Craig S. Mullins

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February 2002


The DBA Corner
by Craig S. Mullins  

Measuring DBA Effectiveness

I receive frequent e-mails from readers of this column, some offering criticism or praise, but many more asking questions and soliciting advice. I welcome this input from readers, and every-now-and-then I will take the opportunity to answer particularly intriguing questions in print. A common question I am asked is “What is a good way to manage how effective your DBA group is?”

This is not a very easy question to answer because a DBA has to be a "jack of all trades." And each of these "trades" can have multiple metrics for measuring success. For example, a metric suggested by one reader was to measure the number of SQL statements that are processed successfully. But what does "successfully" mean? Does it mean simply that the statement returned the correct results, or does it mean it returned the correct results in a reasonable time? And what is a “reasonable” time? Two seconds? One minute? A half hour? Unless you have established service level agreements it is unfair to measure the DBA on response time. And the DBA must participate in establishing reasonable SLAs (in terms of cost and response time) lest he be handed a task that cannot be achieved.

Measuring the number of incidence reports was another metric suggested. Well, this is fine if it is limited to only true problems that might have been caused by the DBA. The DBA should not be held accountable for bugs in the DBMS (caused by the DBMS vendor), nor for design elements forced on him or her by an overzealous development team (happens all the time with RAD and e-rushing around).

I like the idea of using an availability metric, but it should be tempered against the environment and your organization’s up-time needs. In other words, what is the availability required? Once again, back to SLAs. And the DBA should not be judged harshly for not achieving availability if the DBMS does not deliver the possibility of availability (e.g. online reorg and change management) or the organization does not purchase availability solutions from a third party vendor (such as BMC Software). Of course, the DBA can be held accountable if it was his decision to purchase the DBMS in use, but this is not always the case. Many DBAs are brought in well after the DBMS has been selected.

What about a metric based on response to problems? This metric would not necessarily mean that the problem was resolved, but that the DBA has responded to the "complaining" entity and is working on a resolution. Such a metric would lean toward treating database administration as a service or help desk type of function. I actually think this is much too narrow a metric for measuring DBAs.

Any DBA evaluation metric must be developed with an understanding of the environment in which the DBA works. This requires in-depth analysis of things like:

  • number of applications that must be supported,

  • number of databases and size of those databases,

  • number of database servers,

  • use of the databases (OLTP, OLAP, web-enabled, data mining, ad hoc, etc.),

  • number of different DBMSs (that is, Oracle, DB2, Informix, etc.),

  • number of OS platforms to be supported (Windows 2000, UNIX, OS/390, AS/400, etc.),

  • special consideration for ERP applications due to their non-standard DBMS usage,

  • number of users and number of concurrent users,

  • type of Service Level Agreements in effect or planned,

  • availability required (24/7 or something less),

  • the impact of database downtime on the business ($$$),

  • performance requirements (subsecond or longer - gets back to the SLA issue),

  • type of applications (mission critical vs. non-mission critical),

  • frequency of change requests.

This is probably an incomplete list, but it accurately shows the complexity and challenges faced by DBAs on a daily basis.

Of course, the best way to measure DBA effectiveness is to judge the quality of all the tasks that they perform. Of course, many aspects of such measurement will be subjective. Keep in mind that a DBA performs many tasks to ensure that the organization’s data and databases are useful, useable, available, and correct. These tasks include data modeling, logical and physical database design, performance monitoring and tuning, assuring availability, authorizing security, backup and recovery, ensuring data integrity, and, really, anything that interfaces with the company’s databases. Developing a consistent metric for measuring these tasks in a non-subjective way is challenging.

You'll probably need to come up with a complex formula of all of the above – and more – to do the job correctly. Which is probably why I've never seen a fair, non-subjective, metric-based measurement program put together for DBAs. If you (or anyone else reading this) implements such a program I'd love to hear the details and how it works out.


From Database Trends and Applications, February 2002.

© 2002 Craig S. Mullins,  All rights reserved.