The Ironic DBA Files—Episode 9: The Rise of the Clients

Welcome back to The Ironic DBA Files, a series where the newbie DBA on staff at Dallas DBAs chronicles the ups and downs of fast-tracking a new career as a DBA.

It’s go time, ladies and gentlemen. Last week we reviewed indexes and the basic differences between reorganizing and rebuilding those indexes. Now, it’s time for the big reveal:

I’m allowed to touch client PROD servers!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Server

Thankfully, I didn’t have a ton of nerves logging into a client server for the first time, for two reasons.

First, as a WordPress developer, I’ve been in client accounts and such before. I’m aware that a company’s data can be more critical and sensitive than a WordPress blog, but both are important to that client. It doesn’t matter if it’s a multi-million dollar company or a food blogger’s site, you want to do your best and make sure you’re careful to do things correctly. Plus, one of my former WordPress clients makes seven-figures a year off her blog, so I can literally say her blog is every bit as critical as a company’s SQL Server database.

Second, our approach here at Dallas DBAs is very careful. Before ever logging into a client’s server on my own, Kevin first screen shared with me and I watched as he went through practices and procedures. Then, each day for the rest of the week we screen shared as he coached me through logging in and doing a server review. Only after a week of his oversight did he release me to begin solo server reviews on one client’s server. A couple of weeks later we went through the same process all over again with a second client. I’ll be adding a third and fourth client via the same processes in the coming days.

For now, my one and only task is to log into client servers daily and look for problems. I’m learning how to identify immediate red flag issues such as long waits, locks, and blocks. I’m checking the SQL Server error logs for anything out of the ordinary. I’m ensuring backups are up to date. And I’m learning how to effectively use monitoring tools such as Manage Engine, Solar Winds DPA, and Red Gate SQL Monitor.

As I go through this daily process, I’m learning how to properly report a server’s status to our clients, identify problems, and escalate those problems to Kevin. As an apprentice, it’s not my role to attempt to fix problems, but rather to stay engaged and learn how Kevin approaches making things right so that as I progress I add more and more knowledge to my tool belt.

Does This Look Right to You?

SQL Server Waits
One of these things is not like the others.

This is going to sound bad, but it’s sort of fun when a client’s server “breaks.” Let me explain.

If SQL Server and the underlying hardware always ran flawlessly then there wouldn’t be any need for DBAs, would there? In a way, being a DBA is mostly sitting around waiting for something to go wrong.

That’s not all there is to it. There’s consulting available where some DBAs help clients with architecture and hardware questions. A DBA might be consulted by a client who wants to upgrade their servers or systems. But let’s admit that the main action parts of the job involve putting out fires.

Those fires might be small, such as a client asking, “Why is this query so slow?” or “Can you help us implement a better maintenance schedule?” Other times it’s a 3 AM call from a client who’s panicking because someone accidentally dropped a server, a server died, a restore failed, or something else potentially catastrophic. That’s when a DBA really gets to serve their clients.

For me, that’s really the most exciting part about learning to be a DBA. What I do can have a real, significant impact on a client’s business and well-being. It’s an opportunity to serve.

If you take a look at the graph just above, as well as the graph further up the page, you’ll see an example of how my first week looking at a client’s server went. Long story short, this client had some growing pressure in their server in terms of wait and blocks. There were some regular overnight queries that were taking longer and longer to execute. Eventually this blocking was spilling over into the next hour and affecting subsequent performance.

Wanting the best for our client, I found myself feeling this strange mix of concern and joy over the situation. Concern that we as their DBAs needed to fix this, and joy that we were in a position to help. I had these feelings even though my only contribution to the whole incident was basically saying, “Hey, this looks wrong!” and escalating it to Kevin. But still, I had an opportunity to contribute and it was fulfilling.

In the end, it was an easy fix for our client. They discovered the query that was causing the issue was not critical and simply prevented it from automatically running from within their application. Problem solved. In fact, their server is now performing much better overall than it did before.

What’s the main point of all this, other than simply sharing more about what I’m learning? If you’re out there struggling to figure out what sort of work you should get into, I highly recommend finding that sweet spot where you not only find something you are good at and enjoy doing, but something that also allows you to serve others in some capacity. Serving others is where the long term rewards of any endeavor truly come from.

That’s all for this week. Join me next time for The Ironic DBA Files—Review One: A SQL Story.

Follow me on Twitter at @SQLandMTB, and if you’re into mountain bikes come over and check out my site NTX Trails.

The Ironic DBA Files

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