware failures, and other problems are first identified by operational support before specialists are called to resolve the problems.

Standards should be developed to ensure that the operational support staff understands the special requirements of database applications. Whenever possible, operational support personnel should be trained to resolve simple database-related problems without involving the DBA because the DBA is a more expensive resource.

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