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Performance war

Columnist Craig Shallahamer compares Oracle performance tuning to the wars of old and offers a lesson to young DBAs about how to survive the bloodshed.

Craig's Corner
Insights on Oracle technologies and trends by Craig Shallahamer
About the Author

Craig Shallahamer has 18-plus years experience in IT. As the president of OraPub, Inc., his objective is to empower Oracle performance managers by "doing" and teaching others to "do" whole system performance optimization (reactive and proactive) for Oracle-based systems.

In addition to course development and delivery, Craig is a consultant who was previously involved with developing a landmark performance management product, technically reviews Oracle books and articles, and keynotes at various Oracle conferences.

To view more of Craig's work, visit

Every great Greek battle commander (Pausanias, Themistocles, Aristides, just to name a few) was either exiled, sacked, indicted, or fined by the very people he sought to save. Do you DBAs feel like that sometimes? We often think, "Well, why even try?" But we continue on because performance optimization is what many of us love to do and do best! Yet, it requires teamwork, bravery, expediency, and rest.

Those of us who love extremely intense performance situations, who love to battle, get a kind of strange thrill out of it all -- whether performance is bad, good, or stupendous. And while it may look to many that the performance recovered was because of our epic single-handed exploits, those of us who continually thrive in real performance crises will tell you, the complexities are so intense that a mature DBA's desire for personal distinction must be subordinate. It's the young DBA who commonly tries to do it all himself and goes home dissatisfied, frustrated, and confused.

The Spaniards of old have been among the most valiant of soldiers, but they have a significant saying: "he was a brave man that day." For most people and in most professions, war is not an everyday event. And if it is, you will certainly know that bravery is not an everyday possession. Mature DBAs don't expect their performance arts to be perfect everyday. They prepare to harness their skills and revive that bravery when it's needed. It's the young DBA who commonly tries to be everything to everybody every time...and goes home enjoying his job a little less each day.

When the Greeks went to battle, they needed to be quick and decisive. Greeks did not battle for the sake of battling. They had farms and families. The fighting men needed to finish the battle in short order so they might quickly return home. An Oracle DBA needs to do the same. Fighting a performance war needs to be done quickly and decisively. If it lasts more than a few weeks, you will naturally grow tired. Your family and friends will begin to feel your pain. And you will start thinking about nothing but the "war at work." That's no way to live.

Before you enter the battle, you need to do everything you can to set it up in such a way so as to ensure you will win quickly, enabling a season of rest --time to return to the farm and family. It's the young DBA who never rests, is always looking for the next battle instead of training and fortifying when there is no battle. Slowly his energy will be sapped and when the battle comes, he will die.

Being a fantastic performance specialist, just like being a great Greek battle commander, is not easy and the very people you try to help may hate you the most. But we can take steps to continue on from battle to battle and day to day. Don't be too proud to ask for help. Be brave when you need to be. Savor peace when it's around. Most DBAs have not discovered these secrets. Look around and you'll notice there are not too many performance specialists in their forties and beyond. When you find one, ask them their secrets and their stories. You'll be amazed.

Click here for more columns by Craig Shallahamer.

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