Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Part 5 DBAs distribute data to the 4 corners...

Another role a DBA plays is distributor of data.  Keeping the data safe, well fed and maintained, accessible and highly available are all well and good BUT what if a giant meteor were to fall from the sky and destroy the datacenter where your server lives(ed?)?

Well many companies would simply go out of business, sure they would scramble trying to scrape together hardware that can keep things moving, the poor DBA will hunt down the latest possible backups and desperately try to remember all of the settings and gotchas in building up the environment.  But in the end, it will take days, if not weeks to get back up, and by that time your customers have moved on.  Your company may survive, but many people will be out of work while the company rebuilds.

A huge part of a DBAs life is to make sure that this doesn’t happen.  No, I don’t mean building some sort of laser or rocket defense against falling objects from space.  But, the DBA needs to drive and work with other departments to create a plan, document the plan, and implement it.

Sometimes budgetary constraints mean that a duplicate datacenter is simply not feasible.  That is no excuse for not having a plan.  This plan should be documented in soft and hard copies, and kept someplace other than the office and the data center.   It needs to be updated at least bi-annually if not quarterly.  

The DBA needs to have it clearly spelled out what the minimum requirements are for being up and afloat.  DR doesn’t have to fully support all functionality, nor does it have to be as fast as production, but it needs to support all mission critical functions, and do so with only a slight degradation in performance.  

Your DBA SHOULD know the business well enough to make many decisions on how to accomplish this, however, you as a business person, can help them by answering any and all questions about what is mission critical AND be honest.  You can’t have everything.  Pretend like you can only have one thing, what would that one thing be.  Then work down the list.  DR is all about minimizing exposure and minimizing risk.  But reality dictates that most organizations simply won’t be able to spend enough to duplicate the total environment.  

Now, you may ask, why should a DBA spend so much time on something that you don’t want to use?  Why do you have homeowners insurance?  Why do you have live insurance?  Why do you have major medical?  Of course you do.  Perhaps not enough, but you have some coverage.  Having a DBA spend the proper time on this task is crucial to the survival of your business in the event of catastrophe.  

Again, this is why your DBA has a negative outlook frequently.  DBA’s constantly have to look at all of the possibilities of what can go wrong, how it can go wrong and what the fallout is when it goes wrong.  In a world that wants to see the positive in everything I hope you can appreciate your DBA and his negative outlook.  Yes, he can rain on any parade, but you need somebody who sees what is broken and can come up with inventive and constructive ways to fix it.

It is important to realize that DBAs have to have a long term view, and sometimes they cannot (should not) allow little fires here and there distract them from the big picture, or a literal little fire under your server cabinet could really ruin the day of many people working for you.

It is important that business people allow the DBA to work on this aspect of their job, and even have them schedule time to focus on it.  Ask your DBA about their plans, ask them to show you what they are thinking of, ask them to help the company live on and people keep their jobs in the face of disaster.

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