Exceptional DBAs do more than respond to events and issues in their environments. In many cases, I think they even go beyond using metrics that detect problematic activity on their systems before users notify them. I think the best DBAs will actually mine the information they have about their systems to anticipate problems in advance.
In the past I've had monitoring systems that would respond to issues, and I had alerts setup on the system to notify of unusual events, like an unexpected data growth. What I had started to do before I became a manager was start to write system checks that anticipated future problems and allowed me as much lead time as possible to prepare for issues. An example of this was a set of queries I wrote that calculated data growth for all databases on an instance and then used that to calculate how many days would elapse before I ran out of space on the data drives.
You can write similar queries to look for other trends. Tracking the execution times of often-run queries, or those queries which are important to the application can allow a DBA to find potential issues. If the execution times are growing, the DBA can anticipate a problem occurring in the near future and begin taking action to rewrite, tune, change indexing, or some other measure. A broad spectrum of queries taking longer might be an indication that hardware needs to be upgraded. There's even a site devoted to metrics.
Instrumentation is important in understanding, analyzing, and predicting system performance. More and more tools are being released to gather detailed metrics on .NET code, in browsers, and more, but there is a wealth of information inside SQL Server on the performance of the platform. A little work can help you track and monitor the performance of your system and proactively maintain performance before your users complain.
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