SQLServerCentral Article

DBAs and the Fear Factor

"Do one thing every day that scares you" – Eleanor Roosevelt

Laudable as these sentiments are, inspirational even, most DBAs are likely to treat them with a customary degree of caution and circumspection. The DBA profession isn't necessarily one we associate with a love of danger and keen spirit of adventure.

Many DBAs protect vehemently what to others seem archaic practices, such as attention to detail, conservative change patterns, treating data quality, integrity, and security like it really matters, and so on. This is possibly because a DBA's existence is centered largely on protecting data from people whose mantra seems to be "Write one line of code every minute that scares the DBA".

Nevertheless, it's a mistake to ignore Mrs. Roosevelt's sentiments entirely. Fear, in and of itself is a wonderful guide to what is right and wrong, and yet if we never confront anything that we fear, or don't understand, then we risk stagnation. We then become the type of DBA who bemoans the fact that Microsoft didn't spend less time inventing newfangled bells and whistles that just complicate things, and more time perfecting the features that were already in SQL Server 2000.

When Mrs. Roosevelt said those words, she was encouraging us all to tackle one thing every day that we find foreign, difficult or scary. For some bold and fearless types, this might mean crazy pursuits such as blindfolded motorcycle riding or cliff diving. For the rest of us, a group which no doubt the first lady was more likely addressing, it just means saying hello to a stranger, eat something new, or attempting to learn something that we find difficult.

For the DBA, embracing the sentiment doesn't mean jumping off the metaphorical cliff, declaring open season on sys admin privileges, undertaking mass denormalization, or learning to love heaps. Yes, these do give us fear, but not the right kind of fear! It just means occasionally looking over the edge of that cliff, feeling the increase in your heart rate and tightness in your chest as you tackle the unknown or, in some sense, frightening.

In the years since SQL Server 2000, Microsoft has introduced any number of features that, while more complicated than you might be comfortable with initially, will make life easier for you and better for your users. These encompass data and backup compression, new server roles and permissions, partitioning, new generation High Availability Technology, and even the entirely in-memory data tables and indexes, and columnar data structures.

If you have so far chosen the ostrich school of learning, get your head out of your sand, look around, and try something new. Some of these features are 'scary' and will challenge what you think you already know about SQL Server and its data structures. However, I almost guarantee you that, in many cases, once you get a glimpse of their value you will end up pushing as hard as you can to get them implemented in your company.

If the fear of these new technologies is your company's, or vendor's, rather than yours, then don't let their fear turn into your apathy. Pick up a copy of SQL Server Express Edition (free) or Developer Edition (cheap), and try out new features on your laptop on a rainy evening. One day you may need another employer who has learned to store data in a modern database server and expects all of the newfangled goodies to be used rather than shunned.

Louis Davidson (Guest Editor)