Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Simple lessons from the DBMS SIG

Crisis or not, there was a reasonably good turnout on the last DBMS Special Interest group this Tuesday (17th March).

If you need to justify membership cost and time to attend SIGs like this, the one single item is probably Phil Davies from Oracle Support who talks you through the latest scary bugs. Some of those, I can almost recite by now, but I know full well how useful this horror-stories can be for project who are preparing to upgrade or migrate.

The XPLAN presetation by David Kurtz was instructive, as there are still a few options in dbms_xplan that I plan to explore when time or necessity arise.

For monitoring, the rapidly delivered presentation from Jason Lester was refreshing. We all know what Grid Control can do by now, but there is always need for more, for different and for more customizable tools. I do not need to be convinced of the advantages of Open Source Software (I did a similar topic myself in ... eeeh... 2004, for a different forum and I stil stand by that message).

Although I have seen Zabbix (http://www.zabbix.org/) used more often then Nagios (www.nagios.org), I would like to add my own endorsement for any OSS or otherwise "independent" monitoring tool. You need some independent tool, next to GridControl and other vendor supplied solutions (openview still sprouts up everywhere - sure we use it if someone has paid for it, or enforced it onto us.)

But quite often, for the actual, Real Application Monitoring we will also implement our own home-grown or OSS solution next to the GridControl. You generally need a tool where you can add/tweak your own monitoring, and that you can rely on to do (or build) the stuff that the commecial tools dont do, or dont want to do. And despite what the book, the courses, and the management say, any DBA or sysadmin worth his salt will DIY in this area. I am also still guilty of jotting up my own unix and sqlplus scripts in various situations. They will do Exactly what I need when I need it. Some of my unix/linux scripts have dates in them going back to 1994 (sad eh?).


Mental note: do a topic on "simple monitoring" sometime.


Pete Finnigan had his moment with explaining the uses and pitfalls of VPD (or is that RLS or FGAC? ... ). Always nice to hear PXF himself explain (the lack of) security in his down to earth way. He keeps going on about security being a "layered" thing, and how adding more security can also itself against you if you dont do it properly and exactly Right. Well done, Cheers Pete!

The cherry on the cake was Jonathan -scratchpad- Lewis explaining how Simple (and yet Complicated) the analysis of Statspack (aka AWR, if you have the budget) really is.
Jonathan did a Great job of letting statspack-reports explain themselves, and with constant "challenging" and checking of his own assumptions.

Key messages that I retained, somewhat biased by my own experience, were:

1. Read from the top, get a feeling for overall functionality and the load of the system in hand. How much time, how many CPUs, how much memory and IO was used. Quite basic.
2. Relate the work done, as shown in statspack, to the capacity of the underlying
system: was the database challenging the hardware or not ? Is it a capacity problem or a single-user, single-application problem.
3. Dont be afraid to ask questions. always.

Jonathan refuses to "write the book" on statspack, with the excuse that there will be too much material to cover, and he is afraid to leave out items that are deemed critically important. My reply to him is along the lines of: Real Application Statspackreading is about common sense.
And if Jonahtan can convey some good messages in a 1 hour presentation, surely
it must be possible to write a not-too-complex book to help the average
reader out there in 90% of the cases? For the other 10% you can always hire a specialist.

I become more and more tempted to write a few "simple" things about Statspack, the Real Fantastic CBO, and the blessings of proper physical design for Real Appliations. The book by Tom Kyte is all you really need (need link).
Hm, will I too then get sucked into the wonderful CBO? (Real Application CBO; it gets it right most of the time... )
My next presentation maybe.

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