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Lowering the Noise

By Steve Jones,

Over my career, I've had the chance to work in a variety of environments of all sizes. I've managed systems that powered all sorts of applications, with a variety of requirements. In many cases, I've had certain databases that needed constant monitoring and care from me to perform as needed. I've also had other systems that the business used, but weren't necessarily critical. Those systems often had a lower priority for my attention if multiple problems occurred at the same time.

I've been meeting regularly with the SQL Monitor team as they try to enhance and tune the next version of their product. As the product has grown and evolved, and SQL Server advances, there are different types of counters and metrics that need to be tracked. One of the major goals is to ensure that they reduce the number of alerts for DBAs and sysadmins that don't require immediate attention or may be unnecessarily adding to someone's workload, at least for new installations. You might customize your system to include many alerts. To do this, we have to make decisions for the default alerts and threshholds, which can be a challenge.

That's been a goal of mine as an administrator as well. I don't want to get notifications or alerts of activities that are expected, such as backups. However, if backups fail, I may need to be alerted. Actually, I'm sure I need an alert, but it's a question of whether I need to know now, at 2am, or get an alert the next morning at 9am. Often I may choose to respond differently to the QA server than I do for the production Sales instance. One might get immediate attention 24x7 while the other is a best available effort, and certainly isn't likely to get a response on Saturday night.

While SQL Server becomes better at adapting to changing conditions, there are definitely times when a human must get involved and decide how to solve an issue. That's the reason that many of us are employed by others. We manage tasks and make decisions that machines can't do for us. However, our attention and time is limited. Despite what some managers think, there are only so many hours in the day and week, and we need to make decisions about which items to focus on and handle. Perhaps even more important, unnecessary distractions can weaken our focus and cause us to make mistakes that we wouldn't ordinarily make.

As we manage more systems, many of which are important to our employers, a good system administrator will tune monitoring systems and ensure that they aren't receiving or responding to unnecessary alerts. They work to minimize the interruptions and distractions from lower priority items. Maybe most importantly for long term job health, they ensure that systems don't cause interruptions during their personal time, especially vacations. Good administrators put another human in the loop when they need a break.

Of course, we also do ensure that low priority systems receive some attention. We can't ignore that low disk space warning on the development instance forever.

 
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