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Self-managing database systems

Craig Mullins opines on "self-managing" database systems and their impact on the DBA.

This tip originally appeared on TechTarget's Expert Answer Center as a post in Craig Mullins' blog. Craig served as the on-demand expert on the Expert Answer Center for two weeks in February, during which he was available to quickly answer questions on EAC topic as well as to write daily blog entries. Keep an eye on the Expert Answer Center for topics that could help your IT shop.

One of the more insidious tales being spread these days is that there are database systems that are capable of managing themselves. For an enterprise database implementation, this is a big fat lie. Oh, yes, the DBMS vendors are doing a nice job of making their systems more manageable -- and they are to be commended for that. I take task only with the exaggerated statement that these improvements render database administration unneeded for their database implementations.

IBM, for example, has announced some interesting autonomic features for DB2. The DB2 optimizer has had "query rewrite" technology for some time now. But does any DB2 DBA out there believe that queries no longer need tuning? Other features that enable online schema changes, online system parameter changes and automatic refresh and query re-write with materialized query tables are great features. But they do not warrant the description "self-managing."

Many data management tasks will always require the guiding hand of a DBA. Making changes to database structures, for example, will not be something that the DBMS could ever understand or be able to do without human involvement. A DBA will still need to direct this type of work. And what about recovery? How can a database system that is down recover itself? If it was so self-healing to begin with, why did it go down in the first place? No, we'll always need DBAs to be there to help recover from system failures, at least.

Additionally, many times the self-managing features of the DBMS require the user to purchase a separate product. But DBAs are already aided by automation and self-healing technology provided by the tool vendors. The DBMS vendors are just now starting to offer some of these types of DBA tools, and they market them as "autonomic" or "self-healing" to generate buzz. But it is nothing new. DBAs can use database tools from many different vendors today. Some are powered by intelligent automation -- meaning the tools make complex tasks easier to accomplish with built-in knowledge of the environment. Just because the DBMS vendors are starting to offer such tools does not make the DBMS somehow magically self-managing.

Furthermore, DBMS tools will not supplant ISV tool vendors either. An independent ISV can monitor and manage heterogeneous database implementations. Can you imagine IBM ever helping you to manage Oracle? Or Oracle helping you to monitor SQL Server? Not gonna happen!

Additionally, ISV tools can offer DBAs control they might lose when DBMS vendors move previously configurable options into wizards and self-configuration tools. Many times the DBMS vendor removes or hides configurable options to simplify administration and to prevent novice DBAs from making hit-or-miss changes that result in disaster. The ISVs keep these options visible and configurable -- the way they need to be to effectively manage significant database implementations.

So, although it is possible to intelligently automate many DBA tasks, we will still need a flesh-and-blood DBA to keep on top of the DBMS.

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