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Fear Fear

By Steve Jones,

I'm a conservative DBA. I get nervous when backups aren't running, code isn't in source control, and developers have access to production systems. I've had too many late night pages and weekend phone calls, not to mention many extra hours spent in the office from changes to systems that didn't go well. That latter item leads me to limit the number of changes I make to systems whenever I can, including avoiding applying Cumulative Updates to SQL Server.

When I read an editorial from Glenn Berry, I had to stop and think of whether or not I had a healthy respect for the problems that can occur from change, or if I was being overly conservative (or fearful). Glenn makes a good point that so many people do not upgrade or change their drivers, firmware, or other software. People don't patch their SQL Servers, even with Service Packs. I'm sure some of that is fear, but some of it is neglect as well.

For me the decision usually comes down to examining the reward/risk ratio, trying to understand if improvements are balanced by the risk of downtime. I do value stability above new features, mostly because if problems do occur, I will be the person fixing them. That doesn't mean I avoid all changes. I think Service Packs need to be installed, though not necessarily the first month. I've also come to embrace some of the continuous integration (CI) and continuous deployment (CD) ideas as ways to both reduce a software inventory as well as hold developers to a higher quality standard. However if you want to deploy (and perhaps patch) in a continuous deployment environment, then you should ensure that your CI process performs strong checks and make sure your developers are holding themselves to a high level of quality.

We change the way we work, and the tools we use in technology often. Change is a concept we embrace, and we should since the ways in which our systems work are regularly changing. Bugs are patched, new techniques and tools are developed that should make us more efficient and productive. Those don't always work, and we should be wary, but we should also not fear change. We should evaluate each new possibility with the attitude that our decision to move forward "depends." It depends on the ease with which we can integrate something or apply a change, and the ease with which we can roll back our changes if they do not perform as expected. It also takes practice to ensure that all those things are easy.

Steve Jones

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