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Steve Woody, Senior VP Ross Group Inc

Great DBA Services Require Best-in-Class Monitoring Tools

Steve Woody, CommitDBA Director

January 24, 2014

Today’s complex and enterprise-level database environments require - (i) expert database administration (DBA) services, (ii) effective end-to-end processes and (iii) best-in-class database tools for optimal performance and sustainment. Empowered monitoring tools watch over the complex database structures and processes that compromise the database domain. With rapid and explosive data growth, emerging Big Data requirements and 24x7 high availability mandates, DBAs depend on these best-in-class products. For those organizations that outsource their database support to specialized Database Managed Service Providers (DMSPs) it is imperative that the DMSP utilize a best-in-class database tools to monitor your critical databases. If not, risks become much greater for problematic conditions and outages. A detailed explanation of DMSPs that are specialized for enterprise database services can be found in the CommitDBA blog “Why Engage Database Managed Service Providers.

So what are the Five Major Essentials that make up a Greate DBA Monitoring Tool?

1. Database Alerts - A Menu of Options

A robust DBA monitoring tool must include a vast menu of alerts/alarms that are triggered by a database condition where a threshold has been breached within the database. Alerts are established by the monitoring tool’s parameters and notification is sent electronically to the DBA by various methods depending on the tool capability. Usually the monitoring tool comes with a baseline setup for parameters which you can customize for specific environments along with the ability to assign a severity level so that more critical alerts can be assigned higher severity levels. Best-in-class monitoring tools provide hundreds of parameters to choose from and this can be overwhelming to figure out which ones should be utilized. However, there is a primary set of critical severity alerts whose parameters should be set appropriately from the start of database monitoring. These first level parameter thresholds (Tier I) are key for the DBA to maintain stability, high availability, performance, security and recoverability. Second level parameters (Tier II) should be looked at on a case-by-case basis regarding whether they should be used or turned off. It may take a little while to fine tune the alert parameters within a particular database environment but once they are tuned, the DBA can be rest assured that when an alert is triggered, it’s for a good reason.

2. Database Alerts - In Real Time

Enterprise level databases require real time alerts so that the DBA can react as quickly as possible for possible remediation. Alert latency is not an option! High severity level database problems and issues usually require immediate action toward remediation. If the DBA is not notified in real time, then critical databases and business functions could be down. Real time alerts can be structured to alert via mobile devices which most DBAs rely on. Another important feature is the escalation of alerts. For instance, with a specialized DMSP, typically a customer is assigned a Primary and Secondary DBA. A robust DBA monitoring tool will provide the components necessary to (i) alert the DBA on database issues in real time, (ii) have the ability to alert the primary DBA first for acknowledgment and (iii) if no acknowledgment within a predefined amount of time, then alert the secondary DBA.

3. Lightweight

A robust DBA monitoring tool must be architected to be non-invasive and have very little overhead when monitoring databases on the database server. You certainly don’t want the monitoring to utilize an overabundance of cycling/processing power on the database server. Although servers have increased processing power over the years with multiple CPUs/Cores, you still want the overwhelming majority of processing dedicated to database process cycles as scalability requirements increase. Well engineered monitoring tools utilize remote agents where a majority of the time is used idling and waiting vs. collecting sample frequencies. Most data collection triggers should be under five seconds in duration on heavily loaded systems while much less on lightly loaded databases.

4. Centralized Dashboard

Dashboards provide a great way to see the overall health and performance of your complex database environment on just a few screens. Best-in-class DBA monitoring tools should come with an intuitive web-based graphical dashboard that both DBAs and managers can view ad-hoc to understand quickly what the status and activity of your databases are. In addition, real-time diagnostics can be obtained on the dashboard with drill-down options for quick analysis along with possible resolution and remediation if needed. The dashboard should be designed for easy to understand metrics and data flow values and allow the DBA to view the dashboard remotely from not only desktops/laptops but also mobile devices.

5. Reporting

Robust database monitoring products include the gathering of metric samples and saving the data to a local database repository. Reports can then be run from the collected raw data. Reports generated from the data repository are valuable for looking at database issues, anomalies, performance, trends, patterns and historical data. The database monitoring tool should provide a set of standardized reports and also allow the DBA to create customized reports based on configurable parameters as desired. The report mechanism should have the ability to produce reports that are intuitive with graphics and summaries as well as allow for on-demand report generation.

There should also be a method of auto streaming reports to report repositories (e.g. SharePoint) or electronically in various formats such as PDF, Excel or XML. Report streaming to various recipients and stakeholders should be easy to implement. If there are a large number of databases that reports are generated from, the DBA tool should allow the reports to be bundled if necessary to alleviate too many reports distributed at the same time. The reporting feature of a best-in-class DBA monitoring product is critical to managing enterprise database environments.


The most reliable Database Managed Service Providers (DMSPs) rely heavily on leading-edge DBA monitoring tools so that their DBA team can provide 24x7 real-time remediation, reporting and database analysis. The five elements listed in this article represent the majority of big ticket items required to make up a great DBA monitoring tool. Drilling down to additional features and parameters will provide much more granularity into hundreds of lower level elements that make up these products.

Great DBA monitoring tools are not commodities. Mission-critical databases need to be serviced and monitored by best-in-class DBA tools with DMSPs who can leverage the efficiencies from those tools. The result is database stabilization, high availability, optimal performance and recovery guarantees along with the comfort knowing your databases are protected and managed with economies of scale.

At CommitDBA, we have partnered with Dell products (formerly Quest Software) utilizing their award winning Foglight product suite. Foglight detects, diagnoses, resolves and reports on database performance and problematic issues proactively and in real-time. By partnering with Dell this means that our customers can be serviced with a best-in-class DBA tool without having to purchase a license.

For additional fact gathering on CommitDBA or Foglight, please contact us at 800.734.9304.

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