[Note from Pinal]: This is a 77th episode of Notes from the Field series. Every week, I personally wait for the notes from the fields from Mike because it contains lessons of life which directly impacts DBA and Developer’s life positively. Mike Walsh is an amazing person to meet and know. I am fortunate to be his friend. Every single time I meet him, I learn something as a human. He is always looking for an opportunity to improve the life of DBAs and Developers.
Read the entire story in his own words.
It seems I rant about independent software vendors about once every 6-8 months. I’ve not done it on a post here on Pinal’s fine blog, though. Why do I do this? Because it really matters. Because it really should be different. Because I’ve seen the difference when DBAs and Vendors come together, plan properly and have a working relationship. Finally – because I’ve seen environments brought down hard by a failure in this important relationship and in this important “unwritten contract” between the parties. So, I’m continuing with the theme of the “Hey DBA!” type posts with advice we can all use, but I’m talking to vendors, too.
If your company buys software that your business runs on – don’t get stuck in this trap and learn some questions to ask the vendors.
If your company sells software to other companies? Make sure these things are clear for all of your customers and people know what they own and don’t own.
What Does Failure Look Like Here?
It takes different shapes. In most cases the following symptoms are there (not all are there, but many may be):
- No maintenance is being done (no index rebuilds, no statistics updates, no DBCC CHECKDB jobs)
- Sometimes an incorrect backup strategy exists
- The database for an application is on an undersized, underperforming SQL Server
- SQL Server is missing a lot of best practices and configurations, instead it feels more like it was installed by clicking next a bunch of times and finish once and never again touched.
But these symptoms can lead to downtime. They can lead to unresolved, and undetected corruption. They can lead to a restore that doesn’t go exactly as the business planned or expected or as the application vendor wants.
In many environments, a company will buy software that runs on SQL Server and not even fully realize or understand that it is running on an enterprise database platform that needs attention, care and regular maintenance. Often times the client eventually realizes it only when they’ve had a disaster and are trying to pick up the pieces and get their critical application online.
DBAs – What can you do?
Be on the lookout for applications coming into the company. This is sometimes easier said than done – but trying to get yourself into meetings before an application is purchased to understand the database needs can make a huge difference. Let it be known that you are there to help and you want to make a difference in the stability, performance and uptime of any new applications that come in and have a database backend. Let your managers speak on your behalf, let the project managers know, be vigilant and get involved when applications are brought in. And earlier is better. If a vendor is doing something dangerous, against best practices, or in violation of a security audit you have to go through – it is easier to get them to make those changes in the sales process than after you’ve purchased the application.
Be proactive – I focus on being proactive. Get to know your environments. Run checks on them, understand the uses, and understand the maintenance. Grab that checklist and check your own environment. Dig in where there are issues. You can get that free checklist here )
Be Inquisitive – On my blog, I have a list of some sample questions you can ask a vendor. This checklist is a bit older now and I should probably update it – but the point in the questions should become clear as you look at them. You want to ask the questions of the vendor to know what challenges you’ll face as a DBA. You want to gauge who is responsible for which pieces, you want to get to know and trust your vendor and understand their expectations of you and what they are great at and what you may need to spend more time looking. Create a vendor interview question yourself and make sure any new software vendors bringing applications into your environment give you the information you need. You can see an example checklist on my personal blog –
Vendors – What can you do?
It’s pretty simple – be clear, be informative and be prescriptive…
Be Clear – Your customers may or may not understand what they are getting into with a database. They may have a great DBA, no DBA or a mediocre DBA. Be clear on what you expect from them and what they have to worry about. You can’t just say, “they’ll figure it out… backups are really important so they’ll understand this and they’ll start doing them…” You’ve made some big assumptions there. That’s true about maintenance, knowing what to do when there are issues, etc. Be clear on what you are responsible for, what you are not responsible for and what they should be worried about and what they should take care of on their own.
Be Informative – Don’t just be clear – but get to know your customers. If you are deploying a SQL server application – you should explain that you like to work with a DBA during the pre-sales and installation process. Get to know the DBA team. Talk about challenges that folks face – check out that set of questions above and think of other questions you’d want to ask if you were a DBA. Have answers to them and supply them even if the client doesn’t ask.
Be Prescriptive – I love it when I see a vendor with best practice guides, deploy guides, maintenance guides, SQL Server configuration guides, etc. These things are gold to your customers. But they are also gold to your image, and your respect and your referrals. If you prescribe what the environment should generally look like, what kind of maintenance should be done, what kind of recovery typically works best and give advice on how to configure SQL for success – you are equipping your customers for greater success. You don’t need to go specifics on everything but general prescriptions here, with latitude for companies with DBA teams that understand how to turn your guidelines into reality within their existing policies is great. But you should consider being specific enough to show the smaller shops with a system administrator playing the role of DBA what they should be learning about and either figuring out or bringing in consulting or mentoring help to get right with them.
Doing these things makes you ahead of the curve of software vendors and puts you in a great spot – and it probably saves your support budget down the road with calls that are not needed by your customers not paying attention to their SQL environment.
Everyone – What can you do?
Talk… Seriously – many of these issues come down to communication. A lot of DBAs complain about software vendors. A lot of software vendors probably secretly complain about their customers. If we all talked just a bit more about these things we’d be in a better spot and our environments would be better for it.
Reference: Pinal Dave (https://blog.sqlauthority.com)