Should you know your database technology?

Techrepublic |

In the past I had couple of opportunities to work with firms those specialize in Small to Medium scale business solutions built on top of Microsoft SQL Database technology. Much of such opportunities turned in to 100% futile as the vendors firmly believed the “Database” was a customer’s responsibility & insuring performance was solely at customer’s dispersal. I will get back to the subject after a brief introduction to how things go all the way wrong with these partners.


We were pretty happy with the cost effective ERP Suite & just prior signing the contract, question about who will setup and configure the Database(technology) came up. The solution provider was quick to respond with “Database maintenance is your part, so as it is mentioned in the draft contract”. Agreeing to the maintenance part, that is insuring the availability and backing up the data, we repeated the question who will “setup” the database and parameterize it for best performance, as their ERP Suite was replacing something really huge & users will expect the same slick and quick responses from the new system.

The vendor was so confused & told us few things like below:

  1. There is nothing to configure
  2. Microsoft SQL Database is not like Oracle, you don’t need to worry about anything. Just install it and forget it. Server takes care of it (heeheehee)
  3. Just take a backup
  4. Nothing to configure about memory. You got 32GB memory right? more than enough. If needed we can always add more memory
  5. Yes, you can even install the database on your Windows XP machine and we think the latest Windows server is 2013 (Not exaggerated, we have an email with Windows Server 2013 mentioned in the supported OS list)

With each passing moment, they started getting agitated and the Project Manager from their end started asking questions like “We are a solution developer, why do you expect us to know “everything” about database?”. We had to tell them they don’t know anything about the database technology on top of what they design and develop their entire solution.

They lost the opportunity, which grew to approximately 1 million USD project gradually, using Oracle technologies (the worst blunder they made was “All you need a single license for the database as our application connects to database as same user for all modules.”)


A bit different scenario. This time the vendor was smarter. In order to impress us, they have designed the database to look so large, that it sized more than 25-30GB(more than 70% dedicated to Transaction Logs) before the solution was even launched. This company had a pretty wrong idea about tables and views. To “read faster” all their tables had all the columns those were required by their solution. In addition much of their views were having more than 200+ columns and many dozen inline queries to fetch additional data, making a simple query painfully slow.

On top of it, they implemented an always open URL (Obviously, keeping it open is “Your” (customer) responsibility) for processing some data.

Every other time, whenever we pointed out the difficulties with fetching data from their tables and views for custom reporting, we were given answers those should not be quoted here.

We terminated the contract after completing one (painful) year.

So, the question is, Should you know your database technology?

Much of the Prime time database technologies are pre-configured to a certain extend & a developer as a single individual may not be too interested to ponder deep into the available provisions to set it up the instance for optimized performances, mainly because everything works from the development machine, for the “development” perspectives.

Well, this is not the case when a proper business solution with commercial intend is developed based on a particular database technology. The software vendor have to understand the database technology they are targeting for their business solution to such an extended that, their product could benefit the customer in terms of continued availability and deliver insure optimized performances.

So, how to size and parameterize the database for optimized performances? This requires an experienced DBA/team to assist you with these fine tuning and parameterization activities. While Oracle database fine tuning and parameterization possibilities far more stretched than Microsoft SQL Server, you have the ease of using a GUI tool for the later, that helps you to setup many optimization parameters without the help of a DBA. MySQL also comes with a beautiful GUI manager for much of the configurations. However, just having some wonderful tools alone do not help you to achieve the maximum performance! One must know what and how to configure the database and OS specific parameters to get the maximum through output from the database technology. Yes, you need an experienced DBA or a team of DBAs to achieve this & I believe, for a successful software, a software developer must invest adequate efforts and funds in this sector with highest priority, may much before they start designing their solution!

An example case, we had our Oracle database 10g instance set with 2GB memory for SGA and 1GB for PGA for almost 4-5 years by our part-time DBA, while the server had another 40GB memory to spare. Our ERP (Oracle EBS R12) lagged, stuttered for this entire period just because he never attempted to fine tune the instance once after the implementers handed it over to us. His last excuse was “So, everything was working, why we have to trouble something that is working fine”. We terminated his contract. Our new partner setup the instance with highest possible SGA/PGA combinations and made a dozen parameterizations based on the OS specifications. It was followed by internal team introducing HugePages on Linux environment & we never looked back. Well, it took us some time to get there though to “find a right partner to work with”.

Majority of the places, wherever I were asked to investigate the poor performances (especially Microsoft SQL Server), noticed that the database was installed using the defaults and the only one maintenance activity for the instance is limited to full database backup daily. None of the maintenance possibilities like automating the indexing or statistics gatherings were implemented, making the solutions to lag and painful over a period of time.

While vendors like those I have introduced in the very beginning of the article would easily escape their responsibility by stating “database maintenance is your responsibility”, as a developer and as “NOT A Certified DBA” I will argue that.

I remember another interesting scenario when the vendor was asked which edition of the database should be installed for their solution. Initially struggling with release numbers and later making statements like “Enterprise edition will have more features” and failing to list few features never landed this vendor in a very bad light. They completely ignored the fact that we were a business that was already using software solutions like Oracle Applications & never thought of answering questions related to database.

A thorough study must be done by the solution developer to identify the best edition of database (Enterprise, Standard or Express) that is suitable for the customer. This is especially important when a solution with generic nature is adapted by businesses of different sizes. A software solution developer must understand that, every business tries to limit the investment for software implementations and unnecessary licensing costs by suggesting a wrong edition of database technology could force the customer to reject their product altogether and discard the project.

I’ve started my developing career with dBASE3 (Without knowing much about it) & last 20 years, worked with different database technologies & as a core application developer, strongly believe that, the developer MUST know many things about the database technology, based on which the targeted solution is being developed. As an individual I might be pardoned, however as a software vendor, I might lose wonderful opportunities just by not knowing enough about the database technology that’s the core of my business application!

So what you think, should I know my database technology?

This article was initially posted with my LinkedIn account.

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