The Laws of Database Administration

4 Pages

How do DBAs set their priorities? Is there a difference between what’s important and what’s urgent? If you change the definition of an object, change a system parameter setting, or make a performance improvement, how do you know what may be affected? What’s the best use of your time?

This article introduces the Laws of Database Administration to assist the DBA in answering these questions. We then show why the laws are ordered by importance and why important is different from urgent. This is followed by several examples that showcase the laws in the context of typical IT support scenarios, including backup and recovery, performance tuning, and regulatory compliance.

Finally, we show that the laws are more broadly useful in IT as tools for directing new hiring and interviewing procedures, implementing best practices, employee performance appraisal, and job rotation.

Importance vs. Urgency

In 1994, Stephen R. Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, co-authored a new book titled First Things First. In it, the authors point out the problem with what’s called “the tyranny of the urgent” or the tendency of people to react to short-term emergencies and events to the detriment of more important work.

One way they illustrate addressing the way you manage your time is to consider these two questions:

  • What’s the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results for your work?
  • If you know this thing would make such a significant difference, why aren’t you doing it now?

Important tasks tend to involve preparation, prevention, planning and empowerment, while urgent behavior is putting out fires and reacting to emergencies. As a DBA you can use this differentiation of behaviors (important vs. urgent) to prioritize work and move yourself out of the urgency rut. To assist in this endeavor, I introduce the Laws of Database Administration.

Statement of the Laws

In order of their importance, the laws include recoverability, availability, security, and performance. The easiest way to explain the laws is in the negative sense; that is, what you shouldn’t do. In this form, the laws can be stated as “Thou shalt not cause thy …

  • Data to become unrecoverable
  • Data to become unavailable
  • Data to become unsecure
  • System to perform poorly.

The first three laws deal with data management, the fourth with system management. These encapsulate the four most important responsibilities of the DBA. Breaking any of the laws is cause for alarm (see sidebar).

4 Pages